Really interesting and helpful talk at the church meeting this morning (thanks, Simon!). I won't summarise the whole talk – it should soon be up on our church's website (password needed) – but one thing Simon mentioned in passing got me thinking. He said God has often let him down and not done what Simon was hoping or expecting. So what should we expect from God?
I want to focus on two areas where we might have expectations of God; guidance and 'fixing things'. There are no doubt other things we expect from God but I've been thinking about those two areas in particular as they were mentioned in the talk this morning.
We have to make decisions all the time, most of them fairly trivial (what clothes should I wear today, what should I have for breakfast...) but some very important. With the important decisions, it'd be quite nice if God made it clear which option which should choose, wouldn't it?
But does he? Should he? Where does it come from, this idea that God will guide us?
It seems to me that God's intention for us is that we become mature, holy disciples, which means people who naturally and almost effortlessly do what's right. He doesn't want to 'tell us what to do', rather he wants us to be so transformed in our character that our default setting is to act within his will.
I don't want to say that God never guides us through signs, coincidences, prophecies and the like. He clearly does use those methods. But my sense is that it's God's preference for us to work in partnership with him, submitting to his gentle, gracious shaping of our human nature so that, when tested, we do what God would have us do. This thought has been expressed as 'Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.'
Expecting God to make things better
When we pray (certainly when I pray!) it's often along the lines of asking God to make some situation better. Again, I don't want to say this is wrong but it's a prayer that's largely absent from the New Testament. As I've written before, the far more frequent prayer in the New Testament is 'Lord, fix us!'. One example is from Colossians 1:9-12:
We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.
We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father.
Just to emphasise, I think it's fine to ask God for relief from what troubles us. Indeed one lady gave a particularly poignant illustration of this at our meeting this morning. But let's also pray for God to work in us so we can live well and bring him honour in the midst of our trials.