If you don’t know my friend Ally Vesterfelt, you need to. She is genuine and passionate, and a beautifully honest writer. She’s also the managing editor of Prodigal Magazine, one of my favorite corners of the Internet. I appreciate the ways Ally embraces the “grit” in life and invites God to meet her there.
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This last year I prayed big.
It started because I read a book by Mark Batterson called The Circle Maker. The thought of praying the way he prayed (persistently, for specific things) had never really occurred to me.
Usually, I liked to keep my prayers small and manageable.
I didn’t want it to seem like I was being greedy or anything.
But when I read Batterson’s book I started to see how praying for things I actually wanted (regardless if they were big or small) wasn’t being selfish, it was just being honest — and being honest was what prayer was really about, a dynamic, authentic conversation with God.
So my prayers went from being really “spiritual” all the time to sometimes not-so-much.
I would pray for things like a second bookshelf to house my growing collection. I would pray for warm weather for an outdoor picnic with my husband. I would pray for friendship with a person in a similar stage of life.
Maybe that sounds elementary, but for me it was ground-breaking.
I would pray for a specific need to be met by a specific day, and sure enough, it would be. Or I would pray for something that wasn’t a need, that was just a luxury, and many times I would get the gift I had asked for.
But there was one prayer I prayed that wasn’t answered.
Granted, it was a big prayer. A little far-fetched even. One of those that, when you write it down, you think to yourself: I’d like to see you take on this one, God.
The request had to do with a specific financial debt I owed. I wanted it to be paid off by the end of the year.
So I wrote down the prayer and the specific number, just as I had been doing before. I started making payments whenever I had extra cash, or money left over in a particular budget. For a while, I was really vigilant about it. I prayed about it every day, and the energy to conquer the debt consumed my mind.
But after a few months the prayer slipped to the back of my journal, and while I did occasionally pray that the debt would be paid by the date I had set, I didn’t think about it with nearly the conviction I had when I first started.
So when the end of the year came, and the debt wasn’t paid off, I cringed a little.
Not because God hadn’t given me what I had asked for, but because He had reminded me that,
while He is a God who hears me and cares about what I want, he has something as much to teach me by saying “no” as he does by saying “yes.”
I know this, but sometimes I live like I don’t know it.
In fact, sometimes I think this is what kept me from praying “big” prayers in the first place. I was worried that if I didn’t say it right, or if my heart wasn’t in exactly the right place, I would never get what I asked for.
And when I act like prayer is about getting what I ask for, I miss the point altogether.
It’s okay to want something (even admit we want it) and still not have it.
The second thing I learned was that, when it comes to what I have and what I don’t have, I am a co-creator with God. God has more resources than I do, more grace, more wisdom, and far more patience — but I can’t expect Him to answer prayers I am not willing to answer myself.
I have to be willing to make the sacrifices, fork over the cash, go visit the friend, reach out to the person in need, stay up all night working —
All the while praying for God to fill in the gaps.
Many times in my life God has answered prayers i didn’t know how to pray, or that I couldn’t have dreamed up in a million years. Other times I have begged him for things, laid everything on the line, and he has said “no,” or worse, been silent.
There is no reward/payoff system, no formula we can use to make prayer “work,” for us, to help get us what we want.
But I think that’s actually the point I’m trying to make.
That prayer is its own reward, and that as my prayers change, I change with them.
And for now that is enough.
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How do you handle God’s “no”s or silences?