“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
John 15:7 NRSV
Leaving Your Fate Up to Gravity
Have you ever flipped a coin to make a decision, and told yourself that whatever way the coin lands is the way its supposed to land? The way God wants it to land? “Okay God, if it’s heads it’s a sign that this is Your answer. If it’s tails, it’s a sign that the other option is your answer.” You believe that the coin has the capability of knowing the correct choice and the incorrect choice. So you leave your fate up to gravity and a quarter. And then you follow it.
Often times when we pray to God, our expectation is that God will answer immediately, and in a big way. We hope that He will give us a sign that will be impossible to miss, that He will solve our problem right away, that He will be there instantly. But God doesn’t always work like that. And sometimes we can get discouraged when we don’t see God acting immediately.
There are several stories in the Bible where people pray for a miracle, and God makes it happen in only a way that God can do. Moses prays for water in the middle of the desert, and water bursts out of a rock (Exodus 17:4-6). Joshua and his army walk in circles around the Walls of Jericho, and after six days they miraculously fall down (Joshua 6). David prays as he takes on a literal giant, and defeats him with a small pebble (1 Samuel 17: 45-50). God answers their prayers in big, unconceivable ways that go against any law of science we’ve ever known. If God can do that for them, he can do that for us too. Right?
One Grand Fireworks Show
Here’s the reality. In real, bona fide answers to prayer, we often try to play the role of the spectator rather than the actor. We expect answers to our prayers to come like one huge fireworks display. We pray, then sit back and wait for God to do His thing in nothing less than a grand spectacular fashion, like a big finale. You pray for healing and your cancer is gone overnight. You pray for financial support and the next day an anonymous donor gives you the exact amount of money you need. And you pray for your marriage to be saved and all of a sudden your spouse walks in and all of the hurt and heartache you’ve been feeling disappears.
While God is capable of making big miracles happen like that, many times He has a different answer for our prayers.
When We Become Actors, Not Spectators
Your recovery from cancer may come after long months of chemo and radiation. Your financial problems may be solved after you find another job and put in the extra work to make ends meet. And your relationship might only get better after you both start to look at the real issues, seek out a therapist, and push through the tough times. That doesn’t mean God didn’t answer your prayer. It doesn’t mean he had any less role in your prayer either. God did answer your prayer, He just did it through you by providing you with the equipment you needed to work through your troubles.
Let’s take a look at David for a second. When David first became King, he prayed to God, “bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you,” (2 Samuel 7:29 ESV). God answered David’s prayer, but not with a huge fireworks display. David didn’t sit back while God fought all his battles for him. Instead, the Bible says, “David defeated the Philistines and subdued them,” (Psalm 18:3 ESV). According to David, it was God who “sent out his arrows and scattered them,” (Psalm 18:4 ESV), and it was God who “rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me,” (Psalm 18:17 ESV).
The real question is, who really fought the battles? Was it God, or was it David? Or was it both? David acted one hundred percent, but God also acted one hundred percent. If you’re like most people, you’re probably thinking “wait, that’s two hundred percent, that’s impossible.” It’s not though, because God didn’t answer David’s prayer separate from David’s actions, he answered through David’s acting.
God’s Answers to Our Prayers
We often look for God’s answers to our prayers to be like a fireworks show. We want that surreal unexplainable experience; that sign to let us know that God hears our prayers and has our back. But why do we think that God answering our prayers through us is any bit less miraculous?
C.S. Lewis gives one reason in Letters to Malcolm:
“We profanely assume that divine and human action exclude one another like the actions of two fellow-creatures so that “God did this” and “I did this” cannot both be true of the same act except in the sense that each contributed a share.”
It’s easy to think that the more we do in answer to our prayers, the less God did. If you put in 75 percent of the effort, God only contributed 25 percent. But David, and other biblical authors, say they can do one hundred percent of the acting while still giving God one hundred percent of the credit. If we asked David who won the battles, he could say with truth and sincerity, “I won the battles, but God is the one who won them because it is He who equipped me with strength. It was God who prepared me for the battle, and who blessed me with the skill to defeat my enemies.”
God answered David’s prayer by giving David everything he needed to do it himself. It was all without a big fireworks show.
Stop Wishing and Start Working to Find Where God Is Leading Us.
Often times when we pray we have the mentality, “Let go and let God.” The basis of that mentality is valid and true, but we’ve taken it out of context when we let ourselves believe that once we pray, we don’t have to do anything else, God will do it all for us.
Instead, we have to let go and get going. Stop wishing and start working. We let go of the burden by admitting our weaknesses and handing our troubles over to God, just as he calls us to do. But rather than sitting back and wishing for our problems to go away overnight, we need to start working, doing whatever God needs us to do. We have to trust that He is doing his part by guiding us to do our part.
We ask God for help to guide us in a big decision, but we do not put that decision in the hands of a coin toss. Instead we need go out and seek counsel, trusting that God will put the right person in our path and that He will lead us to the right answer.
When we pray for strength to resist temptation, we need seek out a friend or mentor to serve as an accountability partner instead of just waiting for God to remove the temptation from our line of vision.
When we pray for financial help, we do research on ways to save, ways to get help, or ways to bring in a little extra money each month, rather than waiting for someone to knock on our door with a big check. We can’t just sit and wait for someone to answer our prayers for us, God calls us to put in the work too.
That’s not to say that God will never answer your prayer with a fireworks show.
God Is Working with Us by Working Through Us
Our God is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He is capable of doing anything and everything, no matter how big or small. But God also works with us by working through us. We have to trust that God hears our prayers and has our back at all times. His way of answering our prayers may not come in the way we expect. But we have to trust that He has a plan for each and every one of us. He will guide us to be in the right place at the right time, and he will lead us to his answers, every single time.
God isn’t putting in any less effort. He’s putting in one hundred percent effort each time, whether it ends with a fireworks show or not.
God is making us stronger through Him, and He will provide us with everything we need, just as He promises us.