He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’
2 Samuel 12:22
Recently, Jay Hohfeler spoke at PCPC’s Summer Stories of Rescue series, recounting four areas of rescue the Lord brought in his life over the last three years after a serious cancer diagnosis. Here are links to his previous entries:
This quote from King David might hold the record for one of the most outrageous statements in the Bible.
The context is that David was confronted for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and his subsequent cover-up murder of her husband. God had specifically warned David, in advance, that his child born of Bathsheba would surely die (2 Samuel 12:14). David fasted and prayed anyway. The baby died, but how in the world could he, guilty of scorning the Lord, even ask for an exception like that?
It was because David knew His Lord. He knew God’s bent for grace—His disposition for fully recognizing and condemning sin yet returning good. David knew God’s merciful, gracious, abounding, steadfast love toward him. That’s why he said, “Who knows?” David was just appalling. I want to be like him.
When I was sick with cancer, I hedged about praying for healing because I didn’t want to be presumptuous. I resisted “name, claim it” notions where just naming a desire with gusto somehow made God obligated to fulfill it. I thought I was being respectful, but I was actually positioning myself to avoid being hurt. I gave God lots of room to say no, so when he did, I wasn’t devastated.
Then, one dark night in the early, scary days of my cancer, a pastor came to my hospital room and boomed a prayer to rescue me from “this bed of affliction.” I prayed along but could barely even add a little, “who knows?” to his prayer. My hedging prayer and David’s shameless prayer both revealed our respective views of God. David’s prayer showed a wonderful, childlike, unreasonable expectation of grace. My heart showed doubt and suspicion.
Did the Lord really want to intervene? I probably knew better than that and could recount stunning divine interventions throughout my life. But was this the end of all God’s favor? Sometimes, when hitting the wall with tough circumstances, I assumed God had no provision for me in this situation—this time.
Face it. I resembled the ancient Israelites who wandered the Sinai and grumbled against God. As food and water became scarce, God saw their hearts through the grumbling. It wasn’t the grumbling itself that grieved the Lord (crying out is OK); it was that they didn’t believe He cared, or noticed, or was able to save them. You can almost hear God’s heartbreak when He told Moses:
…“How long will this people despise Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” Numbers 14:11
I just wasn’t going to do that to the Lord anymore. I wanted to stop my propensity to assume the worst about His future plans in my case. What does God want from us? He certainly doesn’t want positive thinking. He wants true and straight thinking.
In the case of the Israelites, God instructed them over and over to simply look around and backward to let His miraculous strength and love sink in. The ten plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud by day, and pillar of fire by night were meant to change them forever. They had a holy history to draw upon.
I often talk to men my age, in their 50s, who are facing uncertainties common to this stage of life: health, money, and career. Many are gripped with cynicism and feel like pseudo losers as they compare themselves with others. They repeat the error of the Israelites by refusing to connect the dots of God’s patterns of grace in their lives.
Let’s stop it.
Our life-long body of work is remarkable. Can we see the strong arm of the Lord—very much alive—in our lives? Young or old, we have a holy history to draw upon. It speaks volumes about God’s love and intentions for our future. God’s relentless and shameless pursuit of us, individually, by His own flesh, ought to convince us to run to Him without hesitation—and certainly without cynicism. But, nonetheless, we forget what He is like. If we knew God like David did, we would pray outrageously, too.
What kinds of things did David know about God that gave him the freedom to hide in the Lord’s arms while covered with filthy guilt? Just read Psalm 86 that David wrote on another occasion. It explodes with insight into what God is like. You’ll be reminded again that, like David, you can pray into the uncertainty, never predicting the Lord’s actions but anticipating grace.
Today, almost three years later, I’m ready to re-enter normal life, and uncertainty still abounds. But I’m different this time. I had no special assurance then or now— nor did King David with his baby. But I pray without hedging. God’s sheer attributes in Scripture, His history in my life, His current action in His body of believers, and the example of King David have changed my cynicism to anticipation. It’s almost appalling.