Why does God so frequently let us go through the things from which we’ve prayed to be spared? It has a lot to do, I suspect, with the fact that God is in the discipleship business, not the insurance business. What we want is comfort and security, to remain unruffled. What God wants is to change us into something better, something that looks a lot more like Him, and through us to change the world to something that looks a lot more like heaven.
That requires a lot of ruffling.
So is it a sin to want to avoid trials? No. Even Jesus prayed before his crucifixion, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” But notice, he added, “Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). Why? Because he knew that, no matter how hard it might be to follow, the Father’s path was always the right one.
So we simply have to gut it out? No. Jesus promised us something infinitely more valuable than mere external security. He promised us internal security. He promised that God would send an “advocate” (counselor), a “comforter” (feather smoother) in the form of the Holy Spirit, to walk beside us and live within us (John 14:16).
The result? While some of our prayers are answered externally, through human or divine intervention, most are answered internally, through his presence within us.
I frequently pray, in accordance with Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:6-7, to “be anxious about nothing, but in everything, through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make (my) requests known to God.” The Bible emphasizes persistence, so I repeatedly pray about the things that make me anxious (the original Greek indicates an ongoing process, not a one-and-done).
And Paul promises that if we follow his “formula” this cup will pass us by, right? Nope. He promises that if we persist in turning everything over to God in this manner, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding (defies external circumstances), will guard (our) hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
And so, at the end of this passage Paul concludes not “He will do everything I ask,” but, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We’re inclined to pray, “Change my circumstances!” But more often than not, God’s response is (ruffle, ruffle), “How ’bout we make it an inside job…
And change you instead?”