As a pastor, I occasionally interact with other followers of Jesus who seem to be somewhat dismayed that faith isn’t “working” for them in the way that they anticipated. They went to church; they prayed; they gave. But now — in the midst of some crisis where they really want God to come through in a particular way — they’re not receiving the benefits that they thought were part of the package.
And to be fair, the Bible makes a lot of promises, which — on the surface, at least — seem to encourage this kind of thinking. There’s Jesus’ assurance that “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7) There’s Paul’s claim that “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13). And then, of course, there’s the promise given in today’s New Testament reading: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Of course, these and other promises often contain their own qualifiers and conditions. And even a quick reading of the context of these verses makes it clear that “improved health” and “financial success” and “a life that turns out just the way we planned” aren’t really the benefits that these promises have in mind.
But still, it’s not hard to see why people latch on to these promises. And it’s not hard to understand why they might struggle when they’ve obeyed, and prayed, and trusted as well as they can; and yet, the earthquake struck…or the hurricane came. The relationship crumbled…or the cancer claimed its victim. And they’re left to wonder: What happened to the salvation that was supposed to come from the One upon whom I called?
In answer to that question, three things, I think, need to be said.
First, the fact that “things didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped” doesn’t mean that the hoper’s faith is deficient. The Bible makes it clear that “the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.” And while times of loss and struggle and disappointment can certainly give us valuable opportunities to examine our faith, we shouldn’t encourage people to jump to the conclusion that “my faith wasn’t big enough.”
In addition, the fact that “things didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped” doesn’t mean that the promise is deficient. The other grave error that is sometimes made in situations like these is for people to think: “I didn’t get the outcome I prayed for; and therefore, God isn’t real, or He doesn’t care.” It means, instead, that having things turn out “the way I’d hoped” probably wasn’t the right thing to anticipate, which leads to the final thought:
At the heart of God’s promises lies the promise of God Himself. Healing will come, or it won’t. The relationship will be saved, or it won’t. The disaster will come, or it won’t. But for those who call on the name of the Lord, the Lord will be with them, regardless of the outcome. As Paul puts it in the same letter from which today’s reading comes:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
The question to end with, perhaps, is this: How can we help each other experience the truth of this promise, especially in those difficult circumstances where we need it most? How can we encourage one another, and love one another, and “be Christ” to one another in a way that allows those who are hurting to feel the presence of God?
May we live in just that manner today. And may the “aroma of Christ” that fills the air around us encourage others to make the call the saves.