A few weeks ago my son ordered something online. In his enthusiasm for it to arrive he decided to do listening prayer to ask Jesus when it would come in the mail. He proudly announced to me that God told him that his parcel would arrive on Thursday, January 15. So, how does a parent respond to that? Gulp! “OK, Lord, you better answer or we will have a crisis of faith on our hands!” I gently whispered to Jesus.
You can guess the excitement that built up each day as the parcel day approached. Deep inside, I was hoping that he would just forget about this promise from God, but sure enough, he didn’t. When Thursday, January 15 did arrive, immediately after school he rushed to the mail box to pick up his parcel. You can imagine how devastated he was when the parcel was not there. Dejected, he came back into the house and said, “But God told me it would be here today.” “Thanks God,” I thought, “now I have a sad, discouraged and spiritually disillusioned child on my hands”. What’s a parent to do?
On the surface, it may seem that listening prayer really complicated this parcel situation. Maybe I should have just told him not to pray about such silly things. Avoiding prayer may be much easier than telling him that he was hearing God wrong. But I couldn’t send that message to him. I really felt backed into a corner on this one.
But things like this don’t just happen to our kids, they happen to us as parents too. Maybe you’ve been praying for a physical ailment that just won’t seem to go away, or maybe you’ve been asking Jesus to work in your marriage, or to change one of your children’s attitudes, or maybe you’ve been praying for a lost loved one for years and all the prayer and fasting in the world just doesn’t seem to make a difference.
How we handle these sorts of setbacks is actually very important in our walk with God and for our prayer lives. I believe that one of the reasons these things do happen to us is because as we listen, we often receive only a partial picture of what to pray and this picture can sometimes be effected by our own desires. That’s why prayer is a process of listening, praying, listening some more, realigning, praying, listening again… Through this process Jesus grows us, challenges us and works in us. And at times, the answer isn’t what we may have originally thought or even what we may have been asking for.
Last year, along with several other requests, I prayed and fasted for a financial request for our family. I was even brave enough to use a date and make it quantifiable; “By the end of 2014, I ask God for such-in-such.” I must confess that this request was not answered the way I had asked. Instead, Jesus worked in a different way by continuing to grow my character, showing me where some hidden attitudes were affecting me and I grew in giving up control and learning not to micromanage. Looking back, I can see His fingerprint everywhere in this area over the past year. God knew better, I can clearly see that now, and I rejoice that His ways were better than what I had asked for.
When we don’t get the answer that we are looking for, or when we are listening in prayer and it doesn’t turn out the way we thought, the answer is not to stop listening or praying about our requests. The answer is to keep going back to prayer, to continue listening, asking God for insights, re-alignment, correction, areas He wants to grow our character, etc. We continue pressing in, even when we get it wrong and even when the results are different than we may have expected; trusting that He knows best. We ask for Him to continue speaking to us and we pray for Him to show us what He is accomplishing in us through the process.
So, how did it turn out with my son and his parcel? We are still waiting for the parcel to arrive in the mail. But through the waiting, God reminded me that about a week before this incident, my son told me that he felt that God wanted to grow him in patience. I can now see how this little experience just could have been one way God was working in his life to grow him exactly in that. We’ve had to discuss how sometimes our desire for something can affect what we get in listening prayer and we’ve agreed that God knows best and that we will submit our listening to Jesus, humbly accepting that in our humanity, sometimes we make mistakes, and that that is perfectly acceptable. We don’t get discouraged by these things, instead we focus on how pleased Jesus is when we come to Him in prayer and that in itself is something we can rejoice in. But we are still waiting for the parcel…
In prayer, thank Jesus for always hearing your prayers. Tell Him that you trust that His ways are best, even when it’s hard and when He answers differently than you had expected. In prayer, commit to continuing to listen as well as working on realigning when things don’t line up properly and humbly accepting that as humans, we just don’t get it right all the time.
Update: When the parcel finally did arrive in the mail, the item broke and we had to wait even longer for the replacement part.