I hope you are starting to use passages of Scripture to pray against strongholds in your life. God brought about deliverance throughout the Bible, and we can find bold Scriptures to pray. Look at this one from Daniel 3 where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered the king when faced with certain death for not bowing down to his statue:
“‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up'” (Daniel 3:16-18).
Wow. These are three young people who cling to the promises of the faithfulness of God – all the way to death. Realize that at this point in the story, they think they are going to die that very hour. But God shows His glory by saving these three (not a hair on their heads was singed, it says) and by sending His literal presence into the midst of the fire so that the king saw a fourth figure who looked like a god. This is a story sparkling with God’s powerful deliverance.
But one point Beth vehemently makes in the Introduction to her book Praying God’s Word is this: “God is far more interested in our relationship with the Deliverer than our being delivered.” That struck me as odd: doesn’t God call His people to repentance and offer deliverance all throughout the Bible? Yes, He sure does. He tells them to return to Him, and He will be their God and they will be His people. He will heal them and forgive them because He loves them. God delivers people so that they can be wholly devoted to Him. He heard the cries of the Israelites and brought them out of slavery, and He immediately began to form them into being people of God – people who are holy and like Him. The three young men thrown into the fiery furnace in Babylon spoke with boldness and were delivered.
God brought about deliverance throughout the Bible. But sometimes He didn’t.
What about the time that Jesus’ good friend Lazarus was sick and dying? Jesus had healed, cleansed, and delivered people from so many afflictions simply by His word. He commanded, and it happened. The disciples were getting used to this. When Jesus doesn’t go immediately to heal His friend, they think Lazarus must be fine and that Jesus speaks of a literal sleeping. “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; but let us go to him’” (John 11:14-15). When Jesus arrives, everyone is mourning Lazarus’ death. Both of his sisters Martha and Mary point out that had Jesus been there, Lazarus would not have died. They kept waiting, hoping that the Word made flesh would come and speak healing to their brother.
But He didn’t.
Lazarus died. Four days ago. His body was prepared for burial, and his body was placed in the tomb. It’s over.
Then Jesus arrives in town. Um, where were You days ago? You could’ve delivered Lazarus from this illness that took his life! We asked You to come and heal, but You didn’t. What are You doing?
You may have heard this story before. It turns out that Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Jesus calls out in a loud voice – His Word goes forth – and Lazarus shuffles out of the tomb all wrapped up like a mummy.
Surely Jesus had the power to heal Lazarus sooner. Why wait?
I think we get clues in the rest of the chapter. The chapter ends with conspiracy to kill Jesus. He finds a crowd gathered there at the tomb mourning Lazarus, and when Jesus showed up in town, everyone turned out to see what would happen next. Jesus needed a lot of witnesses to this demonstration of His power. The chief priests and Pharisees got wind of raising the dead and decided things were getting out of their control, so it was time to kill Jesus. This puts the story of the cross into play.
But even more than that, we get to eavesdrop o some of the most powerful words Jesus said. He tells Martha, “‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?'” (John 11:25-26). Jesus declares Himself to have power over death and the grave. Even though Lazarus is dead, he won’t remain dead. And after he dies again, that’s not the end. Jesus told the disciples long before they set off, “‘This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it'” (John 11:4). Yes, we still have death in this story, but death being at work gives Jesus the opportunity to defeat it and be glorified.
Our world is full of brokenness, sin, and suffering, and it all ends in death. Death is a natural part of the world. Even Jesus had to die. But Jesus has overcome the world. He paid the price for our sins. He conquered sin and death. He is the resurrection and the life. He overcomes all so that we can have the relationship God wanted with us all along: to be His children.
Now for the next story: what about the time when Paul begged God for whatever was horribly irksome to him to be taken away? “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me” (2 Corinthians 12:7-8).
Some scholars think that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” refers to poor eyesight. When he saw the light (literally) on the road to Damascus, he was temporarily blinded by the glory of Jesus. His sight was restored to him, but it’s quite possible that residual effects of poor eyesight plagued him in his older years. Many of his letters begin with “Paul and [another bondservant of Christ]” writing to a church. Toward the end of the letter to the Galatians is this random phrase stuck in: “Notice what large letters i use as i write these closing words in my own handwriting”(Galatians 6:11). Some believe that Paul dictated letters to friends, then signed them himself at the end to prove authenticity.
Paul was also in prison while writing most of his letters. The bureaucracy of Rome was probably slower than our systems today, giving him years in chains.
Or maybe he had a literal thorn stuck into his flesh that physically pained him and he couldn’t pull it out. We really don’t know. Nor do we really need to; we’re just nosy and want to know in case there’s juicy gossip behind everyone’s prayer requests.
Paul said he pleaded with God three times for this issue to be taken away. Sometimes we have to pray multiple times before we receive an answer. Jesus tells us in the parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow who just won’t leave him alone: “‘Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?'” (Luke 18:6-8).
Paul prayed with boldness. Paul prayed with persistence. Paul may have ever reminded God of His promises. So what was the answer Paul got? What box did God check: Yes, No, or Maybe? (Because God answers prayer requests like smuggled love notes in elementary school. That’s the way we expect answers when we pray, right?)
“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness'” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Hmm, I guess that was the “No” box. I doubt Paul was thrilled with his answer. No, God was not going to deliver him. He has other plans.
But Paul doesn’t stop at “No.” He absolutely transforms his attitude so that, where we could justify him pouting, he becomes one of the most beautiful examples of patience in waiting for deliverance I have ever seen.
“Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Paul lets his denied request for deliverance be a reason for the power of Christ to be in him. You see, when we can’t do anything on our own strength, that is an opportunity for God to be mightily at work. Not by human strength, but by the power of Christ. He loves to show off His glory through transforming hopeless situations.
In the midst of suffering, God is there. In the hardships that won’t go away, He won’t give up. I will not try to answer why God doesn’t just make all of the bad things go away, because I don’t have that answer. Sometimes He does take it away. But sometimes He doesn’t.
Actually, it’s not uncommon for the problem to remain. These are only a few stories out of the pages of the Word where God did not provide immediate deliverance, even though people asked for it. I think part of the reason that deliverance was not given was to be an encouragement to people on down the road. Like you and me.
Flip through your Bible sometime and read these stories where deliverance is requested. The outcomes vary, but pay attention to what the people asked for and what God did as a result of their requests. Did God ever abandon His people? No, and God’s glory was revealed through that time. Let your faith be strengthened by stories of a God who is always faithful.