by Matt Slick
It seems that the question behind the question is “Why isn’t God answering my prayers even though I live for Him?” This is a question that many Christians wrestle with. It only seems fair that if we are living for God, He will be inclined to give us what we ask for. That is what Job thought. If you haven’t already, read the book of Job in the Old Testament. Though Job was the most righteous man alive in terms of his observance of good moral behavior, God allowed him to suffer. All of Job’s friends were convinced that he was suffering because of some sin he had committed. They had God in a box, assuming that He must act according to a particular formula: If I do good things, good things will be given to me. If I do bad things, bad things will happen to me.
God does not operate that way. We cannot think that God owes us anything for the good works that we do. In fact, if we do any good thing at all, it is only because we ought to do it anyway. Anything good that we have from God is by His grace, not because we can earn it. Matthew 5:45 says “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God gives good gifts to all people, regardless of their righteous deeds. Think about the “goods” you possess: life, sight, friendships, your relationship with God, water, food, etc. Which of these things could you have possessed if God had not supplied them? All good things are from God (James 1:17). Nothing God gives us is earned.
Job had the same assumption as his friends, that God would supply circumstances to each person in direct correlation to their good or bad behaviors. The only difference is, he knew he had not done anything wrong, so he assumed that God actually had wronged him! We do the same thing when we get frustrated with God about circumstances while assuming that He ought to give us what we ask for since we are doing what is right. In the end, God reminded Job who He is: God, the all-good, all-knowing, all-loving wise King of the universe. He taught Job that He knows what is ultimately good for us better than we do. The temporary suffering that Job endured produced greater character, love, and trust of God, and He gave Job more than he had ever asked, not because of Job’s obedience, but because of His grace. (Remember that Job’s response to his trouble was to accuse God of wrongdoing—he certainly did not earn God’s subsequent blessings!)
God loves you more than you love yourself, because He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows exactly what you need. Ultimately, He is the fulfillment of all your heart’s desires. His actions toward you, though we may not understand, are geared toward drawing you to Him in total dependence, because this is your ultimate good. We can easily get caught in temporary circumstances which will, in eternity, seem insignificant, and trade them for what is truly significant. Romans 8:18 says “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” But sadly, people pass up eternal blessings because of their focus on the temporal. Jesus compared this to the seed whose plant gets choked by thorns (see Matthew 13:7, 22 for an explanation of this parable). When we pray, God answers our prayers in the way that is best for us. He loves us. This means He wants our good, and He knows that our ultimate good is to be united with Him. We may not understand how His answers accomplish this, just as He taught Job, but that is why He is God and we are not. All we need to do is trust Him.
What is the point of doing good then, if not to gain God’s favor? There is every reason in the world to do good! We do get God’s favor, not because He owes it to us, but because when we do good, we are operating according to God’s design for us, and we benefit from this in more lasting ways. We actually get more of God Himself when we follow Him. He is the source of all good. So, what could be better than being united with the source of the good things you seek, which are only shadows of His Goodness? So, rather than trying to control our circumstances through “following the rules,” we find that by loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37), we gain a far more lasting reward: a deeper knowledge of God and a deeper relationship with Him. This is our ultimate good, and He answers all of our prayers to achieve it.