Often it is simply the answers to our prayers that cause many of the difficulties in the Christian life. We pray for patience and our Father sends demanding people our way who test us to the limit, “because … suffering produces perseverance” (Rom. 5:3). We pray for a submissive spirit, and God sends suffering again, for we learn to be obedient in the same way Christ “learned obedience from what He suffered” (Heb. 5:8).
We pray to be unselfish, and God gives us opportunities to sacrifice by placing other people’s needs first and by laying down our lives for other believers. We pray for strength and humility, and a “messenger of Satan” (2 Cor. 12:7) comes to torment us until we lie on the ground pleading for it to be withdrawn.
We pray to the Lord, as His apostles did, saying, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). Then our money seems to take wings and fly away; our children become critically ill; an employee becomes careless, slow and wasteful; or some other new trial comes upon us, requiring more faith than we have ever before experienced.
We pray for a Christlike life that exhibits the humility of a lamb. Then we are asked to perform some lowly task, or we are unjustly accused and given no opportunity to explain, for “he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and …did not open his mouth” (Isa. 53:7).
We pray for gentleness and quickly face a storm of temptation to be harsh and irritable. We pray for quietness, and suddenly every nerve is stressed to its limit with tremendous tension so that we may learn that when He sends His peace, no one can disturb it.
We pray for love for others, and God sends unique suffering by sending people our way who are difficult to love and who say things that get on our nerves and tear at our heart. He does this because “love is patient, love is kind. … it is not rude, … it is not easily angered. … It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Cor. 13:4-5, 7-8).
Yes, we pray to be like Jesus, and God’s answer is: “I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Isa. 48:10); “Will your courage endure or your hands be strong? (Ezek. 22:14); “Can you drink the cup?” (Matt. 20:22).