A few months ago I was reading Daniel 3, the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. I’ve heard this story dozens of times, and it always makes me think of flannel boards from old Sunday School days (anyone else remember those?).
The story is set in Babylon, and essentially King Nebuchadnezzar made a decree that whenever you hear music, everyone in the kingdom should bow down and worship a golden image that he had built. The consequences for not worshiping was death by being thrown into a fiery furnace. (Eek! So extreme!) This decree was broadcasted so that everyone in the kingdom was aware of the law and the severe punishment for not following it.
If you’re familiar with the story, you know that three Israelites, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, refuse to bow down and worship the idol. Nebuchadnezzar is furious at their refusal and again threatens them with death.
My favorite part is their response:
“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” – Daniel 3:17-18
Their reply before being thrown into the fire was so brave, so trusting. Essentially they said: Our God will deliver us. But if not, yet still will we worship Him.
We know how the story ends — God does save them and redeems them, but at the time they didn’t know that. Their trust in who God was and faith in His character was so unwavering that they were willing to be put to death, whether He saved them or not.
But if not….
I keep a journal where I write my prayers in. It’s a simple list of things that I am hoping for myself and my friends and family. Some items have been on my list for years. Prayers like…
- Babies for those trying to get pregnant
- Marriage for friends who are single
- Restoration for marriages that are broken
- Healthy children for friends who are pregnant
- Jobs for friends who are trying to find work
- Healing for friends who are sick
It has been neat to see how God has answered a lot of these prayers over the years. After years of praying for a baby, my older sister is now pregnant. After years of praying for my single sisters, my younger sister is now engaged and my sister in-law is in a wonderful relationship. After a year of praying for my friends’ husband to find work, just this week he was offered a great job. God is so good, and I rejoice with them on these good gifts!
But many of these prayers have not been answered. Babies have died. Friends have had miscarriages. People are still sick. Marriages have not been restored. Friends continue to hope month after month, year after year, for a child.
And I have to ask myself: If these prayers are never answered — if we are never able to have children, if we are never healed, if we are never restored, if we continue to struggle — is God still good? Yet still will we worship Him? Is he still worthy of worship if the prayers and desires of our hearts are never satisfied?
That “but if not” reply is scary.
It reminds of the story of when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac to the Lord (Genesis 22:2). Let me repeat that plot: The Lord asked Abraham to kill his only son — the promised one who was to make a great nation of Israel — as a sacrifice to the Lord. Ummm, that is an insane request! AND HE WAS DOING IT!!! Abraham knew the character and goodness of the Lord so intimately and trusted Him so fully, that he was going to do whatever He asked, even if it meant killing his son. We know the end of that story too — God provided a ram to be offered as a sacrifice instead and Isaac was sparred. But still! Abraham didn’t know the redeeming ending when he went up to that mountain to make that sacrifice!
I read stories like this and realize there is a level of trust that I don’t have yet. I don’t know the Lord intimately enough to say yes to anything. I am not that obedient. I know that the Lord is good from so many kept promises and examples, but my faith waivers and crumbles so quickly. It is so weak. My heart responds like the man who asks Jesus to heal his son. When Jesus asked if he believed he could heal him, the father replies “I believe — but help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
My friend Allison lost her baby last April and has wrested with this “but if not” statement too (read more of her thoughts in this post). She collaborated with our friend Becca to design a print to remind us all of the goodness of God, even in the midst of unanswered prayers and desires:
Click here to order on Society6. All proceeds from this print will be donated to Sibley Heart Center in honor of Owen.
I ordered it and hung it in my entryway hallway:
Sorry, the picture quality isn’t great. I’m ready for sunny evenings after work — come quickly spring!
So every time I walk by this hallway (which is a lot) I can be reminded of the goodness of God. And ask for more faith to believe this statement to be true.
That if the things on my prayer list and the desires of my heart are never answered — if bodies are not healed, wombs remain empty, relationships are never restored — HE IS STILL GOOD.