Our son was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis – he was only 10 months old. No Canadian child had ever been diagnosed with JRA that young. My wife and I believe that God heals and we immediately followed the biblical command to “call for the elders of the church and have them lay on hands in prayer”. We did this in full faith, believing that God could and would heal. The JRA had affected one of John’s knees, ballooning it three inches larger than the other one. Within an hour of praying, his knee began to decrease in size. Within a day, it was almost the same size as the other one, and the telltale heat of inflammation on the knee was now gone. We cried and laughed and told everyone we knew.
However, within a week the knee was swollen badly again and even warmer than before.
Now what were we to do? We had prayed in faith and it seemed like God had answered. Now we felt like God had reversed his decision. What had we done wrong? Had we wavered slightly in faith and therefore only produced a week’s worth of healing by our unbelief? That seemed so incongruous with the heart of God as we knew Him that we immediately rejected that conclusion. But what were we to believe and, more critically, what were we to do?
Back in 1981 when this all took place, there was only one recommended treatment for the condition. We had to put him on Aspirin to control the inflammation. But in order to get enough ASA in his system we had to give him 20 Baby Aspirin a day. The best child arthritic specialist in the country was his doctor and she said we had little choice in the matter. But we knew there was more we could do. We could resist the doctor’s best advice and keep praying in faith. Many of our Christian friends were horrified that we would even think of doing otherwise than pray. But the doctor, who was also a believer in God and healing, cautioned us that JRA can also result in blindness if not treated.
I can see you thinking, “what’s the big deal? It’s just Aspirin.” But the issue was hardly that straightforward. That many aspirin would literally eat the stomach lining away. We were warned it could have permanent consequences on his digestive system. Also, because we were planning on being missionaries in West Africa in the very near future, this would end that plan. No West African country would allow us to bring barrels full of Aspirin into the country. With his dosage, that was our only choice since we couldn’t buy it over there.
Here was our choice: Injure his stomach and end our immediate Missionary plans and look faithless to many people, or risk blindness and further damage to his joints. We cried out to God and listened for his voice. Many people in this situation have reported that it seems God isn’t saying anything during those times of indecision. But we had the opposite problem. It seemed like God was giving us too much information and some of it contradictory. We struggled with wading through all the thoughts to determine which ones were from God. We had no doubt God was speaking to us, but we couldn’t properly decipher what He was saying as we made this difficult life decision.
During that time, we read Acts chapter 1. This section of the Bible looks at the short season of time between the Ascension of Jesus into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit in power. During that time, the disciples tried to replace Judas Iscariot to bring the number of Apostles back to 12. They wrestled with a tough decision, made difficult because they had not one, but two good choices: Barsabbas and Matthias. We have no record of their discussions as they swam through the complicated waters of hearing God on the issue. We do know that they finally gave up trying to work it all out through logical means. Here is what we are told about how they finally reached a conclusion to the matter:
24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
They cast lots. That’s the historical equivalent of tossing a coin. What made them resort to this strategy?
They concluded there was no way to figure out the will of God logically because there were too many factors involved. They could not see the future. They could not plumb the depths of each man’s heart and see all the weaknesses. They had never chosen an Apostle before (Jesus had done the choosing if you recall). This was such a critical decision and they had always relied on Jesus to make the decisions for them. Also, they were not used to going within to speak to God. In Israel, God was always an external influence, leading through prophets, signs, wonders and portents. Even the two men walking on the road to Emmaeus were startled to learn that their “hearts were burning” within them as Jesus taught along the road. They never considered that God could speak to them directly. A few prophets along the way had learned to hear God this way, but the vast majority of Jews didn’t consider that God could influence their thoughts, imagination and intuition.
Why do we, like them, still struggle with making decisions by the will of God? There are about five reasons that I can see. I want to outline these out for you and then next time I will propose some ways we can work through these struggles.
- We don’t practice hearing God until we have large decisions: This is equivalent to not exercising our bodies until the day we have to run a marathon. If we took that approach to training, we shouldn’t be surprised to get leg cramps at mile 2, stomach cramps at mile 4 and total collapse at mile marker 5. With hearing God, it is way too difficult to begin hearing Him when we have the most important decisions of our life. Yet that is when most people are motivated to approach God.
- We have too many agendas that compete: When you are making life decisions, there are so many different people and factors to consider. Unless you have lived in a commune all your life, you have accumulated friends and loved ones who are directly affected by your decision-making. You have to take them into account when you deliberate. But their agendas may compete with your agenda. The man who wants to marry the love of his life may fight his mother who wants a daughter-in-law that thinks or acts differently. Or the daughter who wants to be a painter may war against her dad who just spent $100,000 to train her as a psychologist. And God’s agenda may be completely different again. So if we are trying to hear God as we decide, all these competing agendas make for a noisy ruckus.
- There may be too many good choices: When we are choosing between things that all appear to have merit, we treat the decision as trivial. Because of this, we often neglect the care and attention we must take to hear what God is saying. It is interesting to note the meaning of the word “trivial”. It comes from two Latin words, “tri” meaning “three” and “via” meaning “roads” or “paths”. A trivial decision is one where you have to choose between three roads. Choosing between two roads is often a “crossroads” decision (a la Robert Frost and “The Road Less Traveled”).
- We live in fear of wrong decisions: When you face up to how much it may cost you to make the wrong decision, it leaves the heart indecisive and double-minded. We often become the emotional parallel of the guy standing on the dock with one foot in the boat and one foot on land as the boat begins to drift away. If you don’t choose, that too is a choice; although not a good one. Fear will often drown out the voice of God.
- We rely too heavily on what God has done in the past or what He has done for other people: When we do this, we fall into the trap of the Pharisees. They just assumed that God would always do things the way they had always been done. Tradition was another word for “we’ve never done it that way before.” Because the leading of God can often bring us to make decisions that are different than how others chose to act, we get nervous and back off from what God has showed us. Like Peter being shown a sheet with unclean animals, we often refuse to get up and do what God commands because it sounds so foreign to our ears.
I faced many of these factors when deciding whether to put our son on an Aspirin regimen. I must say that God lead us into the decision we made and it has turned out to His glory and our benefit. Next time I will begin to outline how anyone can work through the struggle of hearing God when making large life decisions.