I was just watching “Shrek 2” and it struck me how similar the Fairy Godmother’s advertising campaign is to many people’s conception of God. “Help is just a tear drop away” is how her campaign goes, with the premise that when you shed a tear, she’ll come along and make everything perfect and you’ll live “happily ever after.” An awful lot of people seem to think that God makes the same promise to Christians, but if you look in the Scriptures, that’s complete nonsense!
All through the New Testament, Christians did every thing but prosper and enjoy good health! I mean, just look at Paul, he was stoned, beaten, left for dead, shipwrecked and God (literally!) only knows what else. Would you say that he was a failure as a Christian? Perhaps he wasn’t spiritual enough? I mean, he only wrote most of the New Testament. Or perhaps John? Exiled to Patmos, boiled in oil, writer of 5 books of the New Testament? Was he a failed Christian? Of course, both of these men would have answered “Yes” to that question, believing that there was so much more they could have done.
Christ doesn’t promise us happiness, He promises joy, which is something altogether different. Happiness is circumstantial, it’s easily influenced by the external. Joy, on the other hand, comes from within, specifically, it’s a fruit of your relationship with God. It’s not something that happens, it’s something that is cultivated, just like a garden. When Christ promises abundant life, He’s not promising wealth and prosperity or health, He’s promising a close walk with God and the joy and abundant life that comes from that relationship. A prisoner in a dark, dank and solitary dungeon cell can have abundant life through Christ, it’s a spiritual thing and has nothing to do with our circumstances and temporal things. Life in relationship with God has a whole new dimension that truly provides the abundance and it has nothing to do with the things of this world.
That’s not to say that God is oblivious to our physical needs. He knows them very well. However, He puts our spiritual needs at a much higher priority. And sometimes, we have to suffer physically to have our spiritual needs met (usually because we’re too pigheaded to pay attention to God when He tries to say something nicely!). Just like an earthly father disciplining his children doesn’t enjoy the task, neither does God enjoy it when He has to take drastic measures to get our attention. But bad things don’t just happen because God is trying to teach us something, sometimes He’s using us to teach someone else something. We suffer and go through trials to reveal the Glory of God to a non-believer, to be an example of what we can do in Christ to someone who wavers. But He never burdens us with more than we can bear.
God isn’t your fairy godmother, there to fix everything and make it all better. He’s also not a spiritual vending machine, where you put in your prayers and good works and make a selection. He’s God and He does things for His reasons in His timing. Fortunately for us, He does care for us and wants us to have what we need (which isn’t necessarily what we want!), He always provides in every way. We just have to trust Him