The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Why You Shouldn’t Ask God to Change People: Improving Your Response to Grudges, Rebellion & Grief

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AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

Your girlfriend is planning to abort your baby. Your husband is heading towards an affair with his secretary. Your wife has announced she wants a divorce. Your son just bought a gun and now he’s talking to one of his shady friends about some kind of heist. Your daughter is dating a sleaze and she’s threatening to move in with him. Your dying father refuses to listen when you talk about Jesus. When we see the people we love hurtling towards some disastrous decision which is only going to bring pain crashing down on their heads and ours, our natural instinct is to start praying for God to override the wills of other people.

Sometimes we’re the ones who started the trouble. You slept with your best friend’s husband and now she won’t forgive you. Your son drowned in the backyard pool on your watch and now your wife won’t even look at you. In a moment of anger, you told your daughter that you hoped her marriage would fail, and now that it has, she hates you. You shoplifted for the first time in your life and the store owner is pressing for the extreme penalty of the law. Now you feel like your life is being destroyed by the wills of others and you’re begging God to change their hearts towards you. The longer you wait without seeing changes, the more frustrated and miserable you become.

It’s always a trap to focus our prayers on the wills of others. As soon as we start pleading for God to take away someone else’s choices in order to make our own lives easier, we’ve lost sight of the right priorities and we’re also disrespecting God on two fronts. First, we’re refusing to submit to His declaration that He wants people to be able to make wrong choices. Second, we’re telling Him that other people have become the ones who define us in life—not Him. If you’re currently in a place where you feel like your happiness is depending on another human making a certain choice, you’re the one who needs to make some changes. Yes, there is a way to get free from the terrible angst you’re under. But telling God how to control others isn’t it.

In the Church, Hell is one of those topics that we handle very badly. Christians are either taught to live their lives paralyzed with fear that God might suddenly revoke their salvation and hurl them into that fiery lake, or they’re taught to blow off the whole concept of Hell as irrelevant. Neither of these extremes is good. Christians need to think about Hell, because the very fact that Hell exists teaches us some critical lessons about God and it helps us keep a grip on some key perspectives.

So why does Hell exist? Because God wants some of His creatures to have the option of defying Him. We know for a fact that both angels and humans will end up in Hell—who knows how many other kinds of creatures might be there as well? Now we don’t know the history of God and angels, nor should we care. But we know quite a bit about our own history with Him. In your mind, pull up an image of Jesus dying on a cross and set that next to an image of people roasting in Hell. What a shocking combination, right? In the cross we see an incredible statement of God’s intense desire and love for us. And then on the other side, we have an image of His raging fury. God has given us humans a choice: Heaven or Hell. Eternal paradise or eternal anguish. But the real shocker is that there are a ton of souls dwelling in both Heaven and Hell even as we speak. This choice God gives us isn’t just a game, as some try to say. It is a real choice. Even though God loved us enough to die for us, He will actually let us defy Him to the point that He chucks us into Hell. What does this teach us about God? It teaches us that choice is extremely important to Him.

God wants humans to have some degree of choice. He wants them to have the option of disagreeing with Him, defying Him, and essentially destroying themselves by insisting on going to Hell. No one ends up in Hell by accident—it’s an informed choice. Babies don’t end up in Hell, because babies don’t have the ability to make an informed choice about spiritual things. When God whisks us out of here before we’ve had the chance to make a real choice, where does He take us? To Heaven. The happy place is what God defaults to in a situation where no choice was made. But once He gives us the option to choose, does He then treat our choice as a trivial thing? No, He treats it most seriously.

Today God will not accept anyone into Heaven who refused to meet His requirements for salvation as defined by His New Covenant. You have to first know what those requirements are before you can refuse to meet them, and the Holy Spirit takes it upon Himself to educate you. God never leaves salvation in the hands of bumbling humans. He educates souls directly about what He wants, and this ensures that they have a real chance to choose right. But if they refuse to submit to God while they are on earth, then that’s it. Hell is not a joke to God. Hell is permanent. We don’t just hang out there for a while and then move on to Heaven once we’ve served our time. Purgatory and all other concepts of temporary damnation are delusions which we’ve invented because we refuse to accept how seriously God views human choice. And when we sit around pleading for God to soften the hearts or change the minds of others, what are we doing? We’re asking Him to take away someone’s choice. Is this an appropriate request to make of a God who has gone to such extreme lengths to teach us how important choice is to Him?

Choice is not a game to God. Choice is not some trivial thing. Choice is one of the most critical characteristics of His human creations. So when you start asking God to force someone to make a choice that they’re clearly not wanting to make, you’re being very disrespectful to God. You’re saying, “I don’t care if it’s really important to You that people have real choice in this world—this other person’s choices could make my life difficult, therefore I demand that You take those choices away.” This really is an obnoxious request to make when you stop to think about it. You’re asking God Almighty to set His own values aside and submit to yours instead. And then if things should work out the way you wanted, what do you do? You pat God on the head with some enthusiastic thank yous and let Him know you really appreciate the way He aligned with your will. Is this a reverent way to treat our King? No, it’s not. Whenever we start trying to control the way God is working in other people’s lives, we have strayed way off course and gotten into a whole mess of disrespectful domination. But happily, with God there’s always a quick way to get back into alignment with Him, and in these situations, the answer is to stop telling God how to work in someone else’s life.

God wants people to have choices. He wants them to have the option to sin. Look how much sinning you’ve done in your own life. After we’ve exercised our right to choose by sinning against someone else, it’s pretty obnoxious for us to then start trying to take away their options to sin by demanding that God make them forgive us. Maybe the person you’ve hurt will never choose to forgive you. Who are you to say that they don’t get to make this choice? Did you create that other person? Is this your world and your universe? No, it’s not. It’s God’s, and as the Owner of that other human, God says He wants them to have the option to hold a permanent grudge against you. You see, as much as we want to fixate on the choices others are making and tell ourselves that we can’t possibly find peace unless they forgive us, other people are never the issue. The problem is our own stubborn refusal to submit to God.

As soon as you start saying “I can’t move on until she forgives me,” you’re acting like the child in the candy aisle who’s throwing a bratty fit until her father buys her the chocolate. You most certainly can move on without someone else’s forgiveness, just as the child can be happy without the chocolate. But the child doesn’t want to have to learn to be content without the chocolate, and you don’t want to have to learn how to stop being controlled by the opinions of others. Think about it: of what real value is the approval or disapproval of another human being? Can another human get you into Heaven or keep you out of Hell? No. Can another human control God’s view of you? No, they can’t, but this is a point a lot of Christians are confused on because we humans spend a lot of time trying to make God conform to us.

Read through the Psalms and you’ll find guys like David constantly trying to get Yahweh to hate who David hates and bless who David likes. In other words, David wanted to control Yahweh’s view of other people. When people treated David badly on purpose, David couldn’t stand the idea of Yahweh being nice to them. Of course when David himself was guilty of sinning, then it was endless pleadings for mercy. This is the hypocrisy of humans: when we feel wronged, we want God to avenge us. But when we wrong others, we want God to stop those others from getting the justice they deserve. You really did cheat on your wife, but now you’re praying that God will make her forgive you. Well, sure, now that you’ve had your fun, you want your wife to eat it and not make you have to suffer consequences. This really isn’t a very mature attitude, is it? And we know that God wants us to mature, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising when He refuses to grant our selfish requests.

Now does God understand how painful it is to have someone hating us in life? Of course, and He has sympathy for our struggle. But unlike human parents, God doesn’t let His sympathy for us blind Him to what we really need. God wants you to grow and thrive, not stagnate and wither. If all He ever says to you is “poor baby,” you’re going to regress into a self-absorbed whiner who really believes your whole life has been ruined by a single negative event. So instead, God lets you know He understands your struggle, but He continues to push you down the path of maturity by not giving you what He knows isn’t good for you.

One of the reasons we can feel so wonderfully safe and secure in God’s care is that we know we can count on Him to deal with the root of a problem, instead of just fussing around with surface symptoms. We think we need the forgiveness of others, but what we really need is to learn to stop being so dependent on the approval of humans. The real problem has nothing to do with forgiveness, but with the fact that we are hanging on to a backwards priority system. Okay, so you had an affair with your best friend’s husband and now she hates your guts. Yes, you were a sleaze to do what you did, but you’ve also seen the error of your ways and you’ve taken care of business with the Holy Spirit. Because your repentance was sincere, God says it’s time to move on. But your friend hasn’t moved on: she’s still shooting daggers at you every time you meet. Well, who are you going to have define you in life: your Creator or another human being? If God says you are forgiven, then that’s what you are. If God is not defining you by your past sins, then you need to work on aligning with His view of you instead of acting like your friend’s opinion trumps God’s. Your friend hates you, but God loves you. What are you saying to God when you cry into your pillow acting like your life is meaningless because another creature doesn’t like you? You’re saying God’s love is worthless to you. Well, that might be how you honestly feel in this moment, but you need to own up to the fact that you’re being pretty insulting to God, and that your view of things needs some major changes. If you really want to get free from the brick load of guilt and shame, you need to become receptive to God teaching you how to correct your value system so that His opinion stops being so meaningless. It’s your priority system that’s the real problem here, not your friend’s grudge holding. If you cooperate with God’s offer to change your perspective, then you’ll end up in a place where you just don’t care that your friend is in an eternal snit about what you did. Instead, you’ll cruise along happily in your own walk with God. And if He should tell you to go apologize, then you’ll do it to please Him, not to grovel to some human whose opinion is meaningless.

God says He comes first, and people come second. But the Church reverses this and teaches you to live and die by what other people think. She says it’s a badge of honor if the unsaved are picking on you for standing for Christ, but if there’s a riff in some relationship in your life, well then, your world must come to a screeching halt until you repair it. The Church teaches you that it’s horribly selfish to just focus on your own walk with God. She says if you do this, you’re sure to treat other people badly. Well, what kind of idiotic advice is this? Isn’t God trustworthy? Can’t we count on Him to tell us when we need to apologize or do something to help fix damage we’ve done in the lives of others? You see, the Church leads you astray because she hates the idea of waiting on God and actually treating Him as, well, God. Instead, she is constantly trying to advise, lead, and dominate Him, so she naturally wants you to do the same.

God wants you to stop acting wiser than you are and wait on Him to tell you whether or not you should apologize. But you want to rush in and continuously nag. God wants you to back off and let Him handle things. But you want to be the hero and body block someone from doing something that you don’t want them to do. You rush to the abortion clinic ahead of your girlfriend and physically restrain her as she tries to get through the door. You tell yourself you’re being a real man of honor, but did you even ask God before you went charging in? Probably not, in which case, you’re just being a jerk. God didn’t tell you it was alright for you to manhandle your girlfriend. Is it wrong for her to murder your child? Of course it is, but it was also wrong for you to sleep with her in the first place, yet you went ahead and sinned. The real issue now is you don’t want your sin to reach out and hurt others or compound your own misery. Well, that’s not your call to make, is it? This is God’s world. You blew off His conviction when He was telling you to keep your pants on, and now He has set this negative series of events in motion. Instead of trying to fight God, you need to start submitting to Him. Repent for what you did, and ask God to help you learn from this experience. Ask Him to have His way with you and stop trying to control the lives of your girlfriend and baby. Then wait for Him to lead you, and stop treating Him like some weakling who can’t stop a young woman from getting an abortion. This is God we’re talking about, but you’re not treating Him as God when you rush in to try and take over.

Or maybe you’re the parent of the kid who’s making some very bad choices. God says He wants your kid to have choices. Your responsibility as a parent ends with teaching your kids who God is and what He wants. If your kids want to blow off all of that information and spit in God’s face, then they get to. Yes, you do need to dole out the discipline when God tells you to, and you need to do it right. But even if you do everything right, your kids might still decide to make some really stupid choices. Your kids might even end up in Hell at the end of it all. Does God hold you responsible for the choices your kids make? No, He holds you responsible for how well you did what He told you to do. God isn’t going to tell you to make your daughter wise up, because you can’t. He might tell you to rat your son out to the police, but He isn’t going to tell you to make your son lose interest in crime, because you can’t. You can’t override the will of others. God can, and He often does, but not because you’re telling Him to.

All of these irreverent movies and books and testimonials that Christians pump out to exalt the power of bossing God around through prayer are going to lead you astray if you don’t seek the Holy Spirit’s wisdom. God does not take orders from us—ever. So when the pompous prayer warrior tries to draw a connection between her obnoxious nagging and the fact that God did something that she wanted Him to do, you need to realize that you’re listening to an ego run amuck. The fact that Moses held a stick in the air didn’t make the waters of the Red Sea part. Humans are constantly seeing cause and effect relationships where none exist. It was Yahweh who parted the waters. Moses’ stick had nothing to do with it. In the same way, when the Holy Spirit reveals soul saving truths to your neighbor, He did it out of love for your neighbor, not because you were constantly nagging Him from across the street. And when your neighbor decides to submit to God and get saved, she did it of her own free choice, not because you were brainwashing her with your potent prayer waves.

In this world, Christians are constantly taking the credit and glory for things which they had nothing to do with. And while we spend our lives boasting, we never get around to submitting, and without submission, we remain perpetual spiritual brats. You need to choose the path of maturity and stop blaming other people for your problems. No, your life is not on hold because some human won’t forgive you. Your life is on hold because you’re not acknowledging that your submission to God needs some serious work. He wants people to have the option of hating you in this world. It’s not appropriate for you to insist that He change His system to suit you. Instead, you need to be asking Him how to mature in your own relationship with Him and how to find the peace He wants you to have.

Maybe your wife wants to get a divorce and human laws say you can’t stop her. Maybe your kid is going to run off and do stupid things which will wreck your reputation in the community. Maybe your father is going to end up in Hell forever because he refused to submit to God. Instead of allowing other people’s choices to paralyze you in life, you need to see all upsetting events as opportunities for growth. Trials don’t just fall on you at random. The people in your life aren’t there by coincidence. God is the One deciding whose paths you’ll cross in this world. God gave you the kids you have. God is the One making you realize what a spiritual rebel someone else is being so that you will have to grapple with the distressing idea of a loved one ending up in Hell. All of these things are critical opportunities for you to grow and mature in your own walk with God.

Other people’s choices should never be the focus of your prayers because God says you don’t have any say in what other people decide. You only get a say over what choices you will make, and God is always going to urge you to seek His wisdom in all of your decisions. So then, what’s it going to be? Are you going to settle for having other people’s choices define your quality of life, or are you going to recognize that other people’s choices have become far too important in your mind and ask God to help you get things back in balance? It is God’s opinion that defines reality. It is God’s approval we need to be living for. It is only God’s judgments that count. So whenever you find yourself obsessing over what someone else is doing, you need to realize that you’ve lost sight of what matters and pull the focus back onto you and God. Ask Him to help you grow closer to Him. Ask Him to help you mature. Remember that whenever there is a conflict of wills, there is an opportunity to practice submission. When God is refusing to do what you wish He would do, it means that He wants you to submit to His Authority and work on accepting His decision. If we’re never submitting to God, we’re not treating Him like God, are we? Ongoing submission is central to the Christian’s life, and God is going to keep creating opportunities for us to practice it both in this life and the next. Decide that you’re going to start making the most out of the opportunities He creates for you.

FURTHER READING:
Recovering from Abuse: Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation
The Right Focus in Life According to Christ
The Mechanics of Spiritual Growth: Four Essential Attitudes
Asking & Aligning: The Two Stages of Prayer
What To Do When People Won’t Forgive You
How long will God punish me for the past?
God’s Will vs. Human Choice Q&A

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