An Answer to a Bedtime Prayer?

I would imagine that my family is similar to many who have small kids in that we’ve established a bedtime routine. For most of my son Jack’s twenty-one month old life, his evening has wound down with a bath (toward which he is, as only a toddler can be, alternatively excited, indifferent, or opposed), followed by wiggling into pajamas, at least marginally brushing his teeth, and reading books with Mom and Dad. And right before we put him to bed, we pray.

Almost without fail, my prayer in those instances is that God would give Jack—in fact, our entire family—hearts that would love and follow God. I find myself echoing words of the Psalms: “give us undivided hearts”…“that we might dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” and the like. I would say that those prayers are my most fervent wish for my son and his newborn sister, as well as for Rachel and me.

That leads me to a thought that I find simultaneously to be not a little sobering and deeply encouraging. What if my son’s recent health difficulties (I previously mentioned them here) are actually part of an answer to our bedtime prayers?

I don’t by any means claim I know all the reasons why my son is experiencing the trials that he is. And I know that for some, the idea I just expressed is completely counterintuitive, distasteful, or worse. I even find myself typing all this with a trembling soul. And yet, the idea that God brings about suffering for his greater redemptive purpose is not hard to find in the Scriptures. Many of us are familiar with one of the bedrock promises of the Bible, found in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

This verse, along with many other biblical passages, assures us that God doesn’t “waste” anything. Everything that his people encounter in their lives is used by him to accomplish their good and, ultimately, his glory. Couple that notion with stories like Jesus healing the blind man in John 9 or raising his friend Lazarus in John 11. Read Joseph’s story at the end of Genesis. Or consider Paul’s comments in 2 Cor 12:

7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul clearly expresses that his mysterious thorn was a God-appointed means (“there was given to me” is what biblical scholars call a “divine passive”) to humble him, lest he would become proud as a result of what God had revealed to him. In fact, his extreme affliction (he pleads—a strong word—three times for the Lord to take it away) was the way in which he came to a greater dependence on Christ and, consequently, a deeper experience of Christ’s power in his life.

I’m left with the fact that these and other passages offer the sound hope that Jack, along with the rest of our family, will one day look back with profound thanks for what God accomplishes in our lives through this particular “thorn.”

In the meantime, I’ll be praying another prayer found in the pages of the Bible: “I believe, help my unbelief.”

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