There’s an old story that circulates in my family about my great-great grandfather, a fiery circuit-riding preacher named John Martin McBrayer.
It was the early 1900s and drought was smothering the Georgia countryside. So a Saturday prayer meeting was called, a meeting to pray for rain.
The community gathered, and in time, John Martin came riding up on his pony. It took him a while to get inside, but when he did, he was carrying his saddle. “Well Preacher,” one man asked, “Why’d you bring your saddle in? You stayin’ the night?” Everyone laughed. John Martin gave a mischievous chuckle himself and answered, “No, I thought we’d be prayin’ for rain? I believe the rest of you will be ridin’ home wet.”
Sure enough, that afternoon the rains came. And just as sure, most folks left on wet saddles and in drenched wagons (all while old John trotted home as dry as dust).
I often tell this story, not as a means of convincing people that they will always get what they pray for, but as an illustration of what faith looks like: faith in God, not faith in a specific, pre-calculated outcome.
This is reminiscent of an even older story found in the book of Daniel, the story of the “Three Hebrew Children” — Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
These boys were ordered to bow and worship an idol, a false god. This was sacrilege beyond the pale, so they refused. For their noncompliance the boys were to be burned alive in a fiery furnace. But before the sentence was carried out, they were given a final opportunity to acquiesce. Their response is one of defiant faith: “God will rescue us from your power. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you that we will never bow.”
Mature faith is far more than a cheerful “happily ever after” post-scripted to every story we tell. It is trust in the God behind all outcomes. Enough of this faith that professes only the ability to change our circumstances; such faith is little more than a lucky rabbit’s foot.
Instead, we need a faith that gives us resiliency, faith that strengthens our souls. We need faith that serves, not as a payoff for our prayers, but as growing confidence in a Person. We need that faith that sustains us, if the hoped-for rescue or drought-breaking rains come or not.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me/.