Prayer is awesome. Until the answer I feel God leading me to is exactly the opposite of what I want to do. Then I think it kinda sucks.
I’ve often been that guy who makes up my mind about something that I want, but then act like I haven’t so I can ask God for His wisdom and guidance in “reaching a decision” about it. I know how to make it sound so poetic and elegant by assuring Him that I will be okay with however it works out and that I trust His will to lead to a better life than I could ever get for myself.
This is about where things start to go a little sideways for me. Those stupid little ideas like patience, releasing control, or maybe even all-out repentance start creeping into my mind. Naturally, I decide that Satan has somehow infiltrated my prayer in an effort to ruin my life. He’s a jerk like that. Clearly, that’s not what God wants me to do because He sees how amazing this shiny, new opportunity is and that the time to act is right now! If God is on my side, then He would want this for me even more than I want it for myself. Because He’s awesome like that.
So I take God’s “silence” as an obvious green light, and begin sprinting down the path toward this amazing goal. All the while, I politely remind God that He’s absolutely welcome to step in at any moment and take the opportunity completely off the table because I only want what He wants for me. Again, I make it sound really amazing and fluffy.
This is about when “Satan” steps up his game and starts putting some really annoying obstacles in my God-ordained path. Road signs start popping up with those pesky ideas again and it’s so annoying because sometimes it’s tough to see past them. Usually, the signs aren’t necessarily calling for me to turn around, or even to stop. They’re just telling me to take my time, to enjoy the journey, and to slow down enough so that I don’t take any wrong turns or do anything stupid. Full of faith and trust, I respond with something like “How can I take my time when God is so clearly at work?!” I tell myself that my passion is a great indicator of God’s approval, and I hold onto His promise to fulfill the desires of my heart, because He’s awesome like that.
All this time, I like to tell other people how God’s timing is so incredibly perfect… beyond comprehension, really. “It’s just a matter of paying attention,” I say, “and working through the challenges Satan puts in your way.”
And then disaster strikes. An uneven spot in the path turns my ankle a direction it definitely was not supposed to turn. By the time I can slow down to bend over and look at it, the swelling has already begun. “What the heck, God?!” is more often than not my first reaction, followed closely with, “But we were doing so great! WHY!”
It seems like every time, there just happens to be a bench right there for me to hobble over to in all my frustration and disappointment. All hope seems lost… at least at first. And then I slowly start looking around a little more carefully at things, noticing details I was missing before and asking myself much more honest questions about the quality of the path I’ve been sprinting down instead of only imagining what the finish line would look like up ahead.
Those hindering road signs that were so annoying only moments before are now more like warm encouragements to continue forward with a broader, more realistic and casual focus. This goal, this finish line that was racing toward now seems more like a long and complicated adventure than some easy destination. Still potentially-epic, but it’s not quite as flawless and straightforward as I first thought it was. Going much slower now to nurse a sprained ankle, I have the opportunity to really consider if this is a path I wouldn’t mind traveling even if there was no destination at the end of it. This is about when I realize that, aside from the sharp shooting pains in my foot which remind me of my impulsive and impatient nature, this way of approaching my goal is a lot more pleasant and relaxing.
God is so awesome that He cares enough about the health of my journey through life to tell me things I may not want to hear, but really need to listen to. A lot of the time, His answers to my prayers aren’t necessarily refusals or rejections. It’s more like a simple request to just hold on for a second. It kind of reminds me of that time when I was sixteen and went behind my mom’s back to get my first tattoo (which I now regret… go figure). God’s wisdom operates out of patience and calmness, not urgency and intensity.
Nature, in all it’s beauty, mystery and complexity, is proof of this. God doesn’t just care about the destination of our lives, but also the quality of our individual journeys to get there. If He didn’t, the scenery in this place He’s put us in wouldn’t be so ridiculously beautiful. God wants our journeys to be built on rock, not sand, which requires a little digging. And digging takes a lot more time and, as much as it pains me to say, patience.
In their most basic form, all of my prayers for guidance are essentially a plea for God to simply take good care of me. But for some reason, I have a really hard time trusting that, even though the direction I feel Him leading me in is not the direction I naturally want to take, He is still answering those prayers. He is providing better care for me than I could ever provide for myself.