A few days ago I received an e-mail from a friend writing to another friend with a carbon copy sent to me. These words from a new Christian contain enormous spiritual insight: “When you said, ‘Let Jesus fill you up with Joy,’ I re-read that line about 100 times. I would love that. I will do it. I say now ‘Jesus, if joy is to be had, let me not block it.’ I am very aware these days that God is giving me not only exactly what I want, but exactly what I need to get what I asked for. What I mean is this-I told God that I want to be like Jesus, I want to handle life as much like Jesus would that I can. I want to love people like Jesus did. I want the qualities of forgiveness, patience, love, wisdom and perseverance that Jesus had-because it seems the Bible tells us that that is what we should strive for. And how could I learn these things without diversity, pain, strife? I couldn’t. Jesus was handed an unbelievable amount of all these things and through them showed the world how much he loved all God’s children. It is so clear to me that those of us who want to know Jesus are going to be handed many problems so that we may grow closer to Jesus.
I can see now that when I prayed for tolerance, God handed me a seemingly intolerable situation. When I prayed that God would show me how to be forgiven and teach me how to be forgiving-he handed me a seemingly unforgivable situation with people close to me. I asked God to teach me gratitude, and he gave me situations in which the people for which I wanted to feel gratitude were unbearable. But I have paid attention and truly believe that God is giving me what I have asked for.
After all, if you wanted to learn how to paint beautiful pictures, an art teacher would not set you down before a completed canvass-he would set you down before a blank one and try to teach you how to create what you want. And as the student painter begins-I am sure they think, ‘Wow, I didn’t know how hard this was going to be.’ And some students throw in their paint brush, and some end up painting the Sistine Chapel. I think you know which one I want to be.”
When we ask God to make us like Jesus, we are really praying to be led to the Cross. There is no growth without pain and struggle, and no victory without dying to our selfish desires. In the end we are filled with joy when we discover that our prayers were answered in an unexpected way.