I Want Deliverance, Not Character!

I Want Deliverance, Not Character!

That’s what he said to me, and the assertion was spoken with anger and impatience. He had wanted help, he said, with some personal and faith issues, the nub of which was that life was hard, and it wasn’t getting any better. “I’ve prayed for healing,” he said. “I’ve prayed for God to change my situation and get me out of this mess. I’ve prayed for God to make things better, to make me better, but nothing seems to change. Why,” he demanded, “why won’t God answer my prayer?”

Naively, I had thought he wanted a response to challenge how he viewed his situation, and so I suggested that perhaps God intended this time of difficulty and challenge and pain to be a means of drawing my friend closer into greater dependency on God, of bringing out a deeper level of trust in his heart and for teaching him elements of patience, endurance and courage. In other words, I suggested, maybe the season of testing was for the purpose of character-building. To which came the frustrated retort, “I want deliverance, not character!”

Here’s the thing – I understand my friend’s frustration only too well. When I find myself in hard or bitter places, the last thing in which I am interested is seeing that difficult situation as a circumstance which God plans to use for my education in his goodness, for my training in godliness, or for my growth in graciousness. In those moments of discomfort and hurt, all I want is out, and the sooner the better. All I want is for the trouble to be sent packing along with anything and everyone who I decide is contributing to my unhappiness. All I want is for God to put things right according to my self-focused idea of what is good, and to be snappy about it in the process.

Sadly, this is not simply a reflection of individual immaturity or selfish preoccupation. Part of the mentality which my friend exemplified and which I know all too well in personal experience stems from our self-absorbed culture that wants to believe the world revolves around our own egos, and that whatever is unknown, uncertain, unfamiliar, hard or logically consequential to our bad choices or foolish impulses, is therefore, by definition, bad, and why won’t God or somebody deliver us from our difficulties?

Yet scripture affirms repeatedly that our hard experiences in life, if not purposed by God, can certainly be used by God for the essential work of shaping our character and faith into that of steadfast, prayerful, strong, resolute, enduring and praise-filled witnesses of the grace of God. Both St. Peter and St. Paul understood that suffering is not antithetical to the kingdom purpose of God, but becomes the smelting furnace within which the raw ore of our lives is refined into the most precious and pure silver and gold. Further, it is through suffering that we often find our deepest sense of unity with Christ, not only because of our being driven into his arms for our only solace and hope, but because mysteriously, we find ourselves, as the apostles suggested, sharing in the “sufferings of our Saviour.”

The reality for many of our situations is that far more than we need deliverance from our circumstances, do we need deliverance from ourselves. Especially do we need to be delivered from that resistant spirit that will not be educated, shaped and formed by the truth, mercies and power of God.

I had a friend many years ago who used to wear a lapel button with the intitials: “P.B.P.W.M; G.H.N.F.W.M.Y.”  When asked its meaning, Ches would reply with a smile: “Please Be Patient With Me; God Has Not Finished With Me Yet.”

God works continually to shape and refine our characters, that we might be made more like Jesus. Most of us would love to think we’ve already arrived, a thought that reveals how far we still have to go! And few of us want to believe that the best shaping and education comes through suffering. The Cross would tell us differently.

 

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