Sunday, 15 February 2015

Blessings wrapped as disappointments

Peter looked straight at the crippled man, as did John. Then Peter said "Look at us!" So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk". Acts 3:4-6

What topics come near the top of your regular prayer list?
Apart from the big world-wide matters reported on the news (I do hope we remember to pray about these things?) it may be that many of us pray about a fairly small range of issues: our health; family concerns; our work situation; our church; money worries, that sort of thing. And there is nothing wrong with that: God is our Father, and he wants us to bring our concerns to him.
But, as we all know from experience, God's way of answering our prayers is often not what we expected - or even particularly wanted.
The man in Acts 3 was crippled from birth. This means, in all probability, that he had been sitting daily at the Beautiful Gate of the Jerusalem temple, begging, for a long, long time. He had ceased to see people as people - they were just possible sources of income. (This, I suspect, is why Peter tells him quite sharply "Look at us"! - he had lost the habit of catching anyone's eye.) You see unfortunate people like him often in London underground stations.
Peter's words at first must have been a disappointment to him: "Silver or gold I don't have". He might have thought "Well, kindly get out of the way then! - you can’t help me, so I'm not interested in you." But things changed when Peter gave him something infinitely greater than he could have anticipated - as I heard it put once, Peter didn't give him alms (that is, charity), but he did give him legs!
It's similar with the paralysed man who was let down through the roof to Jesus in Mark 2. He too has probably not walked for years, and is completely dependent on his friends. So he looks eagerly up at Jesus: is this going to be his big day? And what does Jesus say? - "My son, your sins are forgiven".
Oh dear. Again, he might well have replied, "Well, Jesus, that’s very kind of you of course, and I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but actually, just in case it has escaped your notice, I am in fact paralysed. To be quite honest, forgiveness is all very nice, but it really is something I am quite happy to wait for..."
Two cases, at first at least, of "Er, thanks but no thanks..." But in each case the person in need ended up with something far, far greater than they hoped for.
It's a little different in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul (a man who was used by God to heal others, remember) was himself afflicted with a "thorn in the side", whatever that may have been. He asks God to take it away - not once or twice, but three times. But God says no: "My grace is sufficient for you..." To which Paul might well have replied "Well, thanks a bunch, Lord, but what about this wretched thorn..."
Prayer, it seems, can be more complex than we imagine! All I can say, again, is that in each of these cases the disappointed person on the receiving end got far more - and far better - eventually than they hoped. What, even Paul? Yes, even Paul. His "disappointment" paved the way for an even closer relationship with God. He goes on to talk about the deeper level of joy into which he entered, even though he did have to keep putting up with that thorn.

We must, of course, pray for those things which present themselves to our minds at the time, our immediate and felt needs. That's fine. But let's not limit God. We may know what we would like. But he alone knows what we really need.
So never forget... what seems to us a disappointment may very well be the wrapping paper around a far greater blessing.

Father in heaven, help me daily to trust that while I know only my most obvious and urgent needs, you have my far deeper interests at heart, and that even the disappointments in answered prayer will turn out for my ultimate good. Amen.
Could it be that God has answered a prayer of yours - but you never realised it because it came in a form you weren’t expecting and perhaps didn’t really want?

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