“And I am sure that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
This wonderful verse assures us that God continually works in our lives. Like a diamond in the rough, God chips away and polishes everything that prevents us from shining for Him. Paul’s confidence should be our confidence. I know that God is working in my life. You should be confident too.
But someone understandably will ask, “why is it taking so long?” Cannot God simply make us whole now? Wouldn’t we cause a lot fewer problems to others and ourselves if God would simply go ahead and complete His work? These are not petulant questions. They come from a genuine desire to be what God wants us to be. Now. Why doesn’t it happen now?
To complicate matters, change is often the subject of prayer. The reasoning is something like, “I realize this part of me needs change. I know God wants to eliminate this habit. I have prayed about it, yet it remains a thorny problem. Why?” The apparent slowness of God’s work in bringing us to completion is one of the most frustrating aspects of the Christian’s life and faith.
A part of the answer, and I stress that it is only a part, is that our freedom to choose and our willingness to choose is shaped, and sometimes compromised, by countless variables. The way I was raised by my parents influences my decisions today. My habits of mind are well established and influence me. The school I went to influences me. My relationships today influence me. The recent books or articles I have read influence me.
In other words my “freedom,” while real, is not in a vacuum. It is subject to a thousand different influences, personal, social, biological, etc. This freedom is more complex and perhaps not quite as free as I thought it was!
Add to this the fact that prayer itself is very social in nature. For example, I might pray for a person to break a bad habit. While everyone would agree that such an outcome would be good, God will not contravene the countless variables that influence all the people that have a role in making that request a reality. The request is not made, or granted, in a vacuum.
All this makes God’s providence appear irritatingly slow. It leads some people to doubt, and leads others to dismiss God’s action altogether. We return to the age-old question, “why doesn’t God fix me, and why doesn’t He fix me now?” The whole problem focuses on the turbulent waters where God’s providence meets the free will He granted me and the often poor ways I, and others, have used that gift.
The Christian’s response is to trust that God is indeed at work. We know that He is good and loving, not neglectful. We also have to trust that only God is qualified to extricate His will from all the thorny hindrances erected by self-will. This process is slow, out of necessity. God’s commitment to giving and respecting our free will often results in our frustration. But we cannot blame God. He is not the problem. He remains, always, the solution.
Life is not a cheap novel with an obvious plot and easily anticipated conclusion. God’s answers are sometimes unpredictable (as in 40 years of wilderness wanderings) or even unacceptable to some people (a suffering messiah, for example), but God will answer.
“All now mysterious shall be bright at last.” I know that to be true. So do you. In the interim, continue to pray, continue to serve and give yourself to Christ. Above all, continue to trust God who alone is qualified and trustworthy to bring you to completion.
Dr. Terry Ellis
January 3, 2012