Scene #1. I had to get blood drawn recently. The blood was to be used for a procedure in which it would significantly aid healing. A small group of phlebotomists tried one arm, then the other, and then back again. For some reason, I had no blood to give that day.
On the final attempt I prayed earnestly, “Please, Lord, let them hit a vein.” But it was not to be. I was briefly disappointed but my confidence in Jesus was intact.
Scene #2. My wife and I were using bikes that were available at an Airbnb in which we were staying. We had a nice relationship with the owners and wanted to represent Jesus well. We woke up one morning to find one bike stolen. I quickly prayed, “Lord, what a fine story to tell the owners: their bike was stolen but, amazingly, it was found.” Otherwise, we would offer to pay for the bike, which we suspected the owners would refuse. Forevermore they would remember us as the Christians who lost one of their bikes.
It seemed like a fine time for a miracle, in part because we were all about the glory of God rather than our own finances or reputation. But the bike was not found. My confidence in Jesus was not shaken, but his apparent silence was noticeable. And I began to think of other people who were in truly dire situations and nothing seemed to happen when they prayed.
Scene #3. A woman’s husband was diagnosed with an incurable cancer. As she read the book of James, she was inspired to have faith that her husband would be healed (James 5:15). Unwavering confidence—it soon defined her. Her husband died two years ago. Her anger with the Lord has recently given way to anger with James and his misleading teaching.
She wonders. Pray or not to pray? What difference does anything make?
Scene #4. Parents watch a young child go through hardships that seem intolerable—physical illness, mental illness, cruelty at the hands of peers. In their agony, these parents pray, and they solicit their friends to pray with them. Nothing seems to change. Their confidence in Jesus wanes.
Each of these scenes will erode confidence in Jesus if they linger with no response. Though the descent into unbelief might be less perceptible in scenes 1 and 2, each scene becomes bound to questions such as, “Is he good?” and “Does he care?” These reveal that spiritual warfare has begun in earnest.
So how do we respond to Satan’s devices? We follow the example Jesus gives when he was tempted in the desert (Matt 4:1–11). We bring Scripture to mind until we remember words that are apt and good. In our distress, the initial plunge into Scripture is the hardest. Once in, there are good words and caring promises everywhere.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith . . . (James 1:2–3)
These passages remind us that hardships are an essential feature of life in Christ. From there we can move on to some of God’s promises, such as his assurance that he will never leave his people. The Spirit can use many different texts to encourage and comfort. What is critical is that we don’t give doubt the last word.