This is a little story about me.
Two days ago, on Sunday, I wasn’t feeling very well. I’ve been having back problems for a couple of weeks, and the medicine I was taking helped the pain but had the side effect of quite bad nausea. So on Sunday I had stopped taking them. The back pain was returning, but the nausea was still there.
Sunday was also a busy day. I was leading a service in the afternoon, and preaching at our church in the evening. During the afternoon service I felt very sick indeed – I had to step out for a little bit. As I got into the car to drive back to pick Mel up and head to our church to preach, I did not feel good at all.
I looked at the clock in the car. 4:53, it read. I knew the service in the evening would be over by 8:00 and I really wanted to be able to preach well. It felt very important to me. So I prayed:
“God, you know the discomfort and pain I’m in, and the sickness I feel. Please can I have 3 hours and 7 minutes without back pain and without nausea. That’s all I really need to get through this.”
Over the next couple of minutes as I drove, my stomach settled and I felt at ease. I started to forget the sickness, and think instead about the upcoming task of preaching. I picked up Mel, drove to our church building, and prepared myself. The odd flutter of nerves, but nothing more. I felt ok. Our senior pastor prayed for me. Mel prayed for me.
The service went on, I preached, and it went extremely well – I believe people were genuinely moved and helped by what I said, and I was able to speak and move freely. The service ended. Mel and I decided to pop in on some friends who live just next door to the church building on our way home. As I walked into their sitting room and sat down, my back started hurting again. I looked at the clock:
8:00. 3 hours and 7 minutes after I had prayed. (Part of me wished I’d asked for 4 hours and 7 minutes.)
The Moral of the Story
So, why tell this story? I like this story, and it encourages me, but we often hear these little stories of God’s provision, of answering prayers. But what is the moral of this story?
That God is good? Well, not really. If I only believe God is good because He did this for me, what does that say? That He wouldn’t be good – or would be less good – if my symptoms hadn’t been held at bay for a few hours? That He won’t be as good if I ever have to preach while in severe pain or while very sick? That doesn’t sound right.
Maybe it’s that God answers prayer? It certainly is an example of that, but surely that’s something I should believe anyway, whether or not He has said a very obvious ‘Yes’ to something I have asked of Him in the last few days.
Or I could draw from my story evidence that God values the preaching of his word. He wanted to protect me so I could preach well. But does that mean He doesn’t value the ministry of others who have to serve in the midst of pain, or that when preachers do get and stay ill then they are bad preachers?!
I don’t think any of these is the lesson to draw from the story.
In fact, I think there are no morals. Not in that sense anyway. Stories are wonderful, and they show us examples of all these things which are true. But they are never the reason that something is true.
God isn’t good because He helped me. God doesn’t answer prayer because He answered prayer. God doesn’t value preaching because He valued mine on Sunday.
He just is good. He just does answer prayer. He just does want His word to be proclaimed.
God is God. If something is true of Him, it is true of Him, whether I see it or not, experience it or not, feel it or not. I really struggle with something I see quite a lot – our theology being shaped or defined by our own experiences. Instead, our understanding of our experiences should be shaped by what we know to be true anyway.
Stories are good. Testimonies are fantastic. I share this story, hoping it will be some encouragement to others as it was to me. It is an example of God’s grace for sure, but not the only reason we should believe in God’s grace.
We believe things because they are true, not because we feel them. But if they’re true, we can expect to feel them every so often.