“Don’t take this wrong, but we prayed before our children were born, and all of them were born healthy.”
I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to take that. We had just told a new acquaintance that our infant son, Paul, had died several years earlier, after we had already grieved three difficult miscarriages. I felt judged. According to this person speaking to me, Paul’s death and my miscarriages were easily preventable. It was simple. We hadn’t prayed enough. We had neglected to do our part. In short, we were to blame.
This attitude wasn’t new to me. I had felt this mixture of judgment and pressure from the day I learned of Paul’s heart problem four months into the pregnancy. Concerned friends had rallied around, assuring me of healing for my unborn son. “Pray, believing you will receive,” they urged from James 5, “and he will be healed.”
So I prayed. I fasted. I recited set prayers. I read books on healing. I asked friends to pray. I begged God. I did everything I knew to do.
I assumed my prayers would be effective. I knew God was able to do even more than I had asked. And I had been faithful. I taught Bible study. I tithed. Surely God would do what I wanted.
But months later, sitting beside Paul’s empty crib, I had more questions than answers. What had I done wrong? Why didn’t my faithful life result in blessing? Was I to blame? Or was God?
My Slanted Arrangement
Nothing made sense. And in the ensuing months, I poured myself into theology. I wanted to understand this God who I claimed to worship but couldn’t figure out. While God graciously comforted me with his presence, I still had unanswered questions.
As I examined my expectations, I realized that I had unconsciously assumed that life was linear. I was living as though God’s blessings were dependent on my faithfulness and trouble was a result of my failings. So if I fulfilled my end of the relationship, God would certainly fulfill his. If not, what was the point of obeying God?
Tim Keller, in his book Prodigal God, talks about this subtle but dangerous expectation. He writes, “If, like the elder brother, you seek to control God through your obedience, then all your morality is just a way to use God to make him give you the things in life you really want.”