Before I get started, I want to assure anyone reading this that there is no disaster in Nebraska (that I know of). No mass shooting, no tornado touchdown, no flooding or extreme drought…as far as I am aware, Nebraska is as it ever was.
But yesterday was my “day” to pray for Nebraska. I keep a journal– a home made set of notebooks with pages for each day of the calendar year. Every day, I pray for a geographical region– a city, state, nation, continent, ocean, etc. I also pray for people who are celebrating a birthday or anniversary (among those known to me), and people facing special circumstances (as I am made aware of them–upcoming surgeries, recent losses of family members, unspoken requests..) Throughout the day, there may be other requests, and there are web sites and other prayer opportunities that don’t make it into my journal. And there may be a day this autumn when Nebraska will feature in my prayers because there IS a disaster, or some other concern arises there.
Keeping a prayer journal doesn’t make me a “better” person. It doesn’t cover every prayer concern, or even every person I know and care for. My mind cannot hold every person, place, and situation that needs prayer on any given day. But a journal is a handy reminder to pray for people and places that are dear to the heart of God– not because they are in crisis (though we should lift up crisis areas, too)–but because He cares for everyone, everywhere, all the time. Keeping a journal doesn’t make me a better person; but it can make me a better pray-er. It reminds me that God is bigger than I can imagine, and His love is more powerful and everlasting than I can comprehend.
Another benefit of keeping a journal is that I have space to write in answers to prayer, questions, random thoughts– and come back to reminders of God’s faithfulness over the seasons and years. Because I use home made notebooks, I keep them for about three years at a time. This also gives me the opportunity to update and make changes. Last time, I added Catalonia to my list of countries, and I’ve added several new birthdays and anniversaries. I’ve also begun keeping track of deaths, because I can pray for those who may be grieving the anniversary of a loved one’s loss.
If you would like more information and suggestions on keeping a prayer journal, there are several suggestions, web sites, pre-printed journals for sale, and I have a page here Prayer Journal with some thoughts.
Now, I have to sign off and pray for the Netherlands!
We like to point out scripture that assures us that God will hear (and answer) our prayers. We like to remember God’s promises of blessing and peace and grace. And we tend to ignore or forget that there are some prayers that God has said He will not hear or answer.
God will not answer prayers that are selfish, or hypocritical. He will not answer prayers offered in pride, self-righteousness, or unbelief (see Luke 18:9-14, and Hebrews 11:6). He will not listen to prayers offered by those who oppress the poor, those who worship idols, or those who practice violence. And He will not listen to the prayers of those who reject Him, and remain in sin. https://www.gty.org/library/questions/QA160/does-god-answer-the-prayers-of-unbelievers (Please note: I don’t totally agree with the general conclusion here, but there are several great references for the individual points..)
Please note that God does not say that He will not answer prayer based on WHO a person is–God does not refuse to answer prayers based on a person’s age, nationality, gender, physical health, mental health, height, weight, social status, or any other label, including their past religious affiliation! This means that a sincere prayer of a person who is seeking God may be heard ahead of (or instead of) a prideful prayer of someone who claims to be a Christ-follower.
God is sovereign and omniscient– He knows what is in each heart, and He answers, not according to who we are, but according to who HE is. And just as He can separate our sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), and “remember (our) sins no more”(Hebrews 8:12), He can choose not to hear prayers that are offered with wrong motives or offered in defiance of His sovereignty and holiness.
None of this takes away from the fact that God DOES hear and answer prayer…God LOVES to hear from anyone and everyone who seeks His face. Nothing external can separate you from His love. Come with your anger, questions, sorrows, pains, gratitude, hope; bring your failures, your fears, and your triumphs. But God, like a wise father, doesn’t suffer fools and fakers. Even if you can fool your neighbors, friends, family, or yourself, you cannot fool God. He doesn’t want a false narrative– He wants you as you really are. And He will listen with an everlasting love and compassion to all such prayers!
Some fears are understandable. Some fears are even logical. Some are not. I wouldn’t say that I am “afraid” of most things. I don’t spend hours of my life being afraid of unlikely events, like being struck by lightning or choking to death on a cracker. I have a healthy fear of electricity and fire. I don’t tempt fate by walking along the edge of cliffs or hanging out of thirty-story windows (both of which are rare where I come from, anyway) . But I have two phobias– irrational fears–that plague me. The first is my fear of snakes. My fear of snakes has not ruined my life, but it has caused me to limit activities– mostly nature walks– where I might be exposed to seeing a snake. I avoid the reptile house at the zoo; I avoid visiting places where snakes are more common. I don’t like to see pictures of them; I don’t watch “snake” movies.
The second fear is more irrational and causes more problems in my daily life. I am afraid of phones. This doesn’t mean that I cannot make a phone call, or ever answer the phone. But if anyone asks about the best way to contact me, I always suggest e-mail, texts, or other forms of communication. I don’t like hearing the phone ring. I don’t like making calls. I don’t like answering calls. And it has little to do with who is on the other end. It has much more to do with the medium. I can’t see the other person’s face; I can’t predict whether or not the other person is busy or distracted; whether they want a quick answer or a lengthy talk; whether the conversation will end well or leave one (or both) of us at a loss. People call at their convenience–not at the convenience of the person at the other end. Are they in the middle of cooking dinner? Taking a shower? Having an important conversation with a spouse or child?
But if I determine never to make or receive a phone call, I will miss other important conversations– family members who live far away; business that cannot be conducted in person; appointments that need to be set up; news about births, deaths, hospitalizations, even prayers and prayer requests.
I say all this because I knew there are some people who have a phobia about prayer. They are afraid to pray– not just in public, but even privately. They fear that they will say the wrong thing, or that they will “bother” God with their petitions. Some fear that God will not hear their prayer or that they will not get an answer. Some are afraid that they will “get what they pray for”– that God will hear their prayer and answer it, but that the answer will involve change, hardship, or pain that they were hoping to avoid. Some fear that their prayers will not be “good enough;” that God will misunderstand their motives or be offended by their words or their lack of knowledge. Some people are afraid of God– that He will reject them and their prayers because of something they have done or the way they have lived in the past.
Prayer is not meant to be intimidating or difficult. It is healthy to have awe for God. Even “fear” of God– He holds the power of life and death; He cannot be fooled or mocked or bargained with; He knows everything about us, including our thoughts and our past–God is not to be trifled with, even in prayer. But God invites us to pray. He calls us to come to Him; He seeks our fellowship, no matter what we’ve done or what words we string together. There is no magical “prayer formula”– no phrases or special “religious” words or a certain ritual or routine– that we must use to be heard. God– who formed the universe and keeps it running– is never too busy or too distracted to listen to us. Even groans and whimpers are important to Him.
Don’t be “afraid to pray.” And don’t let a fear keep you from praying. Pray through the fear– draw near to God– and He has promised to draw near to you.
Many years ago, I prayed to God, that He would increase my patience. I had well-meaning people– even pastors and other Christians– who told me not to do it. They were afraid that God’s answer to such a prayer would bring difficulty– that God would answer my prayer by making me go through hard times to learn patience. And He did just that. I wanted to be married and have a family–and I spent nearly 30 years waiting and learning patience! But I would not go back and undo those years. God answered my prayer and He gave me a wonderful husband and family– in His time. Sometimes in those decades of wondering and hurting, I had pain. But I — also had many blessings in singleness–opportunities I had never planned on, changes in perspective, unforeseen experiences and relationships that, I think, prepared me to be a better person and a better wife than I would have been at age 18 or 20.
My prayer for patience was something I felt strongly about– and patience is a Godly thing; it is an aspect of the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). I wasn’t praying for money or fame or a life without struggles. In fact– I wasn’t praying that God would “make me” patient. People who believe that my years of waiting for a husband were the direct result of my prayer for increased patience assume that God changed the circumstances of my life to force me to learn a lesson. But what if God changed my desires to match my circumstances? What if, knowing that I would marry after age 45, God put that prayer in my young and impatient heart? If I hadn’t asked for patience, would I have taken matters into my own hands and tried to “make” a family in my way and my time? Would I have experienced more pain– and brought pain to others– if I hadn’t learned patience?
God knows what we need. He knows that there WILL be trouble and hardship in our lives. And He knows that we can survive, and even thrive, in times of trouble, because He will be there with us. Nothing about prayer should make us afraid. Nothing about God’s answers should cause us not to seek His face. He loves us extravagantly; He knows us intimately; He controls and safeguards our future with perfect power.
The story of Hannah is filled with a network of complex relationships– Hannah and her husband, her rival, her spiritual leaders, her son’s foster-parent, and the son she desired and yet gave away. But Hannah’s most complex and important relationship was with her God.
What can we learn by looking at this relationship?
Even when we don’t understand it, God has a plan, and it is always bigger than “us.” God closed Hannah’s womb– that was part of His plan. But it was not the end of the plan, or the point of the plan, or a hitch in the plan. Hannah’s barrenness was not a punishment for anything that she had done, but Hannah’s response to it (and the response of all the others) provides us with an example of faith, persistence, and obedience. Hannah didn’t know the end of her own story– she didn’t know that her son would play such an important role in the history of his nation or in the history of God’s ultimate plan of salvation for the human race. Hannah didn’t know her story would be contained in the pages of scriptures to encourage people centuries into the future. How would our response to current circumstances change if we considered that God may be using us them to bless, challenge, or encourage others through our stumbling steps of responding in faith? The results of our faith (or lack of faith) will have an impact far beyond just our immediate lives.
God is sovereign. Nothing happened to Hannah outside of God’s sight; nothing was beyond his control; nothing about this story took God by surprise. Hannah, even in her despair and frustration, could trust her all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God.
God is more interested in our wholeness than our “happiness.” Our culture (and our selfish nature) tends to focus on our comfort, our accomplishments, and our happiness. When we are not happy, when we are frustrated in our goals, when we are restless or oppressed, we tend to think that God has turned His back on us. But it is often during times of grief, pain, loss, and darkness that we are stretched and reshaped to be stronger and wiser, growing closer to God and others. God doesn’t want us to wallow in despair and self-pity; but He will lead us through the very “valley of the shadow of death.” But, as Hannah experienced, God sees our sorrow, hears our cry, and answers our call.
God is trustworthy and faithful. God knew Hannah’s heart. He knew her longing for a child. In Hannah’s case, He had caused her to be barren for a season, and then He gave her the desire of her heart and much more. But even if He had not given her a child of the womb, God gave her a loving husband, a compassionate (if imperfect) spiritual leader, a rival who could not triumph over her, and most of all, His presence and love.
The Bible is an amazing book. It is a single narrative, but it is made up of several stories; even several different types of literature. There are stories that seem straightforward; others are clearly meant as parables or metaphors; still others are prophetic visions. Hannah’s story fits the first category. Hannah is to be understood as a real person living in a real time and place in history. She is also representative of a particular situation–she is childless in a society where a woman’s value is measured in her ability to bear children. She is loved by her husband, but taunted and harassed by her husband’s other wife. She is consumed by grief and frustration. In our own time, she would likely be diagnosed as clinically depressed.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I have a tendency to see Hannah through the rosy lenses of her eventual triumph. I know the end of the story. I indulge her grief, because she “prays her way through it”, and gets the happy ending I think we all long for.
But Hannah’s story isn’t just about the outcome, and it isn’t a parable meant to show that earnest prayer will always result in getting what we desire. Hannah’s happy ending is not a guarantee or a promise for anyone else who suffers from grief or infertility (or both).
So, I’d like to take a closer look at Hannah– not as one of the “heroines” of the Bible, but as a woman in distress. And I’d like to focus on the others in her story. God doesn’t waste details, even if we don’t always understand why they are included. I think there are several hidden lessons in this story, and they reside in details we often skim or throw aside in the pursuit of the very real truth that God answers prayer.
So, to prepare for this journey, here is the text of Hannah’s tale:
1 Samuel 1 New International Version (NIV) The Birth of Samuel 1 There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. 3 Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. 4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. 6 Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 8 Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” 9 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. 10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” 12 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.” 15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” 17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” 18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. 19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”
Taken from biblegateway.com
Lord, help us to read this story with new eyes. Help us to see how you work even in difficult circumstances and with imperfect people to bring hope and wisdom and salvation to a fallen world.
Many industries rely on charts. Health care workers chart vital signs, fluid levels, symptoms and reactions to medication. Publishers of books and music chart sales by category, age of audience, geographical region, and more. Transport and shipping companies chart routes, weather, road construction, and fuel efficiency.
Keeping charts, graphs, and records can improve performance, solve mysteries, and increase understanding. It is good to keep charts in our Christian walk, as well. Charting scripture can show us where we have or have not studied God’s promises, warnings, and wisdom. Charting our prayer life can show us patterns in our communication with God, and help us see when and how God has answered our prayers.
I keep a prayer journal. Each day of the year has its own page, with lists of people to pray for in general, a geographical region, and more immediate special requests. But the back of each page has blank space. This way, as God answers prayers in these areas, I can record them. I’ve been using this journal for three years now, so the back sides are beginning to get filled up.
But that is not the most amazing part of what I wanted to share today. The most amazing part is that I have had to revisit some of the answers because God keeps answering them! Here’s a case in point: About two years ago, I wrote in a request for a friend who was looking for a job. There was a promising interview, and many friends were praying for a “positive” outcome. The job seemed like a perfect fit. But it didn’t happen. More prayers led to other opportunities and one of them seemed to be working out. I wrote the “answer” in my journal. But when I came across it again this year, I realized that God used both the previous opportunities to prepare my friend for something even better: a job that no one imagined two years ago! We prayed, expecting God to answer with something good. When the first answer was “no,” we trusted God to bring about something else. And He did. But I’m glad that I had charted this request, because I almost missed seeing how God used prayer to prepare for more that we had asked!
Another friend was going through grief and distress just a little over a year ago, and I was reminded of how God answered prayers for strength, peace, and rest. But I was also reminded to lift my friend up again on a painful anniversary, and to offer thanks for the ongoing healing I’ve seen– not just for my friend, but for her entire family.
If you don’t do it already, I highly recommend making a prayer diary or journal. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or complicated– I use wire-bound theme books and write in them daily. But you could use an actual bound journal, or a simple memo pad or old address book. Don’t worry if you miss a day or two– no one is keeping score or grading you–the main thing is to make it a habit to record prayers and answers. You will gain insight, remember God’s answers and promises kept, and be encouraged in the wait for other answers to come.
Most days, I post about Pursuing Prayer from the “praying” end…how do I pray, what attitude do I have about praying, why do I pray, etc.
Today, I want to explore the “responding” end…how do I know when God is answering my prayer, or what he’s asking me to do in response to his will? While I don’t have a complete answer, I do want to share some wisdom– some from experience and some from Biblical principles and others’ testimony.
Isaiah 55:8-9English Standard Version (ESV)
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm. William Cowper
It often surprises people to learn that “God works in mysterious ways” is not actually in the Bible. God’s ways are NOT our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts, but his answers to prayer are not obscure and unknowable. God does not delight in vexing us and making us guess and second-guess his will. It would be easy if God always answered our prayers with a flashing neon sign that gave a simple, one-sentence directive– “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.” “Click your heels together and say, ‘There’s no place like home.'” “Hakuna Matata.” But pithy platitudes and easy answers are not God’s way, either. God created each of us as a unique reflection of his divine image– his answers will be uniquely designed to fulfill his will and meet our deepest needs, not always in ways we expect or understand.
So how do we discern God’s will when there is no neon sign or simple answer to our prayers? Here are a few guiding principles:
God will NEVER answer your prayer by contradicting himself or compromising his holiness.
God will not answer your prayer for money by giving you an opportunity to cheat or steal. He will not answer your prayer for a husband by throwing you into the arms of someone else’s.
Just because God doesn’t send a lightning bolt or physically stop you from doing something doesn’t mean that he has given his OK. If he ALLOWS you to sin, that doesn’t mean that he APPROVES of your sin or that it is his answer to your prayer.
God will never ask you to do harm to yourself or others as an answer to your prayer. Vengeance, sacrifice, atonement, and retribution are the province of God alone. I believe that God asks us to be vigilant in defense, and allows us to take up arms in defense, but to initiate a feud, to seek personal vengeance, or to act out vigilante justice is to flout both God’s authority and the authority of the powers God has set in place over us.
God MAY use circumstances or people to answer your prayer. But the same principle above applies– circumstances that lead to sinful actions are NOT God’s answer to your prayer; people who advise you to do what you know is contrary to God’s holiness are not sent from God– no matter how appealing the prospect, no matter how powerful the person or persons. That being said, God may choose to use the most unlikely of persons or events to bring about a resolution to your need–LET HIM! Don’t judge a gift by the size, the shape, or the wrapping paper!
God may use time to answer your prayer. I prayed for a husband from the time I was a young girl– I married at age 46. Waiting doesn’t mean that God has forgotten about you; it doesn’t mean that you aren’t worthy of an answer or ready for an answer– sometimes your answer isn’t ready for you! There are two caveats I want to share from my own experience of waiting for an answer:
Don’t give up! God knows the desires of your heart– but keep praying anyway. Well-meaning people will say awful, hurtful things– that you aren’t praying enough, or praying the “right” way; that you must be hiding un-confessed sin; that you need to try some other way to get what you want, or to hurry God along. In my case, I had people trying to fix me up, suggest dating services, remind me that my “clock” was ticking (it was broken, but they didn’t know that), or suggest that it just wasn’t God’s will that I marry, and I should pray for him to take away the desire for a husband. Listen to folks like this (if you must) with half an ear and less than 10% of your heart– let them cause you to re-examine your heart and your desires, but don’t let them cause you to give up or doubt God. That was not their intention, but it can often be the result of their ill-considered words.
Do the next right thing. Doing nothing while you wait for the perfect answer gets you nowhere. Wringing your hands and pacing gets you nowhere. God wants our trust and our obedience. As we wait for more specific direction, we need to trust that doing the next right thing IS the RIGHT thing to do. This was the hardest lesson for me, but the one I most needed to learn. So while I waited, I moved ahead step-by-step. I made a lot of friends, gained a lot of experiences, and learned about marriage by watching the examples of others (both good and bad). I got involved working with children, first as a secondary teacher, and then as a librarian. I got to spend nearly thirty years of my working life surrounded by young people. I got to laugh with them, love on them, mentor them, dream with them, discipline them, and cry over them (and send them home). I didn’t just “settle for” a single lifestyle– I learned to embrace it. I learned to be grateful for the wonderful opportunities I had as a single woman, and to anticipate the changes that marriage would bring, should it come along. I learned that marriage should be a means to an end, not the end itself– that marriage done right is not about my growth and fulfillment; not even about his growth and fulfillment; but about OUR growth together and toward Godliness.
Trust “that voice in your head”– not the one that speaks out loud and gets you strange looks–but your God-given conscience, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. “That still, small voice” is often the most personal way God speaks to us. In my own life, it was taking the risk to leave a career I loved (teaching) to reach for a deeper dependence on God. I left the security of my teaching position for three part-time jobs (at one point), no health insurance, and a move to a new community where I knew virtually no one. I had other choices, other more appealing options, chances to reconsider. I wasn’t being pushed out of teaching–in fact, I left just as my options at the school were opening up for bigger and better things. Yet I felt compelled to leave. I had no safety net waiting– I ended up in libraries, but that wasn’t my original plan. There were many people counseling me to reconsider– and their reasons were compelling. But as I stood firm, other voices came along to encourage me. I believe they were sent by God to confirm that this risk was from him and for my good.
Don’t trust “that voice in your head”–No, I’m not trying to confuse you or contradict what I just said. But this is another caveat (see above). We are told to “test the spirits”, and sometimes, that voice in your head is NOT the Holy Spirit. In the case I mentioned above, I had to follow all the other principles of discerning God’s will. In my case, leaving teaching did not violate God’s holiness or come about because I wasn’t willing to follow God’s leading–I wasn’t leaving teaching to try my hand at a get-rich-quick scheme, or because I had lost my desire to work with students, or had lost faith in God’s sovereignty in my life. God DID use circumstances and people to confirm my decision and help me grow through the experiences that followed. God used time to help me transition from schools to libraries, and prepare me for other opportunities, including short-term missions trips and marriage. I can’t even begin to list all the ways I tested and examined what I felt God was leading me to do before I made the leap. That much testing may not always be necessary, but we need to be careful not to rely on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6), but to Trust in the Lord with all our hearts. He WILL direct our paths when we do that.
Finally, Pray for it– pray for discernment, for wisdom, for strength to do the right thing! Won’t God DO IT!
Earlier this week, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (otherwise known as Prince William and Kate Middleton), welcomed their third child. As with most royal births, there was a lot of fanfare and speculation well in advance of the actual delivery. Early tabloid reports hinted at twins; bookmakers were figuring odds for delivery dates, names– even what the Duchess would be wearing as she brought the newborn outside for his first “sighting”. As of the writing of this blog, the name has yet to be announced, which is cause for more speculation and anticipation.
Preparing for a newborn is exciting, and filled with certain expectations. We imagine what the baby will look like, what kind of personality s/he will have, all the wonderful discoveries to be made. But we need to be careful not to let our expectations become idols. There’s nothing wrong with hoping for good outcomes, but it can be dangerous to get locked into a particular expected outcome. Children surprise us (in good ways and other ways) be being themselves, and not who or what we expect them to be.
When we pray, we sometimes come with certain expectations–that God will answer in a certain way or on a certain timeline. This is not the same as having faith. Faith says that God will hear our prayer; that he knows best, and that he will act in accordance with his own love and mercy. It doesn’t mean that he will give us what we want when we want it, or that he will give us what makes us comfortable and happy. His answers may seem difficult or even painful to accept– certainly not what we were expecting. When he chooses to answer in ways that don’t meet our expectations, we wonder why. When he chooses to say “wait,” or even, “no,” we may feel cheated and even resentful, instead of thankful that our prayers are heard by a loving God. Often, we have built up such expectations of what “the best” should look like that we miss the real miracle God is giving us instead.
Worse, there are times when our expectations reveal a lack of faith or a lack of understanding of God’s ways. We pray for peace, but what we really want is ease and comfort. Peace– real peace– is often revealed in times of stress, hardship and loss! We don’t want stress; we don’t pray for stress, but stress and hardship are going to come into our lives at some point. Praying for peace won’t bring stress, any more than not praying will keep it away! We expect the peace to come without the battle; we expect the growth to come without the growth pains; we expect to win the race without having to run!
Sometimes we won’t even pray for what we really want or need because we expect that God will “test” us or give us difficult circumstances if we ask for certain things (like patience or peace). We see God as some sort of cosmic con artist, who teases us with the promise of good things, only to laugh as we suffer. But this is a wrong view of God. God doesn’t play games or “trick” us by giving us hardship when we ask for healing, though it may feel like it at the time. Suffering and hardship are not the gifts of God– his amazing gift is the ability to redeem even the worst of circumstances and bring joy and rest and peace that passes any expectation, any dread, or any understanding we have. Often, our very desire for extra patience, peace, and joy are opportunities for us to learn more about God’s grace–and more about ourselves.
Life seldom meets our expectations–God is waiting to exceed even our wildest dreams! Don’t just pray expecting something good might happen. Pray expecting God to SHOW UP!
Have you ever had one of those days where things just don’t seem to make sense? It doesn’t have to be a “bad” day, necessarily–just a day when things don’t seem to “fit.” I had one of those days yesterday.
I journal my prayer life– I have notebooks with names and places for each day of the year. Yesterday, my notebook included the city where my daughter lives and the names of three people celebrating birthdays, among other needs. One of the names was a complete mystery to me. I couldn’t remember who this person was, or how I knew either her or her name…I was drawing a blank and didn’t know how I should pray for her. Was she a former classmate? Was she a daughter or mother or sister of someone I knew better? I ended up praying a very general prayer– for her health, her family, etc., but it bothered me.
Hours later, speaking with someone on the phone, another name came up, along with a prayer request– a man suffering with an illness who happened to have the same surname. Coincidence? Possibly, but the name stood out, and I prayed again– for both. Now I was really curious. I did some digging. The first person WAS the sister of someone I knew, and their father is the one suffering from an illness.
God is amazing, and one way is how he gives us the opportunity for “a-ha!” moments like the one I had yesterday. I have spoken to several Christians who are sometimes separated by several time zones from those they normally call on for help or advice. In crisis moments, they have cried out to God. Thousands of miles away, someone will be awakened from a sound sleep with a sudden urge to pray for their distant friend, or another will be stopped in their tracks and send up a random prayer as their mind wanders. Often, this will be in the exact moment of the crisis, and God will intervene with a miraculous healing or rescue or provision. Days later, the two parties will connect and be astonished at the timing.
What used to puzzle me about such prayers was this– if God already knows the need, and plans to act, why involve the second (or third) party? Because stories like this, while impressive and inspiring for those who believe, rarely cause a skeptic to come to faith, and aren’t necessary for those who already believe.
I think God has many answers, and I know I don’t have all of them, but here are three things I believe God is doing through such puzzling circumstances and outcomes:
While it doesn’t turn a skeptic into a believer, it DOES give the skeptic something to explain away– one such instance might be ignored as coincidence, but five? two hundred? And we have a Biblical precedent in the book of Acts, chapter 12, when Peter is rescued from prison and shows up at the very house where believers are praying for his release! Even they didn’t believe at first, and left Peter out in the cold!
It IS an inspiration and an encouragement as a follower of Christ to know that he not only hears our prayers, but he recruits others to think about us, bear our burdens, and share in our trials.
Last (on my short list; I’m sure God has many other wonderful answers I haven’t imagined yet), I believe that God’s purpose for us involves communion– eternally living, sharing, and loving together with Him and with each other. It is one of the highest honors and greatest privileges to be involved in God’s work through prayer…it is something we all can do, anywhere, anytime, but it requires being humble and willing to stop what we’re doing, commit our moments and our hearts in prayer for others (sometimes without knowing why!), and trust God to do all that we cannot.
Prayer sometimes seems puzzling, but that’s because we don’t see all the answers– yet. Someday, what a marvelous and miraculous picture will unfold– and we have the opportunity to fill in the gap; to be the answer to 34-down; to be the missing piece of the pine tree in the upper right corner– to answer the call and finish the puzzle!