In D.A. Carson’s book Praying with Paul, he gives the reader two poems from two anonymous authors which “sum up a great deal of profound theology in very practical terms” (200).
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.
I thought that in some favoured hour
At once he’d answer my request;
And, by his love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.
Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry power of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried.
“Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?”
“Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”
“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free,
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st seek thy all in me!”
He asked for strength that he might achieve;
wwhe was made weak that he might obey.
He asked for health that he might do greater things;
wwhe was given infirmity that he might do better things.
He asked for riches that he might be happy;
wwhe was given poverty that he might be wise.
He asked for power that he might have the praise of men;
wwhe was given weakness that he might feel the need of God.
He asked for all things that he might enjoy life;
wwhe was given life that he might enjoy all things.
He has received nothing that he asked for, all that he hoped for;
wwhis prayer is answered.
This isn’t a warning to “be careful what you pray for.” It’s to let you know that God is more interested in conforming us into the image of his Son (Rom 8.29) than he is letting us live fat and happy. Our ideas of health and wealth may be too close to walking the line (Mk 4.7, 18-19). Rather, we often have our own thorns that keep us from becoming prideful and which are meant to help us keep our eyes on our Sovereign Lord. When you’re weak, you can’t do anything but obey. When you have infirmity, you don’t have the ability to spread yourself. You focus on what God has given you and you do it well. In poverty you learn to fix and do things yourself, learning how the created world is set to work. In our weakness we see that God is all we have. With eternal life, God is the center and everything flows out of him. Rivers of living water make our good days, our difficult days, and our boring days meaningful and hope-filled. The man in the second poem asked for certain means to bring him to a certain end. As a loving, eternal Father, God gave him a better end, one filled with a “broken” life with him. Broken of our schemes of earthly joy, that we may seek our all in him.
Next, my review of Carson’s Praying with Paul.