As I’m preparing for my sermon this Sunday, I’m again faced with staring down the words of Jesus that trouble me most out of everything He taught. John 14 reads like this:
12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
If I didn’t know better, it seems that Jesus was saying He would answer all of my prayers. He may even use me to do the miraculous for others.
These words are frustrating for a guy who had his own daughter die in his arms after praying for months for a healthy baby. I’ve prayed for a lot of people in a lot of situations and I most certainly did not get whatever I asked for- and, yes, I asked in Jesus’ name. Now, some would say, “you must not have prayed in faith”! Well, I know any doubt I have comes from the disappointment that can only come from truly believing something will happen that didn’t actually happen. So, there.
Maybe Jesus was just talking to the 12 Disciples. “Whoever believes” tells me that this was not just Jesus talking with the future Apostles. Jesus had future believers like me in mind. Maybe by “greater things” He was talking about service and charity. Surely God is not nearly as impressed with the supernatural as He is with fallen human beings making sacrifices and helping people. I bet He sees an act of mercy as a “greater thing” than a healing miracle, which is surely an easy thing for God. Jesus walked on water and raised the dead, so maybe a “greater thing” is a different genre of thing altogether, like spending time with a lonely widow. I could go with that and breathe a sigh of relief. It’s not that Jesus was teasing us with potential on-demand miracles, he just had a superior sense of what was truly great. I feel no relief from that line of reasoning, though, because whatever Jesus had in mind involved asking God. I wouldn’t necessarily have to ask God to assist with a mighty act of sacrifice. It still seems like He was promising to actually answer prayer miraculously and do miraculous things through His followers.
So, anybody out there frustrated by God from time to time? Anybody out there ever experience the pain of knowing that God could have easily done something that would have really helped, yet He chose not to? Anybody ever feel like their prayers were ignored. Anybody feel like Jesus is rubbing it in or teasing us by saying, “Ask for anything!”? That seems kind of mean, if not really mean!
How do we reconcile these issues? How do we cope with disappointment with God?
Here’s all I can say: This is the age of faith. This is the age of faith and it seems like this will be the only age in God’s eternal plan that will require faith from you and me. One day we will see Him face to face and from that day forward we will know. We will never doubt God. We will never wonder where He is or question His involvement. Someday… but for now we live in the age of faith. God is more desperate for you to choose to believe in Him and love Him than He is to be your hero of the moment. Let me expound a bit.
Jesus had a disciple named Thomas. You can see from the Bible that Thomas loved Jesus and was a passionate guy. His passion and love for Jesus led him to feelings of desperation because Jesus didn’t always make sense. Jesus didn’t value His own safety. Jesus didn’t always do things that made the disciples’ lives easy and stress free. His frustration led to doubt and spilled outwardly into vocal confessions of doubt and desperation. After Jesus’ death, Thomas was done. By marching into Jerusalem, Jesus also trampled on Thomas’ heart. He knew the risks. He marched in anyway and knowingly got Himself killed. Now the disciples were messing with Thomas’ closure (at least this faith experiment was over) by telling him that Jesus had risen from the dead. “He was here! You just missed Him!”, was the essence of what they said. “Nope! I will never believe that, not unless I put my hands into the spear wound!” Jesus had let Thomas down and frustrated him for the last time! Thomas was done. Been there? Been there.
During this moment of fierce authenticity, Jesus appeared to Thomas. Thomas fell to His knees, his heart overcome with emotion, “My Lord and my God!” The age of faith was over for Thomas. He would never have to doubt again. Jesus’ response to Thomas helps us cope with the many prayers we pray that seemingly aren’t answered. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20) This response should prepare us for life. Jesus praises a future generation of followers who will believe in the midst of a life where their disappointments are NOT rescued by continual miraculous interventions.
Here’s the thought that gets me through my disappointments with God: If God did everything I asked of Him, if I could walk through hospitals and heal on command, then I would need no faith. No one would need faith. We would love God because He was our own personal Santa Claus. We would believe because we got what we wanted. Then, we would go on our way until we needed Him again (See the Old Testament for endless examples!). I’m guessing we could look to any celebrity’s love life and friendships to see this principle at work as well. People love them for the money and the brand! The Bible says that God loves and wants to be loved. It seems to me that this is the age of faith where He can truly see who loves and who believes. Then comes the reward and the eternal celebration. I think a big part of the joy of that moment will be realizing that this age of faith we now live in has come to a close. “He will live with them. They will be His people and He will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This is a promise for the future, repeated often throughout the Bible, not the promised result of every earthly prayer.
So, what to do with Jesus’ words from John 14? First, pray like God can do anything and sometimes He will. I really have seen miracles. Also, realize that this is the age where God is looking more for our faith than for our comfort. Don’t be discouraged by doubt. After all, when we doubt, but pray anyway, I think that’s actually a demonstration of faith! “Ya? Jesus still said ‘I will do whatever you ask’… what do we do with that?” I don’t know. I’m praying anyway. I’m believing anyway… even when I don’t believe. This is the age of faith so I’m going to just keep believing.