But If Not

–What to Do When God Doesn’t Seem to Answer Your Prayers

by David Brandt Berg

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A girl wrote me:

I started serving the Lord a couple of years ago for eight months, but then I stopped because my face became very spotty. It sounds so silly, but it was my biggest trial! I prayed that God would heal me, but for some reason He didn’t. Then I started working for the Lord again about two months ago, and my face has become all spotty again. I have worked myself into such a state over it that it keeps me from hearing or obeying God like I know I should. Sometimes my face breaks out in big boils. I may have prayed myself out of faith, as I’ve cried out to God so many times!

I’ve gotten so low and depressed that I sometimes even felt like killing myself. But I know if you pray for me, God will heal me. I want to serve Him, I want to be free of this problem so I can get my eyes off myself and reach the world for Jesus, but I don’t know how long I can go on like this. Please try to understand. Don’t just say it’s my pride, but have compassion on me. This is my last hope! I’ll be waiting to hear from you and will know you have prayed when my face clears up.

Much love,
Susan

 
 
You poor girl! Won’t you know I’ve prayed for you until your face clears up?—Just like you can’t seem to believe God loves you unless He heals you. It is the Devil’s business to give you such tests to try to convince you God doesn’t love you and He doesn’t answer prayer, but He does!

The very fact that this always happens when you start serving God proves that it’s a test of the Enemy, that he’s trying to discourage you from going on. The Lord is letting the Enemy do it in order to test your faith, and to see how much you really love the Lord and what price you’re willing to pay to serve Him. Of course, it could also be partly your diet. When my wife was younger she had the same problem until she stopped eating sweets. Now her complexion is beautiful.

But this case sounds to me like a definite demonic reaction by the Devil against your trying to serve the Lord. In other words, the Devil doesn’t like it when you’re working for the Lord.

The Lord probably is dealing with you about your pride—the very thing you’re afraid of having exposed and don’t want to confess. At the root of all sin there is always pride, and the fact that you let this problem stand in the way of your serving God sounds like you’re putting self before the Lord’s service.

It’s a test and very humiliating, but if you really want to serve the Lord, you’ve got to do that regardless. When you prove you love the Lord and His service more than your face, the Lord will probably heal you. You’re making your service for God and your faith contingent on God doing that first, when actually it works the other way around.

Faith and obedience come first, then God answers prayer. So many people have told me, “If God will heal me, then I’ll serve Him, then I’ll believe.” Anyone with that kind of attitude is simply putting self first, trying to make a deal with God. “If God will serve me first, then I’ll serve Him. You work for me first, God, then I’ll work for You.” Well, He just doesn’t work that way!

He still has the same old formula: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and [then] all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). The blessings don’t precede obedience. This is such a common mistake that people make. You don’t say, “Lord, You bless me, then I’ll obey.” God tests you first to see if you’ll obey, and then He can bless you.

It’s a real test too, but it often ends in murmuring. People hold it against God because He won’t heal them. “If He’d do it, then I’d serve Him, but He doesn’t love me. He doesn’t care, because He won’t heal me!” A lot of times I also feel like quitting because things aren’t going right, but I don’t quit. I just keep on plugging along, and eventually the Lord works things out.

It’s kind of a “me first” attitude: “You heal me first, then I’ll believe You, then I’ll obey.” It’s just like the religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees, told Jesus: “Perform a miracle for us, then we’ll believe!”—But He’d already done all kinds of mir­acles, and they still didn’t believe! So He said, “Even if I would raise somebody from the dead, you still wouldn’t believe, because you don’t believe what all the other prophets and I have already said!” (Luke 16:27-31). But then Jesus did raise somebody from the dead—Lazarus—and that’s what made the religious leaders decide they had to kill Him! (John 11:37-53).

This business of hinging your faith on the answer instead of on the Word is like a works religion. It’s like saying, “Show me! I’ll believe it when I see it. Seeing is believing.” But that’s not the way faith works. With faith, believing is seeing! Faith works on blind obedience, no matter whether you ever get the answer or not. You can’t make your service for God conditional to the answer. Even if your face was one big boil, you ought to serve Him regardless! Who knows? It might encourage some poor people who have worse problems than you to go ahead and serve the Lord. If they see that you’re willing to serve the Lord and not be ashamed, regardless of your handicaps, it might encourage them to do the same.

Look at the Old Testament character Job: He lost everything—his family, his fortune, and finally his health. He was covered with boils from head to toe, but he still said it didn’t matter. Even if God killed him, he’d still keep on trusting Him (Job 13:15).

You just cannot make your obedience contingent on your terms and the way you think God ought to answer, and providing everything goes all right. You can’t only be God’s fair-weather friend. You have to keep on serving the Lord even when everything goes all wrong. If you’re only going to be willing to believe and obey the Lord as long as everything goes all right, you won’t be believing or obeying very much, because a lot of things go wrong when you’re serving the Lord. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” (Psalm 34:19).

If every time you have an affliction you quit serving God, you’ll be a perpetual quitter! Of course, sometimes others may make you feel bad if you’re not healed. They blame it on you, just like Job’s three counselors did. All of them said, “There must be something wrong with you, Job!” Well, in Job’s case it did turn out that something was wrong with him: He had a lot of self-righteous pride. He was proud of his faith, proud he was so good, and proud he had served God all his life. So God had to let the Devil knock him flat to prove he was nothing without the Lord.

Sometimes you’re ashamed because others are ashamed of you, and they don’t even want to have you around because they think you’ll reflect badly on them. But Jesus had all kinds of handicapped people following Him, and He healed all that He could. There are plenty of examples in the Bible of people who kept following Him no matter what, and eventually they got healed—even when it seemed like He was ignoring them, like the blind beggar (Mark 10:46-52) and the woman with the sick daughter (Matthew 15:21-28). But who knows if everyone who came to Jesus got healed? The ones who quit before they got healed, of course never got healed!

God wants to test your faith and willingness to obey before He’s going to heal you. He wants to see if you’ll believe and obey Him even if you think you may never get healed. What’s your healing got to do with faith and obedience? Nothing! But your faith and obedience have a lot to do with your healing! Whether you get healed or not should have nothing to do with whether you believe and serve the Lord or not.

You’ve got to believe and obey the Lord even if He never heals you. The apostle Paul had “a thorn in [his] flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) until the day of his death, to keep him humble. He couldn’t even be trusted with full health because that probably would have made him too full of pride, because the Lord had honored him in so many other ways. But Paul’s thorn in the flesh didn’t keep him from serving God. And as long as it is possible for you to keep on serving God, you’ve got to keep on serving Him regardless of whether He ever sees fit to heal you or not. You may be a whole lot more useful to the Lord with a face full of boils, or a whole lot more humble and believing with a whole body covered with boils like Job was, than if the Lord would heal you.

A lot of people just want to use God. I’ve known people whom God healed too easily, and then they just took off and went their own way. They were really lying to God: They’d sworn up and down that if He’d just heal them, then they’d serve Him. Then the minute He did, they just took off and forgot all about it! In the Old Testament, Israel used to do that all the time. They’d promise, “O God, if You’ll just save us, we’ll serve You forever!”—And as soon as He did save them, they forgot their oaths and were more unbelieving, murmuring, and disobedient than ever.

I’ve never gotten healed that way. Some of the times when I was nearest to death, I told the Lord, “Well, Lord, I’d like to be healed so I could serve You better, but I’m not going to stop serving You if You don’t heal me.” And just like Job, there have been times when I told the Lord, “Well, if You heal me, fine, but even if I end up dying, I’ll still believe and love You anyway. It’s my duty to believe and love and serve You no matter what, and I’m not going to quit just because things get tough and it looks like You have deserted me.”

Like God tested the Hebrews in the wilderness with Moses, God may be testing your faith to see if you’re going to believe and obey Him no matter what. The minute they had a little test, the older generation quit believing and quit obeying, and so they died and never made it to the Promised Land. They remind me of a lot of weak Christians today—self-righteous people who try to tell God what to do and are always saying, “Well, if God is so good, then why does He let us suffer like this? If God would be better to us, then we’d serve Him.” The fact of the matter is, the minute He is a little better to them, then they go their own ways and forget all about Him. They can’t be trusted with whatever it is they’re asking from Him.

I had a student at my Bible school once with a similar skin affliction, and she had two children and no husband on top of that. She was always asking, “Why? Why? Why has God done this to me? Why does God let me suffer like this? I thought maybe when I came to your school for missionaries, God would heal me, but I’m still suffering! Why?”

When people start asking God why in that spirit, it is pure self-righteousness. The answer the Lord gave me for her was the same one He gave Job: “Are you going to discredit My justice and condemn Me so that you can say you are right?” (Job 40:8 TLB).

People with that self-righteous attitude are saying, “Well, God, if I were You, I’d do things better than You’re doing them. I’d be more righteous. I’d heal me!” Just like a song that was popular many years ago: “If I Were King!” It goes on to say that if I were king, I wouldn’t allow all these bad things that go on in the world to continue. In other words, “I’m more righteous than God! God isn’t good, or He wouldn’t let all these bad things happen!”

But that’s because they don’t understand what God’s doing or why He’s doing it, and they’ll never understand until they have faith to trust Him that He knows best, just as children must trust their parents. Even though children may not understand why they must do this or that, they just have to “do it because Daddy says so.” They have to believe and obey whether they like it or not, because Daddy knows best. In the long run, they’ll probably find out Daddy was right, and if they didn’t obey, they’ll probably find out the hard way. It’s just that simple!

God tests our faith to see if it’s real gold faith—to see if we’ll still believe and obey Him no matter what happens. He says that the trying of your faith—the testing of it—is “more precious than gold” (1 Peter 1:7). Gold will go through the fire and come out even purer gold, if it is real gold!

But just as real faith is compared to gold in the Bible, so fair-weather faith can be compared to paper money, which has no value of its own. Try putting that “paper money” faith through the fire and see what happens! That so-called faith is not worth a thing the minute it’s tested.

That’s a good illustration of why the world’s paper financial system is collapsing. It is based on paper money instead of God’s good gold. Put paper and gold through the fire, and see which one comes out the best! You’ll find that real gold will come out even finer gold, because the fire burns all the dross and impurities away. But that paper money that claims to be valuable isn’t worth the paper it is printed on when the real test comes. The minute it feels the slightest flame, it goes up in smoke and you’ve got nothing left but a few ashes!

That’s the exact difference between real faith and supposed faith: Real faith can stand the test and go through the fire and still come out better than ever before, like gold. But something that looks like faith, like the paper money, the minute it goes through the fire, it’s gone!

People who live within God’s Gates of Faith can survive anything, even death! They can say, like Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). They’ll enjoy God’s Golden City forever after, while those who merely pretend to have faith in God are going to see their “accomplishments” go up in smoke, because their lives and service for the Lord are like wood, hay, and stubble that can’t stand the test of the fires of God’s afflictions and trials of faith (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

If you’ve got real faith, you’ll keep on going for God even if it kills you—and it will kill you, in a sense. Serving God means death to self and pride and all that self-righteousness as you “die daily” to reach others with His love (1 Corinthians 15:31).

I’ve often felt like quitting because I’m so stupid and make so many blunders and have so many besetting sins. Sometimes I don’t see how God can possibly love me or put up with me—but He does, so I keep on going! I refuse to quit because I believe God. Therefore I know I have to obey Him, and I don’t dare quit!

What if God quit every time we Christians gave Him a lot of trouble? Then we’d all be in a big mess! The Bible says that we Christians are the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). What if God quit every time we, His face, break out in a bunch of ugly spots and pimples and boils and acne and whatnot? We’re the only face He’s got, and He’s got to keep going no matter how ugly we are or how badly His Body behaves sometimes, in spite of what He tells it to do!

He’s got to keep on going even if we get ourselves all tangled up and in a big mess. He’s got to keep on trying to pull us through and teach every part of His Body to function properly and operate gracefully with good coordination, instead of all jerky and twisted and grotesque like the spiritually handicapped people we so often are.

He’s got to keep on trying to teach us how to talk, even if we seem to be tongue-tied. He’s got to keep on yelling loud enough so we’ll listen, even when we’ve got our fingers in our ears trying not to! He’s got to keep on trying to make us see and follow the truth, even when we’re so spiritually sleepy we’d rather shut our eyes and drift off into the Devil’s dreamland. And He’s got to try to make us bear spiritual fruit, little spiritual babes, new Christians—even a few sick and misshapen ones, rather than none at all. That’s the kind of Body God has to put up with. So why should you be griping about a few little afflictions? Look at the mess God’s Body is in! Only the love, grace, and mercy of God can ever pull us through.

“But if not,” we believers have still got to keep going and believing and obeying. Like the three captive Hebrew children who Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonian empire, had thrown into the fiery furnace: They said, “Our God is able to deliver us, but even if He doesn’t, we’re still not going to bow down to your heathen idol!” And it looked like their end, because into the furnace they went. The furnace was so hot that even their executioners died! But because of their faith and obedience, God was with them there, too, and they came out without even the smell of smoke on them (Daniel 3:17-27).

Or like Job, whom the Lord let the Devil nearly destroy by killing his family and his finances, and almost even killing him. But he still didn’t say uncle to the Devil—not even when his wife told him to “curse God and die” (Job 2:8-10). Job just kept on believing and obeying, with boils from head to toe, sitting on a heap of ashes and wearily scraping away the pus and the scabs and the sores with a piece of broken pottery, saying, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him!” Can you say that? I hope you don’t have to get in such a mess as Job, but if you do, don’t quit, whatever you do!

Keep going for God! Keep believing and obeying no matter what happens! Maybe you’ll come out without even the smell of smoke on you, like those three Hebrew children—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Maybe you’ll end up with an even bigger family and be richer and healthier and happier and wiser than ever, like Job, if you will just hang on a little longer like he did and not give up!

John Paul Jones, a sea captain in the fledgling Continental Navy during the American Revolution, was another person who refused to give up. In one engagement with an enemy ship, his own ship was severely damaged by enemy fire and was sinking. Half of his men had been killed. Many others had been wounded, including Jones. When the enemy captain called for Jones to surrender, Jones screamed back, “Surrender? Hell no! I have not yet begun to fight!” He refused to surrender and kept on fighting—and he eventually won the battle.

Maybe you haven’t even begun to fight the ol’ Devil yet. Maybe you haven’t yet “resisted unto blood” like Jesus did (Hebrews 12:4 KJV). But even though it killed Him, only three days later He rose in triumph from the tomb! Even death itself couldn’t hold Him down!

In medical science they refer to what is called the “threshold of pain.” How much pain can people stand? Some people’s threshold is pretty low. How much of a test can you stand before you quit?

If you will proclaim Him and His love to others—even if it kills you, like it did the martyrs—He says He’ll honor you before God and all the holy angels (Luke 12:8). Which will you be?—A doubter, disobeyer, and denier?—Or a believer, obeyer, and broadcaster of the truth?

If you go back from your service to God, you’ll make God sick. But it you go on even if you’re sick, you’ll make God happy in the end! Some Christians are always talking about “sudden death, sudden glory!” That’s the way they want to go—no pain, no suffering, no dying daily. But even if your service for the Lord means dying to yourself to help others, it’ll bring you eternal glory!

So which will it be for you? Are you a fighter or a deserter? Are you going to quit just because of a few little trials and problems and afflictions, or are you going to keep on going with God, no matter what? What greater witness can you give than to both live and die to yourself for Jesus?

God loves you! Remember that no matter what happens! He wants to heal and help you if He can trust you to obey Him. “But if not”—if He doesn’t heal or help you yet—keep on going for God. Will you? Please try! (More Than Conquerors, A Mountain Streams Book)

 
 

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frederickolson

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.

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