I started reading “The Hole in our Gospel” by Richard Stearns a couple of days ago. On page 40 he mentions something that had been gnawing at me for quite a while now.
“The Prayer Of Jabez Revisited
… A few years ago, when the phenomenal book The Prayer of Jabez was published, I was eager to read it to see what everyone was talking about. The book is based on an obscure prayer found in the middle of a long section of genealogies in 1 Chronicles 4: “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain” (vv.9-10).
The gist of the book was that if we would truly pray for God to bless us in this way, to be used by Him for the kingdom, good things would happen – God would “enlarge our territory,” and we would be able to serve Him in a deeper and expanded way. Nothing wrong with that. But many who read the book interpreted it differently. Their understanding was that God intends to bless us with things, such as career success, financial gains, and other outward signs of prosperity – all we have to do is ask. For many, in fact, the book became a celebration of the “prosperity gospel” – the belief that God rewards faithful and sincere Christians with success, good health, and material prosperity.
But wait, I remember thinking. If we truly pray for God to “enlarge our territory,” does it follow that He will always bless us in ways that bring happiness, fulfillment, and material blessings? What about that verse about taking up our cross daily, or the one about dying to self? Look at the apostle Paul. Talk about having your territory enlarged! God made him Apostle to the Gentiles, used him to write half of the New Testament and to build and strengthen the early church in astounding ways – but it sure didn’t result in a life of “sugar and spice and everything nice.”
True. Listen to what really happened to Paul when God expanded his territory:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (2Cor. 11:23-27)
We might want to think twice before we ask God for that
kind of blessing. The Bible is replete with those God used to do His will but who paid a great price. Ten of the twelve disciples died as martyrs for their faith. John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod. Isaiah was sawed in two. Over the centuries millions have been martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ, and many others have been afflicted. Joni Eareckson Tada, who now ministers to thousands, began her greatest ministry after her territory was enlarged – by a diving accident that paralyzed her. Chuck Colson, dynamic Christian speaker and founder of Prison Fellowship, got his “enlarged territory” only after he was convicted and sent to prison for crimes he committed during the Watergate scandal. Thousands of missionaries have lived difficult lives of sacrifice in relative poverty and deprivation as God expanded their work and ministries in the places where they served. God doesn’t promise that all of His followers will be protected from hardship and suffering. Christians get cancer, lose loved ones, and suffer financial setbacks just like everyone else. But God can also use our tragedies to expand our territory in ways that show a skeptical world a different way to live.” - Richard Stearns, (Thomas Nelson Publishing)
As I mentioned this has been gnawing at me for awhile now. Let me explain why. I try not to talk about my illness here as a rule. My illness doesn’t define who I am, nor is it the focus of my life. It’s just something that has to be dealt with and overcome on a daily basis. When I do mention it, it’s to help explain an issue or to make a point.
But ever since it began, I have had Christian loved ones quote Scriptures on healing, send books & tapes about faith, and sometimes admonish me for not ‘believing’ strongly enough. Believe me, I have tried it all. Despite my best efforts, I never once felt God telling me that I would be healed by following these formulas. Yes, God does heal. I firmly believe that with all my heart … but not always in this lifetime. For whatever reason, this is my circumstance for however long the season. It’s my responsibility to serve Him in spite of the circumstances. When I read this, I literally praised God (loudly) that someone has finally has been able to put words to what I’ve known in my spirit all these years.
I know others are going through physical, mental, and emotional afflictions too. I also know that they have questioned their own faith because they too haven’t been healed despite their own crying, begging, pleading, and sometimes bargaining with God. God doesn’t always bless His faithful with good health; and listen to me closely – illness is not punishment for lack of faith and/or obedience! It is merely a byproduct of living in a sinful world. It is up to us to step outside of our circumstances and serve God with a strength and determination that can only come from Him. I praise God because HE IS IN CONTROL and HE LIFTS ME UP WHEN I CAN’T DO IT ON MY OWN!
Be encouraged by the tremendous insight that God gave to Richard Stearns. We serve an awesome God! Remember, our life here in the earth isn’t about us – it’s all about glorifying our eternal Father in heaven and leading others to a relationship with Him. When we, as sojourners, finally make it to our eternal home – all pain, suffering, and tears will be forever wiped away! Paul refers to this life as a race. It’s not a race of speed. It’s a race of endurance. That will be my prize. That will be my reward. Another day, another mile … I can wait. Praise God!
Have a wonderful day and May the Lord bless you!