Good Samaritans’ Pain OR What’s the Purpose of It All?
O Lord, deliver me from the lust of always vindicating myself. (St. Augustine, 415)
One of the greatest delights possible in any pastor’s experience occurs when a broad, general spirit of genuine biblical, spiritual atmosphere among his members prods them into Christian acts of charity, when it becomes commonplace in their priority consideration to seek ways of ministry to the needy. Joy and fulfillment will become theirs—or will they?
As Jesus’ younger half-brother James wrote, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this—to visit orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). Our church had been encouraging all of those in the small home groups to think beyond the models of the past and to “work outwardly” their salvation in caring, helpful actions as God would lead them. It was this kind of thinking that motivated one of these groups to do something previously unheard of in our community.
One of the families in our church had shared the sad news about the separation of their daughter-in-law’s sister, Janet, from her husband, Tom, shortly after the birth of their first child. Her husband had moved across the country, forcing Janet to seek help from her brother in our area. Intercessory prayer on their behalf was initiated and continued at the regular group gatherings.
A few months later we learned the good news that Tom had been under counseling while away and now wanted to see reconciliation. He was actually hitchhiking back to our city. An offer of employment had been made available locally, and the couple made the decision to settle nearby. However, there was no possibility they could secure affordable housing to commence their new life together at this time.
Opportunity! Why not demonstrate our Christian love for these returning friends by coming alongside them and help secure a place to live? Would you believe that one of our members had a small vacant house and offered it for the cause, acknowledging its need for some “touching up?” All the better, we thought, for our group to work together evenings and weekends cleaning up, doing some repairs, and painting in a work fellowship project. That, plus securing some surplus furniture, would make the house “move-in ready” by the time our new residents would be able to settle in.
We soon welcomed our couple home to the delighted tears of both of them and our team, who had contributed many long hours in the effort. What a great feeling of joy and satisfaction our group experienced—to see the fruit of their good works culminate with such a complete success. What an encouragement to all of us for God to allow us to use our gifts to meet a real social need for His glory.
It was just about one year later, sadly, that the unexpected testing for our church and its people came when this couple terminated their marriage in a bitter resumption of their earlier problem. This time there was no glimmer of hope.
“All our efforts for naught! How could such a thing happen?” The new question in the hearts of our people were many. “Why had God let us down? We thought we had done the right thing. Doesn’t God answer our prayers? What happened? What’s the use of trying?”
We have all asked questions like these for one reason or another. They draw us into a new understanding of God and His priorities. If we take a closer look at the questions, we notice that there is a common thread running throughout.
What I’m about to say is neither a “sanctified cop-out” nor an unmerited accolade to Satan or his emissaries. But the question does have a familiar sound to it, a similarity to the question asked in the Garden of Eden, the very first question of all time: “Has God said...?” Or, asked in a different way, has God promised that every prayer we utter will always be answered in exactly the way we wish? The apostle Paul’s own experience, as recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, shows us that he understood that God was in the process of bringing Paul into a new level or appreciation of the riches of God in Christ Jesus which he could pass onto all of us as he discovered the sufficiency of God’s grace even in personal weakness and disappointments.
Oswald Chambers in his daily devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, wrote this provocative thought: “Whenever in prayer the insistence is on the point that God answers prayer, we are off track. The meaning of prayer is that we get hold of God. . .not the answer. . . Spiritual lust makes ME demand MY answer from God instead of seeking God Himself, Who gives the answer!”
The Christian is charged in the Scripture with submitting every action into God’s hand for His glory, abdicating any sense of ownership or merit for his own personal participation in some worthy cause. “It is God who is at work in you.” In fact, those are the exact words of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippian believers in chapter 2, verse 13, after which he cautions against any murmuring. God is not a heavenly slot machine “fixed” to pay off when we “deposit” the right prayers or works.
I recall a young college freshman talking to me about her best friend who had been killed in an accident a few weeks earlier. How could a loving God allow her friend to die? Her friend had been “a marvelous Christian witness, had introduced many to Christ, and was an outstanding example of Christian character.” I had no answer, only this thought: “Is it not amazing to think that your young friend was able to accomplish so much for her Lord in the lives of so many in such a short time? If God allowed her to go, it must be she had completed everything God intended for her life in just those nineteen years. And, is it not a shame that so many live to the age of forty, sixty-five, or even ninety and never even come to comprehend what God’s purpose is for their lives?” What a challenge for all of us still alive and aware that God does wish to use us in His kingdom for as long as we are given life.
In other words, the bottom line for every “why” is the sovereignty of God. If God is God, let God be God! Is our desire to receive what we want stronger than our desire for the will of God to be fulfilled? To know God Himself is far more important than any immediate answer we may desire. Can it possibly be that we are trying to prove our worth to God? Getting our “money’s worth” could rob us of God’s intended purpose. If the chief end of mankind is to glorify God, know this: it is impossible to glorify Him unless one truly knows Him.
As I write these words I personally have two very specific, long-standing requests of God that have not been answered in a way that, to my thinking, would most honor God. I am then reminded of this fact. Millions of broken-hearted Christians have been encouraged to endure and press on by Paul’s words about pain and suffering under God’s grace than would possibly have been helped if Paul had never known frustration over his “thorn,” for which he personally found “grace sufficient.”
Didn’t our Lord Jesus Christ Himself remind and instruct his first disciples along these same lines? To their great amazement, they were told that their simple acts of kindness to the hungry and thirsty, the strangers and homeless, and the sick and imprisoned had not only been observed by the King of heaven, but recorded in His kingdom and blessed by the Father (Matthew 25:34ff). Can there be any conceivable reward greater than that?
The question then, for each of us is, are we willing to invest ourselves in our God’s work without considering the cost or the consequence, but rather our Lord’s good pleasure? The same James mentioned in the opening paragraph stated: “The man who trusts God with a doubtful mind is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. Every decision he makes will be uncertain. An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:6-8).
“Learn to know God better and discover what He wants you to do. . .put aside your own desires to that you will become patient and godly, gladly letting God have His way with you” (2 Peter 1:5b, 6, TLNT).