I expected the Christian life to be so different than what I have found. God tells us to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16), and I have prayed to such an end without ever giving it a second thought. I must have imagined that God would make me more like Christ just by flipping a switch. One morning I would wake up and oh! I wouldn’t be selfish anymore. Another morning down the road, and wow! my envy would be gone. And so my sanctification would continue for the rest of my years on earth. I would grow gray and holy, eventually finding rest from the struggle against sin, and then seamlessly slide from this world into glory.
But instead each year I realize more how weak and broken I am. It feels as if God is purposefully aggravating raw wounds. My husband and I are weary from working, struggling, and waiting for the things we desire – for him to be ordained, for us to welcome children into our home – only to be disappointed time after time as we face obstacles and delays. In the midst of these difficult circumstances, I am constantly confronted with my own selfishness, envy, pride, and a whole host of other sins that surface in my heart.
I know God is sovereign and He is in control of these frustrations; He could easily do away with them. So why does He leave me in difficulty instead of delivering me from it? He is not malicious and cruel, so why allow the sin and pain to continue? Why doesn’t He just flip the switch and finally end this struggle?
John Newton wrote a beautiful hymn, “I Asked the Lord that I Might Grow,” that so perfectly expresses this struggle and points us towards an answer.
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face
Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair
I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest
Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part
Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low.
Lord why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?
“Tis in this way” The Lord replied
“I answer prayer for grace and faith”
“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in me,
That thou mayest seek thy all in me.”
God answers my prayers to be sanctified with my difficult circumstances. My sinful reaction to not getting what I want reveals the idols of my heart. I love God above all else through the work of the Holy Spirit in me, but I continually struggle against putting other things above Him. I want children and rest for our family. I want adoration, comfort, success, and countless other things that I think will bring me joy and fulfillment. But in God’s great grace, He shows me my idols so that I may fight against them. And seek my all in God alone.