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I have a battered notebook that has been with me for so long that four of its pages date back to the birth of each of my sons. It is in this notebook that I write down the requests – big and small — that I bring to God.
Should our family take the adventure of a cross-country trip in a mini-van?
Who gets my vote this time?
Lord, help our church family to find a shepherd.
Certainly, my notebook is a record of God’s faithfulness, but even after all these years, I don’t pretend to understand the pattern of scattered checkmarks – or the replies from God that they denote – for the notebook also chronicles my uneasy relationship with prayer.
At some point, it’s bound to happen to everyone who believingly follows the One who said “when you pray”: the bubble of predictability is pricked and horror comes rushing in regardless of prayers to the contrary. My notebook speaks into this tension.
- Fervent prayer for a missionary friend with cancer – dead six weeks from diagnosis.
- Focused supplication for a marriage to survive . . . and another . . . and another. All have dissolved, and are barely a memory now.
Even the Apostle Paul with his inside track to the third heaven never claimed to understand the ways of God.
Instead, he said, “I know whom I have believed,” (II Tim. 1:12).
Therefore, he took grace — and the power of Christ — as glorious consolation prizes that came instead of the healing for which he prayed three times, (II Cor. 12:8,9).
I have lived and moved through the steps to that dance:
“Oh, Lord, bring healing and wholeness to …”
“This opportunity sure looks perfect for …”
I ask and I invite others to join me in prayer. On some level, I am convinced that prayer is like a referendum in which the more people I have “voting” with me, the more likely it is that the will of God will sway in my direction.
It’s easy to slip into that thinking, isn’t it?
My thinking gets muddled, but this one thing is certain: God’s motives are above reproach. God has promised not to trick me with a stone when I’ve asked for bread or to scare me with a live snake on my plate when I’ve asked Him for a fish. (Matthew 7:9-11, MSG)
But is this evidence enough for me to be grateful for God’s gracious refusals? The truth is that, mistaking stones for bread and serpents for fish, I ask God for stones all the time. God wants to give me a fragrant and nourishing loaf, but I ask for the wrong things. I don’t see what God sees. This, then, is the point at which my faith is tested: When the loaf God offers looks like solid stone to me, will I trust Him and say, “Yes, Lord, I’ll take it?”
At this point, my theology, my personality, and even my writing style are all straining for closure. I yearn to talk about the shining path of God’s will that becomes ever brighter the more I walk upon it. I would love to share that I have learned the secret to the joy-in-spite-of-circumstances that comes with looking into the face of God. I see evidence for it in Scripture, and my mind knows that when I ask God for my daily bread, I come to God as a child, trusting that God knows better than I do what will encourage my health and lead to growth.
Words from an Orthodox morning prayer lend their strength to my frail asking:
“Lord, teach me to treat all that comes to me this day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that your will governs all.”
This learning sits heavy in the balance, countering my own vision, which is so often out of focus with God’s eye of wisdom.
When it comes to the deep wanting, to the “I won’t let you go unless you bless me” requests that keep me company at the kitchen sink and wake me up in the middle of the night, I’m trusting for grace to accept their outcome. Whatever their outcome, I am learning to see it as that day’s portion of my daily bread, knowing full well that, in my short-sightedness, I may be asking God for a stone.