Answered Prayer

jer 29 13

Have you ever found that answered prayers can be so awkward sometimes? I have. This week.

There’s the awkward sense of surprise that hey, this actually works. God’s up there listening! which is silly because isn’t that the whole point? If it doesn’t change anything, prayer is a pretty lame pastime.

There’s the awkward sense of humility that God took note of what I asked while around the world bombs fell and sirens blared and families cracked and addicts relapsed. I’m sure mine was not the only prayer God answered, but still. I have been heard and I am humbled.

There’s the awkward sense of bewilderment that this is the prayer you chose to just do? Believe me, if I had to prioritize all the requests I make to God, this would not have been number 1. It is in the top 10 for sure, but I am carrying heavier grief and bigger dreams than the hope tied to this prayer my God has answered.

But.

In the surprise and humility and bewilderment, I am so encouraged to keep praying. Because I know God hears all the prayers, and this simple answer gives me confidence that he is working out complex answers too, weaving deep solutions and healing and hope into all the circumstances that I bring before him.

So let me tell you my prayer and its answer.

It went something like this: at our church’s annual business meeting it became clear that, praise God, spiritually we are doing much better than a few years ago, but financially things are tight. Honestly, they’ve been worse before, but our meeting did not inspire an “anything is possible” mentality for the coming year in ministry. There was a lot of talk about the limits of our small size and how many incomes are fixed and how we want to give and give and give but sometimes it isn’t possible to give more.

So I prayed that God would help us give more.

Some of the financial needs our church will have this year may be met by outside sources – government grants or fundraisers or legacy gifts from past members, but I think our congregation needs help taking ownership of our potential, because our potential comes from God, and that basically means its unlimited, right? So if God provides for our needs through outside sources, then I praise him, and we will praise him.

But.

Have you heard the saying that a hand up is better than a handout? When it comes to charities and giving aid, sustainability is important to consider. When you give a hungry person a sandwich, that feeds them in the moment, but they’re going to need a new sandwich every day. If you can equip the hungry person to get a job or develop their skills or manage their addiction so that they can support themselves and even give to others, haven’t you accomplished so much more?

I prayed that God would give our church a hand up in faith, not a handout that will only carry us through to the next challenge. I asked God to bless people in our congregation with extra money that they could give to the church to meet our financial needs, being part of the solution, not just watching the solution happen. I want our church to know that we are capable of transforming our neighbourhood and our world because we are empowered by God, not because we have a large congregation or because we have deep pockets.

And then this week I came into some extra money. Nothing too remarkable, just a few hundred dollars as part of a work bonus I didn’t think I qualified for. Money I expected in January, gave up on, and now had no expectations for.

And I’d really love to keep it.

That’s the fourth awkward thing about answered prayer – the awkward wondering if it would have happened anyway. If this isn’t a supernatural event but just a coincidence, then it bears no greater meaning or responsibility on my part. If it is not a response, then I don’t need to respond to anything. No gratitude, no obedience, just life as usual.

I was mulling over the situation, thinking of all the really legitimate things this money could go toward and I had a flashback to the collection of the offerings at our church last Sunday. Torre was sitting on my lap, and as the ushers brought the offering plate to me, I gave him some money to put in. I haven’t done this before – Torre hardly ever gets to sit in my lap during church – and there wasn’t much reason to expect him to know what to do. Hilariously, he held on to the money I’d given him, and with his free hand he reached in to take some money out of the plate.

It was a comedic moment, but that image has also clarified for me what’s going on in my heart. I asked God to give me something to put in the plate, and now that he has I’d rather hold on to it.

And the thing is, I know I could. I’m not a prosperity gospel believer, a name-it-and-claim-it follower. Even though I believe this money has come to me in direct response to prayer, it is as free a gift as everything else God has given me, and if I choose to put it on a credit card or save it for a trip, he won’t love me any less. But I didn’t just ask him for money, I asked him for an opportunity to grow my faith, for my church to grow in faith, and if I back out of this opportunity, how can I hope for others to take a similar step of faith? And besides, to keep this money for my own use under these circumstances would be so short-sighted and immature – like the too-true cliche of kids who unwrap fabulous presents and spend the next few hours playing with the box the present came in.

May I encourage you to pray boldly, to ask for the ridiculous? And when God answers, don’t be surprised that it doesn’t look how you expected it to.

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