If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. … Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. … You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. … Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” … Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. … Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
I have an excessive need for control — or, at least, that’s what my psychology-major brother tells me. And he’s at least partially right. I have a deep impatience with uncertainty in life, and whenever the future seems unclear, every fiber of my being wants to grasp the reins of my life and drive it feverishly towards whatever I think is best.
But throughout the last few weeks and months, I’ve been learning an important truth: Life is not meant to be grasped and controlled. Instead, it is meant to be lived and enjoyed, in the light of God’s sovereignty and love.
Life is always so full of changes, and I’ve found over time that many of them are good. But with change always comes uncertainty, and with uncertainty comes the desire to control. I’m so excited about so many changes that are happening right now in my life, and in the lives of those I care about. But lurking always under the joy and hope that I have for the future is a lack of patience and a deep insecurity. I want to know how these things will end, what will happen in the next two months, or the next two years, and I want to be able to predict and control all the varying changes that will affect where my life is headed.
But when I let myself get caught up in thinking about the future, and in trying to cling to whatever I want it to be, I find myself missing out on the joys of my present life. I think it is good and healthy and right to have deep and even specific desires for the future, but when those hopes become expectations, those expectations create fears and doubts, and we lose our ability to rest in the gratitude for what IS, because we’re too worried about what will be.
I remember hearing a preacher once denounce “Que Sera, Sera” as a thoroughly unChristian and evil song, pointing out its inherent apathy and lack of conviction. But I’m inclined to believe that dear old Doris has a point. “Whatever will be, will be.” Now, this only works when you say it with a genuine conviction that whatever will be will be perfect and right, because it is divinely orchestrated by our loving God. And the knowledge that God is working out his eternal purposes, according to the counsel of his will, through his providence in preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions — that knowledge has given me so much freedom from the worry of whatever may come in life, and from anxiety over whether life’s many changes will bring about good or bad.
And so, just as I began to recognize that I really do need to let go of my desire to be in control of my life, I was given the terrifying and wonderful opportunity to lead a group study of James. And as I started studying James in preparation, I was reminded that God is the giver of good gifts. And not only that, but he gives good things generously to those who love him, and to those who ask in faith. Because the prayer of the righteous has great power. These truths have absolutely revolutionized my prayer life throughout recent weeks, and I am so thankful that God has graciously reminded me of his care for the minute circumstances of my life, and of his most holy, wise, and powerful work in my daily life. The fact that he is intimately concerned with each moment of each day — that, in fact, he sustains the existence of even the tiniest particle of matter at every moment — and that, as someone told me once, it is a cosmic impossibility for God to be anything less than absolutely good to you at every moment of your life — gives me so much confidence in his ability to use even the biggest, scariest changes in our lives to bring about his purposes.
And it gives me freedom to hope, deeply and genuinely, without fostering false expectations. Because, in hope, I can come before God boldly, requesting the fulfillment of my desires, in full confidence that he will provide for my needs — and then, in faith, I can relinquish any impulse to try to control the outcomes of those desires, because God’s perfect will is far superior to anything I could ever expect for myself. And so, I pray that the things I desire might come to pass, but only in accordance with God’s will, and only insofar as he receives glory therein. And then, I rejoice in the knowledge that all things in life, whether difficult or easy, painful or joyful, disappointing or beautifully fulfilling, are being worked out for the good of those who love God, because this is what brings him most glory.
And such prayers deliver me also from the fears which so often cripple my heart when I think about the uncertainties in life. No longer must I worry about being hurt or disappointed. No longer do I dwell on my insecurities and failures. Suffering and trials will come, as will abundance and growth and joy, but in every circumstance, God is at work. I don’t have to worry that I’ll somehow make a mistake and destroy any good thing in my future, because I am not in control — and thank goodness for that!
And, furthermore, coming to rest in the power of such prayers enlivens and deepens my prayer life, as I begin to rely on God’s providence not only in my own life, but in the lives of those I love. When someone is hurting, and I do not know how to comfort them, I remember that the Holy Spirit is our comforter, and that only by his power — not my own — can I ever be truly comforting. When someone asks for advice, and I fear that I’ll be wrong, I remember that the Word of God is our only rule for life, and that only in coming to know it more fully can I hope to speak wisdom into the lives of others. When someone trusts me, and I fear I’ll disappoint and fail them, I remember that God alone is fully worthy of our trust, and that when failures inevitably come, his forgiveness will work in the hearts of his children. Indeed, knowing that God is at work in others’ lives gives us also the confidence to trust other Christians more fully, not because of their own goodness, but because their hearts incline towards God, who is working out his plans in and through them as well. This is one of the blessings of fellowship — that we may rejoice in God’s work in each others’ lives, by weeping with those who weep, encouraging those in need, and celebrating with those who rejoice.
And so, no matter what the trial in life (of which there are many and various, daily), I can and should seek God in prayer, asking in confident faith for the wisdom I lack, because he gives generously and without reproach. Because in prayer, we do not gain power for ourselves, but we learn submission and contentment, and confidence in the power of the God who has chosen the poor in the world to make rich in faith, and whose strength is most powerfully displayed in our weakness, and not in our ability to control. And when we let go of our anxious cravings for control, we can be free to enjoy each day as it comes, and to be truly thankful for the abundant blessings in our lives, without an unwholesome preoccupation with the fear of loss or pain.
Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake to guide thy future, as he has the past.