So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe…” – John 11:14 (NASB)
All too often, when we go to God with our petitions and requests, we may in fact believe God will respond but that belief is masked by a preconceived idea of how God should respond.
We have a sick loved one whom we want God to heal or a “bad” marriage that we want God to make better or an unsatisfying job from which we want God to rescue us. But, in making our requests to God (Matthew 7:7-11; Philippians 4:6), how often do we do so with His bigger picture and plan in mind?
The phrase “for your sakes” is an expression of Jesus’ love for His disciples. Christlike love always desires God’s will for the other person – whatever that will might be.
Being God (John 1:1-3; John 20:31; Colossians 1:15, 2:9), Jesus, in His omniscience and in complete cognizance of God’s divine will, knew that it was in the best interest of the disciples (“for your sakes”) that He wait until Lazarus was physically dead as opposed to intervening and healing him while he was sick (John 11:1-3).
Jesus very well could have chosen to heal Lazarus from his sickness, which was the impetus for the disciples informing Jesus of Lazarus’ condition in the first place, but that was not His Father’s will – neither for the disciples nor, for that matter, Lazarus.
God’s bigger plan, though not fully understood by the disciples themselves (John 11:12-13), was to use the death of their friend Lazarus, whom Jesus Himself loved (John 11:5), to spiritually grow and mature them (“that you may believe”) and, by extension, Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, as well.
As we come to God with our petitions (John 16:23b), we must do so with the understanding that God’s ultimate purpose in answering our prayers is not simply to answer our prayers (Matthew 6:33) but to bring glory to Himself (John 11:4b, 17:1b) through the prayers He divinely chooses answer – however He may choose to answer them – or not (Exodus 33:19b).
As followers of Christ we must develop a right theology of prayer. Meaning, we must come to understand prayer within the context of what God Himself says about it; and all that God says about prayer can be found in His Word, the Bible. This is something that is not always easy, especially considering what it means to be a follower of Christ, that suffering comes with the territory.
A right theology of prayer is to be able to accept and appreciate that whatever the answer or outcome from God, it is “for your sake.” Christ Himself set this example for us as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His arrest and subsequent crucifixion, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:41-42)
Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, had developed a close, intimate relationship with Jesus. In sending word to Jesus that their brother was ill, their message to Him was, “Lord, behold, the one whom You love is sick”. This message demonstrated both a right orthodoxy and a right orthopraxy on their part. As children of God, we should not hesitate to come to Jesus with our needs – all of them – regardless what those needs may be, believing that He and He alone can answer our prayer.
Nevertheless, that you and I are children of God does not obligate God to do anything for us.
Though God promises to answer our prayers, His answers are always in accordance with His divine will and purpose for our life, not our personal desires. We must never forget that it is only by God’s divine volition that we may call ourselves His children (John 3:16; John 1:12; John 15:16; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 3:12), not because of anything we’ve done or deserve (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Of all the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life, I must admit that in my own personal walk, prayer is probably the most difficult as it involves some of the more challenging attitudes expected of Christians, not the least of which are faith and patience.
Mary and Martha were disappointed that Jesus did not come “in time” to heal their brother while he still alive.
Perhaps you can relate.
When Jesus finally arrived after Lazarus had been dead four days, Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here my brother would not have died.” Lazarus’ sisters had an expectation of Jesus that He did not meet. They presumed upon Jesus an outcome of their own selfish desire, not stopping to consider what the broader plan of God was in allowing their brother, who Jesus also loved, to die.
We must be on guard for this attitude in our own prayer life.
We must allow our expectations of God to die in order that His larger goal for us might become a reality: that we might believe.
God is sovereign, and above all else, He is concerned with the condition of your heart.
In the end, we must remember as we pray that God is faithful and that whatever His response to our request, He will be glorified.
And in glorifying Himself, sometimes God’s will is our spiritual resurrection not our situational rescue.
Think about it.