When God miraculously heals or blesses a person and then they turn away from him, why did God grant them that answer to their prayers in the first place?
Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, both renowned psychologists, wrote about a particular man who came to them for counseling. He had a troubled dating life and seemed to be having a lot of difficulties really ‘jelling’ with a woman. As questions about relationship responsibilities and healthy boundaries started to come out, Derek objected. “But what’s wrong with wanting to have fun? Life wasn’t meant to be boring,”
Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend wrote, “In his late forties, Derek was single and dressed like a college student. His face had that tanned, unlined look that appears unnatural on a middle-aged man.
“Something was out of place. Derek was talking to a friend about the profile he’d just completed on a dating site and how he didn’t want to date women in his own age range. ‘They’re just not my speed,’ he said. ‘I’m high energy. I like late nights and doing crazy stuff just for fun. Keeps me young, you know?’”
Reflecting on this man’s difficulties moving into adult responsibilities like being dedicated to one romantic partner or building a family, the two psychologists noted, “People like Derek who are stuck in this stage can be lots of fun. Except when you pop their bubble about their unrealistic grandiosity and their irresponsibility. Then you become a ‘wet blanket.’ It’s revealing to talk to the ‘wet blanket’ who is married to a practicing child. No job is more tiring.
“Proverbs 7:7 describes the youth stuck in the practicing stage: ‘I saw among the simple, I noticed among the young men, a youth who had no sense.’
“This young man has energy but no impulse control, no boundaries on his passions. He becomes sexually promiscuous, which often happens to adults who are caught in this phase. And he ends up dead: ‘till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.’ (Prov. 7:23).
“Practicers feel that they’ll never be caught. But life does catch up with them.”
The Reward of the Righteous?
What compels certain people to avoid ‘growing up’ and taking responsibilities for their own lives and others? Why do some people seem mature and then suddenly cast off all of their duties and live recklessly and selfishly? What leaves a person in perpetual childhood or leads to them to degrade suddenly to immature behavior that so badly damages them and people around them?
In a sermon titled “He Got His Miracle and Ran”, David Wilkerson explored what could lead a person into this snare through the story of Hezekiah.
“He was the son of wicked Ahaz, and the scripture says that his father brought Judah very low, for he made Jerusalem transgress much against the Lord. He's the son of a wicked king. Hezekiah, the scripture says, inherited the throne when he was 29 years old, and the scripture says he started right. The scripture says that when Hezekiah came to the throne, the first order of business was for the priests to get sanctified before the Lord and carrying forth all the filth out of the Holy Place. A wonderful moving of the Holy Spirit began to take place in Judah.”
King Hezekiah not only brought a revival to Judah, but he drove out the Philistines and saw God miraculously save the nation from the Assyrians (see 2 Kings 18:4-8 and 2 Kings 19:1-37).
After all of this, Hezekiah experienced great success. “The scripture says that leaders of the world brought their gifts to Jerusalem and to Hezekiah; many brought their gifts unto the Lord to Jerusalem then and gave precious things to Hezekiah so that he was magnified in the sight of all nations… Overnight, he's famous. He's now 39 years old. It's 10 years into his reign. He's rich. He's famous. He's blessed.
“Right in the midst of this blessing, right in the midst of this fame, terminal disease grips him. The prophet Isaiah is commissioned by God to go to him and say, ‘Get your house in order, Hezekiah. You're going to die.’
“What a word because he was just beginning to enjoy his prosperity!... So he turned his face to the wall and began to pray unto the Lord, and you listen to his prayer. It's an agonizing pitiful prayer that he prayed, this 39-year-old young king. He says, ‘I'm being cut off. I'm being removed like a shepherd’s tent. I'm being cut off with a pining sickness.’”
Hezekiah had been doing everything right, serving God, leading others to God, abolishing idolatry, defeating the nation’s enemies, praying fervently. Beneath all of this seemed to be a growing conviction, however, that he had every ‘right’ to expect God to shield him from sickness and a premature death. When illness struck anyway, he was appalled that God seemed to have abandoned him.
Shocking Responses to Miracles
David Wilkerson pointed out in his sermon that Hezekiah initially appeared to respond like he always had to bad news. He turned his face to God, and God answered. “God heard him, and a tremendous miracle takes place…. Suddenly, the man is healed, and the prophet Isaiah goes to Hezekiah and says, ‘The Lord has heard you. He's going to defeat the Assyrians, and he's going to give you 15 more years. You've got 15 more years!
“Hezekiah gets his miracle, and he runs. He runs to materialism. He becomes a madman absolutely possessed of materialism. Incredible. Awful frightful story. He turns from humility. He runs away from his zeal, from the things of God. He runs to his own self-interest….
“Folks, prosperity is a greater test than poverty. Many can handle poverty who can't handle prosperity and the blessings of God. It's true God blessed him [Hezekiah], gave him all these possessions. But these possessions stole his heart right away from the things of God.”
David pointed out how many times believers who are caught in dire straits will pray with great passion and seeming faith, only to immediately go back to their old lives and other concerns the moment God grants their prayer.
When this happens, he pointed out, they often slip into darker ways of life than they struggled with before the crisis and prayers. “How many times in my years of ministry I've stood before the bedside in hospitals, beside a father and mother who are weeping over a child that they've been told is going to die…and I listen to those people say, ‘God, if you heal my boy, if you heal my girl, I'll serve you the rest of my life.’ God raised those children off the deathbed, and I watched in pain and grief shortly after to see them backslide, not go to church, not pray, not read their Bible. I watched those kids who were raised with the deathbed backslide, turn their back on God and become more wicked than drug addicts and alcoholics.”
It was if these individuals David witnessed were echoing Derek’s protests to Dr. Townsend and Dr. Cloud. “But what’s wrong with wanting to have fun? Life wasn’t meant to be boring.” We might as well add, “Life isn’t meant to be hard. I shouldn’t have to struggle or lose anyone I love. I prayed really hard and was so good for so long that God gave me what I asked for. God really loves me, so he’ll be fine with me enjoying my life the way I want to live it.”
Rather than moving us closer to God, miracles and success can seem to push us into even worse spiritual states than we had before when we were wrestling with hardship. So why does God answer those prayers or grant those blessings?
The Direction of Our Hearts
The biblical chronicles of Judah and Israel’s kings adds an interesting note to the records about King Hezekiah’s life shortly after he was healed and when he was at the height of his wealth and fame. “God withdrew from him [Hezekiah], in order to test him, that he [God] might know all that was in his heart” (2 Chronicles 32:31, NKJV).
Christ similarly warned his followers that their actions with the resources God had given them would be evaluated. “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes…. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:45-51).
Jesus told another famous parable about the servants who were given talents by their master who left for a long time and then returned suddenly to demand an accounting for what had been done with the treasures he had given his servants.
He added after this story, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32).
While our earthly possessions cannot cause us to lose our salvation (see Romans 8:38), what we do with our resources seems to be an important indicator of where our heart actually is with God. As a final caution to his listeners, David Wilkerson said, “Folks, which way are you running? Are you running toward things? Set not your affections on things on earth, but set your affections on things above. Hallelujah.”