There are a couple of things right now that Julia and I are begging God for. Sometimes I imagine how great it would be if God were more like a vending machine. I approach with my good deeds and cash a few of them in for an answer to a prayer. Sadly, that’s exactly how I used to think God worked.
But that’s not how He works at all.
This morning, I came downstairs and found Julia in tears. She was worried that God might not answer these things we’re begging Him for now. Or worse, that He might answer them by giving us something that wasn’t what we wanted.
When our young boys ask for juice to drink and we give them milk, the reaction is often filled with drama and many tears. I’m sure they think it’s either the result of incompetence or malice that we wouldn’t give them juice. Or maybe they feel it’s just not in our nature as parents to comply with their requests.
But those boys don’t yet understand how deep our love is for them. They have no idea what we’ve gladly given up for them or what a pleasure it is to provide for them and watch them grow. They don’t understand why they need milk or that Julia is keeping track of their calcium vs sugar intake. All they know is they wanted sweet juice and they got milk instead.
Ironically, I too often assume the worst about how my Father provides for me–that maybe He is incompetent or unwilling to listen. Or that maybe it’s just in His nature to give me something He likes instead of something I’d enjoy. I struggle to believe He’s not that aunt that always gives socks and hand-knit beanies for Christmas.
I’m guessing that Julia and I are not alone here. I need to hear some truth this morning, so I’m going to write this post. I hope it encourages you as you beg God for that impossible thing in your own life.
Regardless of what I believe in my childish ignorance, here are the real too-good-to-be-true things about God that give me deep, deep hope that He will answer me–and answer well.
He’s Compelled by His Nature to Answer
Julia and I had a good discussion about this a few minutes ago. We were discussing whether God can simply choose to ignore us or choose to give us something bad when we asked for something good. The prevailing fear being that He may have His own callous agenda instead of our best interest at heart. Julia posed that question to me, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“No, He can’t ignore us,” I said.
She pressed, “But why? God can do anything He wants because He’s God.”
“True,” I said. “He is God. But there are some things even God can’t do.”
She looked at me puzzled, thinking I might be on the verge of heresy.
“He can choose to do anything He wants, but He can’t go against His own nature,” I explained.
I drew the distinction between voluntary choices we make and involuntary designs and wiring that we must obey. As much as a mother would vow that they would never hurt their own children or a pastor would vow he’d never cheat on his wife, there are circumstances that could arise that would cause those otherwise well-intentioned people to make a terrible choice. Maybe it’s the zombie apocalypse or maybe it’s one glass of wine too many, but circumstances can shape the voluntary choices we make.
On the other hand, no one can voluntarily choose to lower their own cholesterol or make their heart skip a beat. Those are not choices–they are the product of design. So, I asked Julia to recall when the boys were helpless newborns.
“When a newborn is in a crib and the mother hears them crying out for her to feed them, what happens?”
“Her milk comes down,” she answered.
“Exactly. Does the mother have any choice about that, or is it a natural response because of their nature as a mother?”
“She can’t help it. It just happens,” she answered.
Not only is it in His nature to answer, but He also knows how to give good things to us. Luke 11:11-13 says:
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
When we cry out to God, His nature compels Him to answer, and because he loves us, He will answer with love to provide what we need.
His Answer is Always Either “Yes” or “Better”
My spiritual mentor and great friend, Randy, has enjoyed saying this to me over the years:
When you ask God for something, He can only answer one of two ways: “Yes” or “I have something even better in mind.”
This is an incredible way of summarizing what Scripture promises everywhere, and it presents a situation where we as His children can’t lose. The challenge is to believe this incredible promise is actually true. When we beg God for something, and we don’t get what we expected, what is our response? We believe that we heard God say “no.” But the challenge is believing His promise that He must have something even better in mind.
When I find this promise too good to believe (as I often do), I beg Him for the faith to believe His promises and that His love for me could actually be this great.
By the way, Randy just wrote a great Christmas season devotional book called All is Calm that you can find here or on your Kindle. Julia and I are reading it now, and he shares his thoughts on “yes or better” there.
Nothing is Outside His Power
Sometimes I think what I ask God for is unlikely or even next to impossible. But the Bible is full of examples of the impossible. He made animals speak. He parked the sun and moon in the sky for a full day. And when God decided to make a teenaged virgin a mother, she became pregnant. As she questioned the biological impossibility of this announcement to the angel who had given her the news, the angel told her:
The God who is not bound by logic, reason, or laws of the universe has demonstrated that He would even stop the planet He made from spinning. He’s listening, and nothing is outside His power.
The Waiting is More About Your Need for Him Than Your Need
So even with all this said, when I lay my head on my pillow tonight, I still may not have what I’ve begged Him for today. Even if all His promises are true, where’s an answer? Why hasn’t He shown up? Why does it seem He isn’t answering? Why the apparent silence?
Imagine a fly that lands on a painting on the wall. That fly can only see what’s immediately in front of it. There is limited perspective. Meanwhile, as you sit across the room, observing the painting and the fly, you can literally see the big picture.
This gets a bit technical, but in this life, we are bound by time and space. God, who is not bound by these things, sees the big picture and has already answered in the same way that the painting is already painted. The time for the answers has simply not come yet, from our limited perspective. (This raises the question of free will, but I will not get into that here other than to say God’s sovereignty and man’s free will coexist both wonderfully and mysteriously.)
So the question becomes about what to do in the waiting, and that’s where I’ve seen over and over that the waiting is so much more about my relationship with Him than it is about my need. When I see my need, I’m compelled to run to Him to fill it. The trials of waiting produce character, perseverance, and hope.
So my battle is learning to enjoy the silence, and in it, rest in Him. Like a child resting on His father’s chest, I want to enjoy the safety of His plan and trust that the answers will come as I lean in and just rest to the sound of His heartbeat.
Nobody Said It Was Easy
Yeah. Begging God to answer day after day and waiting for Him to answer is hard. I’m there–believe me. All I can say is that I have found His promises to be true, and I have to make the deliberate decision to trust Him. So when He says:
“but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” -Isaiah 40:31
I have made a choice to believe Him because He’s not proven to be unfaithful yet.
And for today, that is enough for me.