A Lesson From Prayer

This is not a lesson on prayer. This is a lesson from prayer. Sometimes God teaches us things through our own prayers. As we talk to him, he shows us something new. This is a lesson I learnt from a recent experience praying to God about something.

See, there was something I wanted. Something in my life that I really wanted to happen. I’ll leave you to speculate about what it was, because it doesn’t matter what it was. The point is that I wanted it. I really did.

And yet, as I talked to God about it, I somehow found myself saying, “God, I only want this if you do too.” From where I mustered the faith to say such a thing I don’t know, but there I was, telling God that it was more important to me what he wanted for me than what I wanted for myself. There was something so therapeutic about the very act of saying this to God, because it meant that I wasn’t trying to attain this thing by my own power or finesse. Believing that the outcome was in God’s hands, believing that he was in control over whether or not I got what I wanted, I had no choice but to believe that if I didn’t get it, it’s because God didn’t want me to have it.

And what a difference that makes. Because a “no” from God is so much easier, so much more tender than a “no” from just… life. It is so hard to handle the idea that the thing that has prevented you from getting what you want is nothing other than the blind, mindless processes of chance. But if this thing was withheld from me by an intelligent agent, a personal being who was consciously aware of my desires, and who does things for reasons, and not only that, but whose reasons include the fact that he loves me and is deeply and intimately concerned with my life. That is something I can handle. That’s something I can be okay with. That my “no” comes from God proves that I didn’t need what has been withheld. A “no” from God comes with a smile, and with the promise of a better alternative. As the old adage goes, that God answers every prayer in one of three ways: ‘Yes,’ ‘Not yet,’ or ‘I have something better.’

But that’s where the fears started coming in. What exactly does God consider “better”? Given that God’s ways and thoughts are so much higher than mine, what if his ideas of what would be best for me consist of things that I would consider abhorrent and miserable, and will only understand the benefit of in the next life or when I’m like 80? What if it’s best for me to go through decades of suffering? What if he needs to teach me a painful lesson? What if God wants me to live a truly hard life, overcoming some serious, heart wrenching battle in order to humble me or something? And while I’m slightly exaggerating, don’t write off questions like these. It’s not a stupid thing to wonder about. A life of suffering is literally what God, in Acts 9:16, explicitly had planned for the Apostle Paul.

And can anyone say, “Job”?

This stuff isn’t beyond the realm of realism. Earthly exemption from suffering (of whatever kind) is never promised in the New Testament. What God promises is to empower us to experience joy through pain. And that’s great, but it doesn’t come easy. It requires a journey. And that journey is terrifying. And what doesn’t help is Christians coming around you with empty promises, saying “God’s gonna do this, and give you that,” when they’re often just platitudes based more on hearsay and the hopeful thinking of folk theology than on God’s own words to us.

Yeah, some days I really was worrying about stuff like that. Because, while I knew that God, according to Romans 8:28, was doing everything for my ultimate benefit, I feared what kind of journey that might entail – and what kind of crazy, ridiculous, deep trust in him I might need to find in order to be okay with whatever journey he has planned. And so, at this point, for God to say “no” to my prayer, would to me have been taken as more evidence that God’s plans for me might be radically, painfully different to my own.

Well. I found the answer about an hour before the “no” came. One night, the door was shut to the thing I wanted. But, to the Devil’s dismay, that door shut itself right after a church service. And I guess God used that service to prepare me for the impending denial. Because as I was standing in worship that night, I can’t remember what song we were singing, but for some reason it reminded me of Romans 8:32, which says:

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

It’s funny how God works. Because he usually doesn’t answer your questions. He just distracts you from them. Our questions are stupid, and so rather than answering them, he gives us something better to think about. While I had all these fears running around my head about the scary things God might put me through, I was hit with this… thing… from the Bible.

God gave me his Son. How could I not trust him? He has already given me his best. The very best thing he had in his possession, he has already given me.

Now I guess the usual lesson we take from that would be the fact that, “Jesus is enough.” And that’s true. But that’s not what God was showing me that night. He was simply showing me that he was worthy of absolutely all of my trust, because he is the kind of God that would give me his greatest and most prized possession.

On that day God withheld something from me. And I don’t like speculating about what his reasons for that might be; how could I possibly figure that out? But the fact that he has already given me his very own Son, tells me what isn’t the reason he withheld it from me:

He didn’t deny me this thing because it was too good a gift.

It’s not because it was too good for me. It’s not because I’m not worthy of it. It’s not because I don’t deserve it. How could it be? If he denied be some earthly gift because of my lack of merit, how the heck could he possibly give me his priceless, glorious, eternal, majestic, only begotten Son? If he gave me his Son, then I just know for a fact that he’s not in the business of withholding things from me because they’re too good. The giving of his Son showed me what kind of value he places on me, what kind of a giver he is to me. He’s not holding out on me things that he knows will bless me. He doesn’t look at me and look at the gift and think, “Hmm, nah this is to valuable a thing for me to give away to him.” That’s not what’s going on, because that’s not what he did with his Son – the best thing that anyone has given to anyone.

How could I not trust him?

The questions we’re all asking.

These are strange questions.

Would you love me if I wasn’t as impressive? Would you love me if I wasn’t as smart? Would you love me if I wasn’t on top of things in my life? Would you love me if I hurt people? Would you love me if I really caused some pain? Would you love me if I was immature, if I lacked wisdom, if I didn’t know what I was doing, didn’t know who I was?

These are strange questions. But they are the questions we’re all asking.

Only now I’m asking them consciously, desperate for the answer to be yes.

Don’t wait until you have what you need before devoting your life to the service of others. Set your mind to serving others now and trust that God will give you everything you need for it along the way.

I suppose we take a tremendous risk every time we make a friend, as we are choosing to place a level of trust in a being that is inherently untrustworthy.
For some reason it still seems worth it.

Perhaps some people are not trustworthy because no one has been entrusting anything into their hands – no one has taken a chance with them and given them their trust, so they haven’t had reason to be trustworthy.

If I don’t lend my trust to someone, how can they learn to treat it properly?

Some decisions I just don’t know. When you have no-one to go to for advice, no books left to consult, what can you turn to? You’re left to your own devices. How do I know I can trust my intuitions? How do I know I can trust my reasoning? When you’re incapable of discerning what you want, let alone what you should want, how then can you know that your motives are pure, when you know that the deeper you seek within yourself, all there is to find is your own fallen, deceptive heart? What shall I convince myself to do? Of course, I shall convince myself to do that which I have been convinced is right. Well. I feel like I could persuade myself to take whichever path I choose.

I cannot trust myself. I dare not trust myself. But I must trust myself; there is no way to choose to do something I haven’t chosen to do. I cannot escape trusting myself.

All I can do is somehow trust God, that he is going to make something good out of whatever stupid thing I do next.

Before you can become a good leader, you must be a good follower.

A good leader will be someone who has the humility to align themselves with the purposes of their leaders throughout their season of discipleship, someone who has the patience to withhold their desire for authority until their time comes to assume it, and the faith to trust that God will never lose control.

They do not obey their leaders because their leaders are competent; they obey them because they understand the seasonality of life, that for everything there is a time – a time to lead and a time to follow.

These people are leading their peers in the way they respect, obey, honour, and even trust their leaders.

And these people are empowering their leaders to lead with freedom and strength. When a leader knows they have the trust and support of their team, they are liberated to take their team in the direction that they think is best for the team, uninhibited by uncooperation. They become one body with one purpose, and in their unity they are able to achieve it, whatever it is.

When followers don’t support leaders, nothing is achieved.

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If you find yourself attempting to override the judgement of someone in authority over you with your superior wisdom, ideas and methods, you are not yet leadership material.