The Prayers of a Stranger

Psalm 37

That moment that someone you don’t know rests her hands on your back and leans down to pray for you, your soul feels a little laid bare.

How will they know what to pray?

They haven’t peered into the hidden corners of your heart.

They haven’t watched you toss from side to side in the middle of the night or read through your prayer journal.

They don’t know you.

But God does.

I sat in a chair two weeks ago with some beautiful, Jesus-following, God-passionate women surrounding me in prayer.

That’s when she started talking to God about me as if she knew everything weighing on my mind.

I’d been praying intensely for months.  I do it every year, really, spending the summer in focused prayer about my fall commitments.

I seek God about what groups to join, where to step down, what ministries to let go of, what ministries to invest in, and what we, as a family, should be doing.

I lay my calendar out at His feet and give Him sovereign control over it.

But this year, I was praying and getting nowhere.

I kept telling God the same thing, “I’ll do whatever You want me to do, but just tell me what it is!!!  Please!!!”

The thing about decisions is that there are usually deadlines.  And there are other people waiting to find out what you decide.

Oh, the pressure!

But I still hadn’t heard that clear, neon-sign direction from God, and His silence was stressing me out.  Big time.

Then this woman I didn’t know prayed for me.  She said, “Dear Lord, please don’t let her struggle or fret over what to do anymore.  Help her to know that You are pleased with what she does and You are with her.”

That prayer set me free.

She didn’t know me.  She didn’t take prayer requests before she bowed her head by my side.  She simply prayed and God used her prayer to break through my noisy, cluttered, confused mind with one clear question:

What do you want to do?

What do I want to do?  I told Him the truth—I’d do anything He asked me to do even if I felt overwhelmed by the possibilities or even if it’s not what I would do on my own.

He asked me again.

Heather, what do you want to do?

I fumbled a bit, feeling sheepish to say it as if it made me less spiritual to want anything: “Well, Lord, if I’m being honest, and I had the freedom to do anything at all, this is what I would want to do.”

Two days later, He gave me everything I wanted.  With all of the sovereignty and power of our Sovereign, Powerful God, He had moved every piece into line the moment I got honest with Him.

Sometimes we’re selfish beings. We want to use God like a divine Santa Clause or a prayer vending machine.

But when our hearts are truly seeking His face and our lives are deeply committed to obedience despite the cost, God can do this:

Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 36:4 ESV).

It begins by delighting in Him, not in our own selfishness or greed.  But it also means knowing how to answer when He asks, “What do you want?”

It means trusting His love for us enough to be honest with Him.

Caleb asked his daughter Achsah this after she married.

“What do you want?” 15 She said to him, “Give me a blessing. Since you have set me in the land of the Negeb, give me also springs of water.” And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs (Judges 1:14-15 ESV).

She knew what she wanted.  More than that, she knew what she needed.  In that desert land, she needed the water from the springs in order to thrive or even survive.

She also knew she was the beloved daughter of a caring father who didn’t just give her one set of springs when she asked, but gave her so much more.

And you and I, that’s what we are, beloved children of a caring Father.

Margaret Feinberg writes:

He knows what you need and stands ready to hear from you. God is asking, ‘What do you want?’ Will you get off your donkey and ask boldly for what you need to survive?’ (Fight Back With Joy).

It could be in His sovereignty and wisdom, He’ll tell you ‘no.’  And, it may sting at first, but the sting will fade with time and grace remains.

But maybe, just maybe, He’ll say ‘yes.’

Maybe, just maybe, He was waiting on you all along, wanting you to bring your requests to Him and ask.  Simply ask.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Mom Guilt, Part I

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 good gifts to those who ask him!”
(Matthew 7:11)

Mom Guilt.

That’s what had me standing in the Christmas lights aisle at Wal-Mart two days after Thanksgiving.  I squinted and stared at the options before me.  Icicle lights.  Blue, green, or red lights.  Sparkly, flashing lights with 12 different settings.  Heavy duty lights.  Mini lights.

Then there were clips and clasps of every variety to attach the perfect lights to your house.  Did I need these things?  Wasn’t there a way to hang lights sans gadgets and gizmos?

I grabbed plain white mini lights from the shelf, thinking my first attempt at decorating the outside of our home should be simple.  “Start small,” I thought.

For years, my oldest daughter had begged me to decorate the outside of our home for Christmas.  This year, her pleading had reached a new level of intensity.

She took one look at the homes with Christmas lights already gleaming in mid-November (insert looks of disgust here!!!) and whined from the back of our minivan, “Mom . . . . . . . .Everyone’s house is so beautiful for Christmas and ours is just DULL.”

I threw angry glances at the decorated houses as we sped by.  Even if they didn’t know I was mad at them, at least I felt better getting the feeling off my chest.

Still, I get it.  I remember being a kid and pestering my dad to hang Christmas lights on our home for years.  I remember taking the lights tour in the family van and oohing and aahing over the decorations and thinking it’d be great to add a little Christmas flare to the outside of our house.

So, there I was buying lights from Wal-Mart.  And there I was starting simple, stringing them up the steps to my home and around the door frame.  And there was my daughter exclaiming how beautiful it was.

She actually had asked for one of those giant blow-up Snow Globes for the front yard along with a massive Frosty the Snowman and maybe some lighted reindeer figurines.

But there are limits.  Mom guilt only gets you so far.

When I’m praying, I wonder how many of my requests to God make it to His throne room sounding like the high-pitched whine of pouring on “God guilt.”

“God, all my friends have their careers all set and know what they want to do with their lives, but I’m floundering around waiting for some direction here!”

“God, You thought everyone else deserved a husband to love them and tell them they’re beautiful.  What’s the deal with me still being single?”

“God, how come everybody else is financially secure and has a savings plan and we’re struggling paycheck to paycheck and never truly making it?”

Lesson One: God’s Gifts Always Show His Love

God doesn’t bless us or rescue us out of guilt, though.  Not now.  Not in the past.  Not ever.  He’s not guilted into love and He wasn’t guilted into the cross.

Deep down, me stringing lights across the front steps of my house wasn’t truly about guilt either.  It was about love.

My daughter had made a request.  Not a ridiculous one, all motivated by greed or pride or selfishness.  It was the simple desire of a child’s heart.

And I love her.

So, I gave in.  I spent less than $10 for some lights and garland and took a tiny piece of my time and gave her the desire of her heart.

I can’t always give her everything she wants.  She can’t have every toy or outfit or trip her friends have.  She can’t do every activity she wants to do.  Nor would that be good for her anyway.

Still, I give her what I can when I can because I love this beautiful daughter of mine.  I love to see her react with joy, love to see her know she’s loved, love to show her that I listen to what she says.

God loves you.

He loves to see you react with joy.  He loves to see you when you know you’re loved.  He loves to show you that He listens to what you say.

God’s intention is always relational, though.  He isn’t just dishing out answers to prayer requests like some sort of holy vending machine.

The Psalmist tells us, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

Take delight in your relationship with Him.  Linger in His presence.  Make Him your first priority.  Allow Him to re-arrange the furniture of your heart and match your desires with His.

And when you begin to feel the frantic panic of need, remember that God tells you “do not worry about your life.”  Not about having food or drink.  Not about having clothes to wear.  He watches over the birds of the air and the flowers in the field and He values us so much more than them.  He surely can handle our every need.

So, keep your focus relational.  “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Then when He pours out blessing on you, when He loads your arms full of good gifts, when He grants the simplest petitions of your heart—even the whimsical longings you are too embarrassed to actually ask for—accept it as a reminder of His love.  He wasn’t coerced or guilted into giving you amazing grace.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King