After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”
– John 3:22-30
“If you become a necessity to someone else’s life, you are out of God’s will. As a servant, your primary responsibility is to be a ‘friend of the bridegroom’ (3:29). When you see a person who is close to grasping the claims of Jesus Christ, you know that your influence has been used in the right direction. And when you begin to see that person in the middle of a difficult and painful struggle, don’t try to prevent it, but pray that his difficulty will grow even ten times stronger, until no power on earth or in hell could hold him away from Jesus Christ. Over and over again, we try to be amateurs, coming in and actually preventing God’s will and saying, ‘This person should not have to experience this difficulty.’ Instead of being friends of the Bridegroom, our sympathy gets in the way…”
“Listen intently with your entire being until you hear the Bridegroom’s voice in the life of the other person. And never give any thought to what devastation, difficulties, or sickness it will bring. Just rejoice with godly excitement that His voice has been heard. You may often have to watch Jesus Christ wreck a life before He saves it. (see Matthew 10:34).
– Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
Wow, with Oswald Chambers for a friend, who needs enemies? Right? No, in many cases, he is right about this. It’s like the old joke about the little boy who never said a word until he was five years old. Then suddenly, he turns to his Mom and says, “Who burned the toast?” After praises to the Lord, the mother turns to her son and asks why he had not spoken a word until now. The boy replies, “Up until now, everything has been going pretty good.”
The focus of the Chambers quote is what John the Baptist (or Baptizer) had to face in the Scripture above. He was seeing the ministry of Jesus take off, and he had to step aside. He had to become less, so that the focus is on Jesus.
But looking at Oswald Chambers’ idea of increasing the difficulties tenfold, I have had occasions when someone close to me was not living a life that you would associate with being a Christian. They may or may not go to church. They may ask questions that show you that they have interest in accepting Jesus, but just aren’t quite ready. You really love these people, but they say things that clearly show that they do not believe. Chambers wants you to ask God to heap difficulties and bad times upon them. Okay, let’s just reduce the scope to people who are close to accepting Jesus as their savior. These people aren’t ‘bad’ people.
I thought of one family. If only the mother… If only the father… But what could be a difficulty that would make them in so much despair that they turn to God? Death of one of their children? You can’t wish that upon them. Even taking their first-born son to the brink of death and miraculously saving him sounds like cruel and inhumane punishment. But if that were to happen, there might be an entire family that has been added to God’s kingdom. And oh, the story they could tell. One of those “from the jaws of death…” stories.
But are we so strong in our faith that we can really pray for that? Seriously?
Might you think, “What if God goes too far?” But God is God. He sent His Son into the world to die so that we might have eternal life. To save someone from the brink of eternal death, He knows how far to go.
It is hard enough to not jump in and help them when calamity strikes. Maybe I’m wrong. My wife always had the first aid kit handy when any kid in the neighborhood scraped a knee. Every kid in the neighborhood sported a super hero bandage at one time or another. Other parents were conspicuously absent. But other parents would yell, “Rub dirt on it!” But to pray that God will take them on a wild journey to a very dark place in their lives just to show your friends that He is sufficient for their needs and they can TRUST Him… That takes a lot of faith for you to ask for that.
We can accept the John the Baptist role of becoming less so that God can become more. It simply does not seem to be the proper thing to do to pray for hardships.
Yet, I look back upon my life. The hardships made my faith in God stronger, for I survived the hardships. I emerged knowing that God was right there beside me. I get giddy thinking about some of those very difficult times.
Yet, my sense of fair play wants me to rob my dearest friends of that same Joy. Hey, God, change the rules so that my friend doesn’t have to go through what I went through. But that still deprives them of that deepest Joy, that deepest gratitude, and a deeper, stronger faith in the God that really can snatch you from the brink.
Okay, God, I wish calamity and hardship on those that I love who are having struggles accepting you as their savior. I want to spend eternity with them. They are good friends, and they are fun to be around. But do I have to watch? Do I have to watch my best friend forever hit a wall?
We cannot fear God leaving our friend like Humpty Dumpty, broken where no one can repair. But sometimes the hard times have to happen.
Someone in Sunday school said this past Sunday that upon being asked how she felt about living a life in darkness, Fannie Crosby answered that she wouldn’t have it any other way, because the first thing that she will ever see in her life would be Jesus.
This is one lesson that goes against the grain, as a caring person, but it is a lesson that you must learn.
Jesus taught a few hard lessons. One hard lesson is found in Matthew 26:42. “He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’”
For my final prayer, can you bear to say it with me?
Lord, teach me to be small and make You large as I serve others. If it is Your will that my friend become Your servant, may Your will be done, whatever is necessary, and give me the wisdom to stay out of Your way. Amen.