Chronic Illness throws up some interesting and sometimes unexpected challenges to living out your faith. The one I’ve been working through for several months now, is how to find the balance between expecting that God can and will heal you, and accepting that He may not, or at least not yet.You cannot live your life in a constant state of expectation, where every hour passed unwell would be a fresh disappointment. In order to cope well with illness you have to come to some level of acceptance, otherwise the frustration and confusion would take you under. But equally you don’t want to give up and resign yourself to every day being the same, when perhaps break through is around the corner.
If I’m honest, I’m not sure if God is going to heal me from this fatigue in a dramatic way. The sense I have from Him, and the words I’ve been given, is that this will be a process. A marathon rather than a sprint. I think these experiences have a wider purpose, and that the fruit of it will be worth the tears. At the same time I am keen to not loose sight of the fact that God can and may still heal me completely. To let go of this truth is to deny God’s character and power.
As I have been thinking about this and reflecting, I have been struck by a particular passage from Daniel 3. You may well be familiar with the story. The Israelites have been taken into exile in Babylon a land where the people worship many different Gods and idols. The King of Babylon has constructed a giant gold statue and ordered that ever time the music plays all the people must bow down and worship the statue. Three of the Israelites, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, refuse to do so. They are brought before the King who gives them one last chance to obey, before he throws them into a fiery furnace. Their response are these words:
“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Daniel 3:17-18 (Emphasis added)
For me these words are some of the bravest and most inspiring in the Old Testament. These three men knew exactly who God was, that He was Almighty and able to save them from any calamity. Yet at the same time they knew that He may not do so. God had the ability to rescue them, but they didn’t pretend to know the mind of God, in order to know whether He would. God’s character was not dependent on the outcome of this trial.
This particular story has a happy ending with God indeed saving Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the furnace. Even though they were thrown in, they came out untouched. In this instance God did deliver them. I doubt this passage would have become such a popular Sunday School lesson if those three men had died. Yet it is true that we stand on the shoulders of countless men and women down the centuries, who made similar declarations of faith in the face of danger, and weren’t rescued.
Sometimes in our eagerness to show faith and expectation, we find ourselves telling God what to do. We bring our request to Him, believing that we understand Him well enough by now to predict the answers. Our God becomes a vending machine, where we put in just the right combination of words for our orders, and expect him to provide what we need. If he does, then we marvel at God’s goodness and faithfulness. And if he doesn’t, we can doubt His character and His love for us.
It is clear we have things in the wrong order. You see, God is Good, faithful, loving and true, regardless of whether He answers our prayers the way we want Him to. His character is never dependent on our circumstances. We have to pray from a place of knowing who He is and understanding that His will may be different from ours. It doesn’t mean we don’t ask for the things we need, or that we don’t pray with urgency and persistence. But that we come to Him with the knowledge that even if he doesn’t give us what we want or need, He is still God and we are still His children.
As much as we wish that being a follower of Christ brought with it abundant health and happiness, we know that isn’t the case. Whilst God works through all situations for His glory and our good, this ‘good’ may not look how we would like it too. God’s plans are far more infinite and complex than we can comprehend. Sometimes we have to be refined in the heat of the fire, the lessons we learn in life’s storms can be more valuable than countless summer days. We are not promised an easy life, but we can be assured that God will be with us every step of the way.
I remember talking with some friends, several years ago, about what our ‘non negotiable’ things would be. These were the things we desperately wanted from God, our deepest desires, that had the power to rock our faith if God took them from us. Perhaps we are familiar with some of these in our own lives, you can often recognise them by the desperation of our prayers or the negotiation we enter into. It might be that we long for a partner and a family of our own, that we don’t know how we would follow God if he had a different path for us. Or for God to keep our loved ones safe and free from suffering, we may not be sure we could follow a God who took them from us. Maybe we desire a particular job or comfortable lifestyle, we know we would struggle to follow God into poverty and unemployment. Or perhaps we want to stay in our own little corner of the world, we can see that God would face resistance if He called us abroad.
These wants and desires are human, and God knows they are in our hearts. Some of them He may have even put there Himself. But if we are to truly follow God we have to hold these longings and desires with open hands. We have to hold within us the knowledge that even though it is within God’s power to give these to us, he may not. It is not for us to doubt and accuse His actions. To truly throw ourselves into following God, we have to believe that even if He does not answer these prayers, He is still faithful and we can trust Him. We must build our faith on the bedrock of who God is, so we can withstand any storm that comes our way.
I know that God could heal me tomorrow. In the blink of an eye He could give me more energy than I can imagine now. I long for freedom from this exhaustion and to have strength to spare. But I am choosing to dwell in the knowledge that even if he doesn’t, He is still my God and I am still His daughter, wholly and dearly loved.