One of the questions I received last month when I was preaching the “Let Us Pray” series about prayer was this one:
How can I pray to thank God for saving me from illness, disaster, etc., when others have died or are dying from the same illness, disaster, etc.?
This is a tough question. It is the key question we can ask about God’s grace. Why me? Why me and not them? What did I do to deserve this grace, and what did they do not to deserve it?
I’m reminded of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address, speaking of the people in the north and in the Confederacy:
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. … The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. … as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.
Lincoln knew that part of the answer to this kind of question is to admit our ignorance. We will not know, on this side of eternity, the fullness of God’s purposes. We must simply trust that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous.
But while we do not know all its fullness, there are things the Scriptures tell us about God’s purposes. First, they tell us that God may not deliver us from trouble, but that God will certainly deliver us through trouble. Consider the story of Joseph (Genesis 37, 39-50) or David (1 Samuel 16f).
We may say, looking at the victims of a natural disaster, “God answered my prayers by sparing me, but not theirs.” But in fact, if we could ask them, they might tell us how they experienced God’s presence in their great troubles, and feel sorry for us because we were so distant from God in our lesser misfortunes.
The other thing the Scriptures consistently speak of is the idea that we are blessed to be a blessing. Consider the story of Joseph again or Esther (Esther 1-10). God doesn’t just save us from troubles for the fun of it, or even because he loves us. God delivers us from our troubles so that we can be a blessing to others, and bring him glory.
Each breath any one of us takes is a gift from God. But some of us have experienced a disease or other calamity that brings that home in a way the rest of us haven’t experienced. For some of us that’s more real than for others.
So if we are having trouble finding words of thanksgiving, maybe God wants more than just words. It could be a hint that God isn’t finished with us yet. Maybe God wants us to use that gift, the new lease on life he’s given us, to help others somehow. I don’t know how, but God does. So why not ask God what you should be doing with your life in thanksgiving for your salvation?
I enjoyed preaching the series on prayer, and hope you found it helpful. It’s over now, but I’d love to keep the conversation going. Whether you’re a “prayer ninja” who wants to share your insights, or a pilgrim like myself asking questions about prayer, I’d love to talk with you.