Here is a prayer the people of God have prayed, in different contexts, for a long, long time. During their days in Egypt, they prayed, “Deliver us.” During the days of exile, they prayed, “Deliver us.” During the days of Roman rule, they prayed, “Deliver us.” It’s a prayer forged from the desire to escape. To get out. To have some terrible circumstance in your life changed.
And though we likely don’t know what it’s like to pray “deliver us” in the same way that these people of the Bible did, we are all well familiar with the desire to escape. In fact, that’s usually the first thing we pray when we are in an uncomfortable situation. When your job isn’t what you want it to be. When your relationship, or lack thereof, isn’t the best. When your finances are struggling or even when you’re in the midst of an uncomfortable conversation – our inclination is to get away, and to ask God to take action to make it happen. Our prayer lives reverberate with that desire for relief. For change. For deliverance.
Now hear me clearly – that’s a fine thing to pray. We can and we should bear our hearts before the Lord. And when we are in a painful season of life, it’s a good and right thing to pray and ask for God to intervene somehow. But maybe – just maybe – there are other prayers to pray alongside that one. And the reason why there might be others is based in the recognition that perhaps God has some intention for us in the middle of that circumstance. What might some of those other prayers be? Here are a few suggestions:
“And now, Lord, consider their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness…” (Acts 4:29).
Peter and John had been arrested, threatened, and eventually released because they were preaching the gospel and had even healed a man in Jesus’ name. When the two reported all that had happened to the young church, the church did not pray for escape and deliverance from the threats; they prayed for boldness.
Extension of the gospel, not a change in circumstances. Courage, not comfort. When we pray this prayer, even alongside the prayer of escape, we are demonstrating our understanding that the way a Christian walks through difficulty is a powerful display of the work of the gospel in his or her life. In the end, this is what we are in this world for – it’s not to bide our time until we receive the inheritance of another one, but to live and speak faithfully. Even – and perhaps most especially so – in the midst of difficulty.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).
What is the pathway to spiritual maturity in these verses? Well, maturity comes from the finished work of perseverance which comes from the testing of our faith which finds its origin in trials of many kinds. That’s the beginning of the chain. So apparently, there is a level of maturity we will not reach in our spiritual lives unless we persevere through the testing of our faith, and that doesn’t happen without these trying circumstances.
As uncomfortable as these trials are, and as confused as we may be as to why they have come into our lives, we can rest assured that God is at work in the midst of them to make us more like Jesus. That’s what spiritual maturity is. And we can pray for that, even while we are asking for escape, and know what the answer will be.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do (James 1:5-8).
James 1:5 is a verse that’s well worn in our prayers as we ask God for wisdom. But it’s important to note that these verses come directly after verses 2-4 (see above), which means they are in the same context of facing the trials and difficulties. James is telling us that we should boldly and assuredly ask God for wisdom in the midst of trials. Now why would we need wisdom in those trials?
For all kinds of reasons. We need wisdom to know how to respond when we are at the end of our ropes and our frustration level is high. We need wisdom to be able to objectively look at our situation and make good decisions instead of purely emotional ones. We need wisdom to see the bigger work of God through these circumstances. We need wisdom for all these things and more especially during seasons of difficulty. And here, too, we can pray with confidence because we know God loves to answer this prayer.
In the midst of whatever trial you find yourself, by all means pray for God to heal. To change it. To deliver. To provide a way of escape. But even as you do, remember that it’s not the only prayer to pray.