Three hundred children were dressed and ready for school when the orphanage’s housemother came to George Mueller and told him there was no food to feed them. Without panicking, Mueller asked her to take the children to the dining room and prepare them for a meal. He blessed the food that they did not have, and he waited. He was confident God would provide.
Within minutes, there was a knock at the door. It was a baker who said he could not sleep and somehow knew the orphanage needed bread that day. The baker brought in three batches of bread, and the children started eating.
Soon after that, a milkman stopped in front of the orphanage to fix a broken wagon wheel. Had he tried to make deliveries after this time-consuming repair, the milk would have spoiled. He asked Mueller if the orphanage could use the milk, and Mueller heartily agreed. So, the children were given something to drink with their bread.
This generations-old story reminds us that God is faithful. But what if we ask God to provide and we don’t receive the outcome we expect? In this Christmas season, after a nearly yearlong battle with the coronavirus, I think it’s necessary to ask this question and explore the answers.
The Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego can help us discover an answer.
As a quick recap, the book of Daniel tells of a king named Nebuchadnezzar who besieged Judah and took the best and brightest as captives to Babylon. Sometime later, a huge golden idol was cast and all the people—including the three Jewish captives mentioned above, who by now were high-ranking officials—were told to worship it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused. So the king ordered them to be thrown into a fiery furnace. But before it happened, they said, “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, English Standard Version).
We sometimes misremember the wording in this passage as, “Our God can and will save us, but if not, he’s still good.” While it’s correct, of course, that God is unconditionally good, the trio actually said, “But if not, we will never worship your golden image.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego proclaimed loyalty to God, regardless of the outcome.
The first part of their statement to the king was, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us.” This message still resonates today. In the New Testament, Paul wrote, “For by him [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17, ESV). Jesus made everything that exists, these verses proclaim, and he also is the reason they remain in existence.
Nothing is too tempting for Jesus to overcome; he demonstrated that concept by becoming one of us and never sinning. Nothing is too overwhelming for Jesus to comprehend; he showed us that by facing death with bravery. Nothing is too powerful for Jesus to conquer; he showed us that with an empty tomb.
The next part of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s response was said with confidence: “He will deliver us out of your hand.” How incredibly bold for these captives to proclaim that God was on their side to a king who had overthrown their country. They did not know if God was going to save their lives in this particular instance, but they knew he was going to do his will and deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar’s hand, and they were satisfied with that.
The New Testament says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). That promise still applies today.
But If He Doesn’t
The last part of their response is, by far, the most impressive to me. No matter what happens, these brave men said, “we will not serve your gods.” Talk about a gut check. My life has never been threatened due to my faith. I have had safe worship experiences my entire life. However, I can hide these words in my heart (Psalm 119:11) and remember them when God does not answer my prayers the way I want. So, if and when God says no, I must choose to continue worshipping him alone despite the surrounding circumstances.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
God sees and knows more than we could ever comprehend.
Friend, I want you to know that even if God doesn’t answer my prayers the way I want, I will continue to worship him. Will you?