The Bible shows a pattern in the lives of all God’s people. In case after case, when God began to fulfill his promises, the roof seemed to cave in.
Think of Daniel, a handsome, gifted young man who was chosen to serve in the king’s palace (see Daniel 1:3-6). He pledged himself to a life of holiness and separation from the world and was promoted because of his excellence. “Then this Daniel distinguished himself …. Because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm” (Daniel 6:3). But devious men became jealous and devised a plan to destroy Daniel, resulting in his being thrown into a den of lions. God intervened and delivered his servant by shutting the mouths of the lions!
Think of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, three exceptional young men who were brought to the king’s palace, where they were made leaders in the government. However, when the king commanded that everyone bow before his false god, they refused and were immediately bound and thrown into the fiery furnace that was prepared for them. All seemed lost until the Son of God showed up in the fire and delivered them!
And think of Elijah. God gave him a glorious promise of a spiritual awakening in the land, of an outpouring of abundant rain, and a new day of victory for God’s people. Wicked Ahab and Jezebel were to be overthrown and peace was to rule over the realm. But Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life, the prophets of God were killed, and the land continued in wickedness and drought. Elijah felt alone and confused before the promise was fulfilled. Read this account in 1 Kings 18 and 19.
Do not be deterred by adverse, confusing circumstances in your life. One does not go from the prayer closet directly to some mountaintop victory. You may have to go to the lions’ den, or the fiery furnace, or the valley of confusion. But do not despair! God is sovereign and the Shepherd is still leading. Your suffering and confusion will give way to a faith that will never fail — a faith that has been tried, as gold, in the fire of adversity.
All of us know what afflictions are, those times of trouble and stress that keep us up at night. They can be so painful and debilitating that we lose sleep because of the anguish and anxiety. Yet, as painful as afflictions are, God uses them to achieve his purposes in our lives. David writes, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19). However, you may be surprised to know that God can use afflictions to heal sinners as well as saints.
Manasseh, the wickedest king in Israel’s history, turned from the Lord and became vile and murderous. This evil man raised up idols to the pagan god Baal, even in the court of the Temple. He built altars for worshiping the sun, moon and stars. He sacrificed his own children, casting them into fiery pits of demonic idols. He scorned the words of righteous prophets and, instead, sought the counsel of fortune-tellers. He condoned witchcraft, familiar spirits and devil worship. And he was a brutal, bloodthirsty tyrant who delighted in murdering innocents. Scripture says Manasseh sinned worse than all the heathen surrounding Israel.
What eventually happened to this wicked king? God sent great affliction upon him through the Assyrian army. The dreaded Assyrians invaded Jerusalem and took the people captive, including Manasseh, whom they bound in chains and wrapped in painful thorns.
Surprisingly, during this time of awful affliction, Manasseh humbled himself and began to pray: “When he was in affliction, he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers” (2 Chronicles 33:12). And how did God respond to Manasseh’s prayer? He was merciful and heard the king’s cries. Then he restored Manasseh to his throne and he became a fighter for righteousness, tearing down the idols and altars he had built in the land.
As we see in this account, God can use afflictions to heal sinners as well as saints. A good lesson for us might be to never give up on anyone, no matter how vile or evil. God has ways of bringing even the worst sinner to himself, so be encouraged to persevere in prayer for those who need deliverance.
The Word of God is full of accounts of crowds coming to Jesus to be healed. “His fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them” (Matthew 4:24).
“They brought to him many … and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick” (8:16).
“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (14:14).
Why were these miracles taking place? Because Jesus saw the people who were sick and hurting and he had compassion on them. While he always sought out those who were lost, his heart was constantly broken for the afflicted. In addition to his great compassion, Jesus had a higher calling on his life — the glorification of his Father. He wanted to show forth the splendor and majesty of God and exalt his name through the works that he did.
As the disciples walked with Jesus and ministered alongside him, Jesus emphasized to them that they could do even greater things than he was doing. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do” (John 14:12).
Now, you and I believe that Jesus heals the sick and he came to reach the lost. But are we seeing him perform miracles through us? We sing Jesus songs, hear Jesus sermons, read Jesus books and pray for one another — but are we closely following Jesus? Too much of the American mentality says that following Jesus means believing certain creeds — but diligently following him is so much more.
Pray this prayer with me: “Jesus, give me the power, the faith, the confidence, the courage to examine my heart by your Word. Then inspire me to allow you to work through me to even greater works than you did when you were on the earth.”
Patiently waiting for God’s answer to our prayer is not always something we like to do. Many believers, especially American Christians, want instant answers. Our flesh, like the culture around us, wants instant gratification. However, God often works in our lives through the process of delay.
The Lord is always interested in maturing us in our faith — bringing about things in our lives that groom us to be more like Jesus. So if an answer to prayer is immediate, it is for our benefit. In the same way, we need to understand that God often delays the answer to our prayers to benefit us spiritually and physically, and for the Lord’s greater glory.
A father brought his possessed son to Jesus to be healed after the disciples failed in their attempts to cast out the spirit. “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit … I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not” (Mark 9:17-18). The crowd was discontent and questioning the disciples as to their lack of power to heal the boy. The disciples were confused as to why God did not answer their prayer and heal the child. And, finally, the father of the child was exhausted and desperate to find help for his beloved son.
God’s delay in answering prayer affected everyone in this story. We need to understand that when God delays in answering prayer, we can be sure He is working in the hearts of all the people affected by the situation. Perhaps the disciples were boasting that they could deliver this child, not because of their faith but because of their presumption that they were able to do what Jesus could do. And Jesus answered the prayer of the father who believed, even in small measure, that He could do what no one else had been able to do — set his son free.
The Bible tells us that “if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Sometimes that involves just lying flat on your back, raising one hand, and praying, “Jesus, Son of God, this is all I have.” And Jesus replies, “That’s all I need!”
Carter Conlon joined the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in 1994 at the invitation of the founding pastor, David Wilkerson, and was appointed Senior Pastor in 2001.
Jesus asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” He had just told the story of a persistent woman who asked a judge to rule in her favor and bring justice to her cause (see the story in Luke 18:2-8.) Jesus uses this woman as an example of the kind of tenacious, enduring faith he is looking for — the kind that calls upon God in times of trial and trusts him to fulfill his promises. Christ knew such enduring faith would be the only kind able to sustain his people in the times to come.
Jesus addresses this issue when he speaks of those whose faith will endure “but for a while.” In other words, when their prayers are not answered — when the deadlines for their requests are not met — they will fall into unbelief. Their faith has no roots. “He has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles” (Matthew 13:21).
Too often, when afflictions begin showing up in the lives of such believers, they become offended. You may have heard such offense expressed by Christians who have faced dire afflictions. They have read God’s Word, claimed certain promises, and prayed earnestly, but their trial continues and nagging doubts creep in.
Make no mistake, Satan feeds those growing doubts so that your passion for Christ is reduced to a flicker. The apostle Paul exhorted Timothy, “Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3). He was saying, “You are a soldier in the Lord’s army and you have been trained to undergo hardship in spiritual battle.”
“The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). Think of it! God looks down upon the whole earth, searching diligently for that man or woman of faith who is wholly given to him in trust.
When you purpose in your heart to stand strong for God, He will show himself strong to you and give you his power to “keep the faith.”