Hebrews 5:8 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.
I'll never forget the day this verse slapped me in the face. There I was, minding my own business, when this verse jumped out at me. Well, actually, somebody threw it at me. But what he had to say that day really made me stop and think about life.
How often do you hear someone say something along the lines of, “Why doesn't God show up and answer prayer the way He used to? Why can't He come down and rescue us today like He did for Peter and Paul and all those guys in the New Testament?”
On the surface, that seems like a fair question, right? I mean, the Bible is full of stories where God dramatically rescues His people from serious trouble. He delivered Paul and Silas from prison, he rescued Paul from a shipwreck, he freed Peter from prison, and the list goes on and on. They prayed (or someone else prayed for them) and God answered with a breath-taking miracle. So, why doesn't He answer my prayers the same way?
I hear that a good bit. I'll even confess that I've had those thoughts myself from time to time. I mean, Jesus PROMISED that if we'd ask anything in His name, He would do it, didn't He? So, why doesn't it work? Just in John 14-16 alone, Jesus says at least five times that if you ask any thing in His name, He will give it to you. The other gospels contain similar promises, such as Matthew 7:11 and Luke 11:13. So, why doesn't it work?
Several responses come to my mind, and I'm going to briefly lay out a few of them. First of all, when God rescued Peter, Paul, Silas, etc etc etc, they were boldly and unashamedly doing the work God had set before them. When it seems like God isn't listening to me, can I always say the same thing?
Second, notice that Paul, Silas and Peter were all IN prison when God rescued them. He did not keep them from all of life's problems. He saved them OUT of them, not FROM them. Paul lays out a list of how many times he was beaten, thrown into prison, etc in 2 Corinthians 11.
Going further, we know that Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down. Matthew was killed by sword. Mark was dragged by horses until he died. Luke was hanged. James (Jesus' brother) was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple and then beaten to death with a club. James (John's brother) was beheaded. Bartholomew was whipped to death. I could keep going, but I hope I made my point.
Which of those would you prefer? Exactly. I think we have a tendency to take a few instances of miracles and assume that the Apostles were always kept from harm. In fact, they were horribly persecuted and brutally killed for their faith. On an interesting side note, the Roman soldier who guarded James, the son of Zebedee, became a Christian while watching the way James behaved during his trial and imprisonment. When he escorted James to the chopping block, he confessed his newfound faith to the judge and then knelt down beside James to accept beheading as well. Would anyone who watched my life do the same?
Third, notice that several of those verses specify that God wants to give GOOD gifts to his children. The problem with that is that God knows much better than we do what's good for us. The second problem is that He loves us so much that He will not stop working until we are exactly what He wants us to be. Many times, the best way to move us towards the goal is by allowing trials and circumstances to shape us.
After all, if Jesus learned obedience by the things He suffered, how much more do we have to learn than He did? (No, I'm not trying to imply that Jesus wasn't perfect, or was somehow disobedient until He learned better. Don't argue with me, I didn't write Hebrews.)
It's amazing to think that God loves me. The thought fills me with awe and wonder and deep gratitude. It also scares the bejoobies out of me. God loves me. He loves you, too. And His primary concern is NOT my comfort. His primary concern is that I become formed into the image of Jesus Christ, that I be made into a fit vessel, that I be shaped into the living stone that will become part of His home. And God is perfect – not just in love, but also in holiness. His love is holy and righteous. It isn't the mushy, sentimental kind of love that gives you that second piece of cake. It's the kind of love that says, “I know this will hurt, but it's what you need to draw you closer to Me.”
Scary, but also exciting.