Imagine you are not feeling well and you go to the doctor for a checkup. After several tests, the doctor returns with a worried face and informs you that your situation is urgent and you need to have surgery as soon as possible! At that moment, how much importance would you place on what equipment the doctor uses for the surgery or what day of the week the surgery takes place? The most important thing on your mind would probably be for the surgery to go well without any complications, even if the surgery has to be done by a specialist whom you have never met before. You would not skip the surgery simply because of some unexpected delays or inconveniences like having to travel to another state for it.
Such was the picture God used a few years back to rebuke me for my attitude towards prayer. For many years prior, I would pray to God to help me overcome many weaknesses I saw in myself, but I hardly saw any change or progress in my life. This has felt similar to the man we read about in John 5:1-8. This man had been lame for 38 years and when Jesus met Him at the pool of Bethesda, Jesus asked him: “Do you want to be made well?”. Obviously, this would have been the man’s utmost desire so I would have expected his immediate response to be ‘Yes!!!’. However, we see that he immediately began to complain about the hopelessness of his situation. He could only picture a single way for his prayer/desire to be answered/met and that was by being the first to go into the pool at just the right time. After many years of unsuccessful attempts, he had practically given up all hope. Thankfully, on that fateful day, he finally got to hear how God wanted to heal him (by simply picking up his mat and walking by faith).
God showed me that like the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, I was so narrow-minded on how I wanted/expected God to answer my prayers. An example of this was when I desperately wanted to move past my introverted nature and awkwardness and learn to fellowship easily with others. I thought that if only I prayed long enough about it, I would wake up one morning and suddenly receive the ability to make conversations easily with people. Another example was when I would say to myself, “I want to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. If only I can go to a secluded place for 3 days to pray, then God will definitely fill me with His Holy Spirit and I will know I have been filled because I will have the same experience as this evangelist whose biography I just read”. Unfortunately, such an attitude meant that although I was praying for what I desired, I wasn’t listening to God to hear how He wanted to answer my prayer. So He might have been ready to fulfill my request but I was deaf to his instructions, thus leading me to be discouraged because I thought The Lord wasn't answering me.
Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus asking several people what they wanted (Matthew 20:21, 20:32, Mark 10:51, John 1:38). Although Jesus sometimes healed people according to how they had faith to be healed (Matthew 9:20-22, 14:35-36), as far as I know, he never asked anyone how they wanted Him to answer their need/request. Jesus himself decided it. Whether it was by a word (John 5:8-9), a touch (Matthew 20:34), saliva (Mark 8:22-25, John 9:6), or going to meet the priests (Luke 17:14). Imagine what would have happened to all these people if after crying out to Jesus, they never heard or obeyed his instruction to them; despite their pleas, they may never have been healed.
Going back to my example of praying for help with fellowshipping with others, how did God answer my prayer? It wasn’t by some extraordinary event, but instead, He led me to come across a nonreligious “self-help” book on how to make small talk. Initially, I was closed-minded and concerned about whether it was appropriate to use the tips from such books when having conversations with people in the church. Thankfully, God showed me that just as He uses atheist doctors or medicine created by unbelievers to answer my prayer for healing, He can also choose to use a book written by an unbeliever to answer my prayer even for spiritual things.
I have learned that it is not sufficient to simply take all my requests to God. Rather, it is of far greater importance that I have the ear of a disciple to hear what God says to me in response and obey it rather than rely on my own assumptions. I have also learned that it is not my place to decide how I want God to answer my prayer, instead, if I am to receive all that God has planned for me, I must be yielded completely to whatever means He chooses to answer my prayer even if it may seem unremarkable, ridiculous, or even humbling.
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” - 1 Peter 5:6-7