In hope against hope [Abraham] believed, so that he might become a father of many nations . . . [and] without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead . . . (Romans 4:18-24. St. Paul is referencing the Old Testament story found in Genesis 15:1-6).
Sometimes I have difficulty trusting God to answer my prayers. Not the small ones that are of little consequence – like finding lost keys or quickly recovering from a cold. He’s answered those kinds of prayers numerous times for me during the past four decades. But I mean the ‘big’ prayers – like healing people of cancer or chronic illness, or my pleading for the salvation of those close to me.
Sometimes those prayers seem to fall on deaf ears. In a few cases, I’ve prayed for years. Even decades. And nothing has changed, except we’ve grown older, but no healthier or closer to Jesus. In some cases, people died before I could see the answer to my prayer.
Yet, at my age in Christ – I’ve been serving Him nearly 40 years – the smallness of my faith very much troubles me, especially when I read passages like the one in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans cited above. But I argue with myself that it was easy for Abraham to trust God’s promise because God actually spoke with him face to face. And so I tell myself if God made a face-to-face promise to me about the people for whom I pray, I could believe better, too.
At least, that’s what I tell myself.
Recently, as I contemplated this passage in Romans and told the Lord how disappointed I am that He has not yet answered some of my ‘big’ prayers, I sensed Him ask, “If you can’t trust Me to answer your big prayers, can you trust Me, nonetheless, to do what’s right – even if I don’t answer your prayers?”
I thought about that for a few moments, and as if to help settle the question, I remembered what Abraham said to the Lord before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah: “Shall not the Judge of all the world do right?” (Genesis 18:25).
It was a rhetorical question Abraham asked. He knew the answer. Of course God will do right. He can never do anything that is not right or just or pure or holy. Such virtues are part of His very nature, and to do otherwise would be uniquely impossible.
So the Holy Spirit’s question circled in my mind. If I can’t completely trust Him to grant me my ‘big’ requests, can I at least trust Him to do what is right?
I didn’t answer the question at the time. I still have not answered it.
The right answer requires a measure of faith – or trust, or confidence . . . whatever is the correct word I am not entirely sure even as I write this – the answer requires a measure of faith I am not sure I have. After all, if the people for whom I pray don’t get better – or even die, despite my prayers – with what can I comfort myself?
Or if those for whom I pray never accept Jesus as their Lord, if they do not serve Him in humility and obedience, I know they will enter an eternity of measureless emptiness and pain when they die. And I wonder how I would be able to reconcile myself with the knowledge that God is not willing that any perish, but those for whom I prayed did perish (2 Peter 3:9).
So, to glibly answer the Holy Spirit: “Yes, I believe You always do the right thing” is something I am, at the moment, unable to do because my answer would not be completely honest. And though I am embarrassed to admit my failure of faith, what good would it do to act as if my faith is greater than it is?
And so I keep circling.
And I plead with the Lord, “I believe. Help me in my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).