That’s NOT what I asked for!

My Dog Day of Winter

(Note: Read this one all the way to the end or it might frustrate you.)

Have you ever prayed, and then second-guessed your prayer? Ending it with something like,

“…but if that will be bad for me or anyone else, then just have your will. Amen.”

Yeah, I have too. And with good reason.

At least at first glance. We don’t know what’s best for our lives – not to mention what’s best for others’ – or how any of it comes together in the future. We can only pray for what we think is best at the time. Right?

Here’s why prayer used to make me nervous

While reading about Hezekiah I came across something curious in
2 Kings 20:1-11:

About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: “This is what the Lord says: Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.”

When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” Then he broke down and wept bitterly.

But before Isaiah had left the middle courtyard, this message came to him from the Lord: “Go back to Hezekiah, the leader of my people. Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my own honor and for the sake of my servant David.’”

Oh! My hands go to my heart in adoration of the God who sees our hurts and grants us our requests! Hezekiah indeed gets well and lives another fifteen years, bearing a son named Manasseh in that time and reigning in peace until his death.

Now doesn’t that just sound so rosy? Except that…

During his happy and peaceful remaining reign, King Hezekiah gave away some pretty hefty kingdom secrets – knowing that he would have no repercussions in his lifetime – which came back to bite future generations.

Not only that, but the son he bore (Manasseh the baby-killer) was the vilest and most evil Judean king of all time. Because of the things Manasseh taught the people to do, they were never able to recover spiritually. Like…ever.

You wanna say, “Okay, Lord. You should’ve just knocked Hezekiah off. If I EVER ask you for something, and you KNOW I’ll do stupid things with it…PLEASE don’t give it to me!”

But wait, there’s more

Then there is the Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael scenario. You know the story. Abraham decides Hagar the Handmaiden is his best bet for offspring (as opposed to continuing to wait on God). Thus, she bears his offspring, which gets her promptly thrown out of the house – twice.

So out in the hot sun with her son Ishmael and nowhere to go, Hagar cries out to God – all she asks is that she doesn’t have to see her son suffer.

God (and we hear her call him “The God Who Sees Me” here) tells her that her son will not only live – but will become a great nation.
Now, I don’t know about you. But if I were Hagar today, looking down from heaven on the great nation her son has become (think of every violent nation in the Middle East)…well, I’d be a bit irritated with my grandchildren.

“Lord, by ‘great’ did you just mean ‘lots of them’? Because I’m not thinking the situation in the Middle East is very ‘great’ right now – or has been made better by my progeny.”

And then the other side of things

Then to the Prayer of Jabez – that little book that got so much attention years ago.

1 Chronicles 4:9-10 Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.

Okay, now here is a prayer I can copy! He asks for many things, but not for himself alone. He wants God to work on his behalf, so that others may be blessed and not hurt through him.

That’s how I want to pray – always mindful of God’s Word, His will, and the people around me. A prayer like that will not end in destruction.

Or will it? The truth is…

God does see us. He hears our hurts and our longings, and He hears them now – in our present. He reaches down from heaven to show us how much He loves us, and grants our requests. And the truth is that oftentimes, we mess things up ourselves. While He uses what we ask for to bring about circumstances we never could have foreseen – or wanted – He has a grander purpose than we could ever imagine.

But that’s the point. He’s God. I’m not.

I can walk closely with Him and pray without ceasing and never ask amiss – but He will still have His way. And, really, that’s why we pray isn’t it? To be a part of His magnificient plan – knowing that His way is the best way. Whether we see it or not.

And truly, what we see now as the foolishness and idiocy of Hezekiah and Abraham seemed right to them at the time. I thank God that my biggest mistakes and failures are in His hands. He can take something disgusting (more likely stupid) and use it to accomplish His purpose. A purpose which is for my good.

So, praise God. (And thank heaven I’m not Him!)

End result? Pray. Speak to your Maker as often as possible. Tell Him your hopes and your hurts, and when it looks like the world is ending, praise Him for this confidence:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

“All things” include your foolishness and blindness. Your sin and greatest shame. All things. He uses them to work something good for you. And, with that, go and rest. Pray before you sleep.

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