Ask and You’ll Receive

Journal 2010. Charlie was a proud and bitter man. When he was a little boy, his big brother told him God always answers prayer. So one night, Charlie knelt by his bed and asked for some candy—but none appeared. That was the day he lost all faith in a god who would withhold good things from him.

As I studied John 16 this week, I thought about Charlie.

Jesus is explaining to his disciples what is about to happen. He’ll be going away for a while, and then they’ll see Him again after the resurrection. When Jesus senses that they want to ask Him [questions] about this, He explains a little more plainly. And then He says, “In that day [after the resurrection and when the Comforter comes] you will no longer ask Me anything.” (He did not say, “ask Me for anything.” He meant ask Me any questions you have.)

“And besides,” He says, “I won’t be here anymore. Instead, you’ll ask [questions] in My name and the Father will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for [about?] anything in My name.” (Before Jesus ascended, the disciples could ask Him any question face to face, but after His ascension, they could speak directly to the Father, through Jesus.)

“Ask and you’ll receive [answers] and your joy will be complete,” He says. “I’m not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father Himself loves you” (vv. 25-28).

The disciples respond: “Now we see that You know all things and that You do not need to have anyone ask You [questions]. (The rabbinic method of teaching was to ask questions, and Jesus’ teacher was the Father.) This makes us believe that You came from God.”

Jesus says, “You believe at last!”

Instead of “ask Jesus for anything” (as I’ve always been taught), this passage (context, context) is all about asking Jesus questions. Jesus said, “Ask what you will. . . .” He didn’t say ask for things or prayer requests.

If I’m reading this passage right, it would change a lot of theology, misunderstandings, and disillusionment when we ask Him to do something, and He doesn’t do it. Perhaps Charlie would have grown up a different man had he understood this concept.

Random Thoughts on Prayer

From my 2013 Journal.

I need a fresh start with prayer. I’m beginning to do the grocery list thing again. I’m glad God can focus on more than one thing at a time. I can’t. My mind wanders. And God understands because He made my brain this way. But I know I have to do my part and have a little self-discipline. Journaling slows my brain down and helps me focus, but even while I’m writing out my prayer, my mind skitters off onto a tangent. Sigh. What if I quit using the word pray and start using talk instead? “God, I want to talk to You about . . . .”

. . .

My perspective on intercessory prayer has shifted from “ought to” or “spiritual discipline” to “ministry opportunity.” Prayer is as much kingdom work as teaching Sunday School or taking a meal to someone who’s sick. The key is the word ministry I think. I love “doing ministry.” It appeals to my task-oriented mind. Intercessory prayer is different from gratitude or praise or confession. I feel like I’m such a beginner in this.

. . .

Come into His presence, said King David. That was fine for him to say, because God’s presence was located in a place. There’s something missing in this statement for me. How can I “come into” when I’m always there?

I sat down to have my Quiet Time this morning and immediately began to intercede for someone—no preliminary formula of ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). I hear some preacher’s voice in my head admonishing me, and it occurs to me that God is not on a timetable of morning, noon, and night. Maybe I thanked him last night, confessed at noon two days ago, and now I’m ready to intercede. I understand the mindset of focusing my attention on Him and quieting my heart, and some days I have to do that. But if His presence is there for me at all times, there’s nothing wrong with galloping into requests on others’ behalf. I think God can handle that!

. . .

I heard on the Barna report that the average person prays only 8 minutes a day. They compared that person to someone who was living in a dangerous community who prays continually. Well . . . yes . . . that makes sense. But it felt like shame and condemnation for lack of prayer on the part of those who live in peaceful places. But how does one quantify prayer? If one is continually in God’s presence, one’s very breath is prayer. Am I more spiritual because I say 50 words in prayer instead of 5—and that takes longer? Strange that we should equate time (minutes) with relationship. But I suppose there is some truth to that in the earthly realm.

Prayer is also listening. How do you quantify that? I listen all day long. Why is it so hard to let go of the rules and focus on relationship? Peter struggled with it when he went to visit Paul in Antioch and quit eating with the Gentiles. Not all rules are bad. We need them. But they are bumper guards in a child’s bowling game—helpful at first, but unnecessary when you get the hang of living the Christian life. You get into the groove of right living and obedience and you find the sweet spot of love for the game. Of course there’re always adjustments and self-corrections to be made.

. . .

I find that my prayers are directly tied to my emotions. Words flow when I’m feeling sentimental. I pray most deeply and earnestly when my emotions run deep and more cerebral when feeling flat. But my emotions are not what create results. It’s not the words I say, but rather, I believe, God reads the heart and the motive. I can invoke His name in a loud cry or a soft whisper. The power is in His name, not in my poor attempts to get His attention.

Bagfuls of Prayers

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Romans 8:26 NIV).

From my 2013 Journal. As I pray a bullet list of requests for God to grant, He hands me a fistful of bags, heavy as gold but light as fairy dust, in which to carry the requests. First, I hand one to Alan for his trip. He accepts it and thanks me for it.

Next, I hand a bag to Betty. She shows me the needy children she cares for. I don’t have to drum up compassion. I have to walk the path God put me on and follow His leading in humble obedience. He will show me who I am to care for, and Betty will care for the ones in her care.

After that, I give one to Cherie. She drops it in her pocket, but I urge her to carry it next to her heart where the holes are.

Deidre comes next, but she wrinkles her nose, holds it at arms’ length and drops it. God instructs me to empty the contents over her head. Pretty sparkles of light and flower petals rain down.

I hand one to Edith, who cries with gratitude and eats it for strength, absorbing the nutrition for her mind, soul, and body.

Fran asks for one, too, but she’s too weak to hold the container. I empty the contents onto her reclining body and gently massage it into her skin—a healing balm. The prayer covers her like a mud bath to remove all the impurities and draw out the shame and inadequacies and fears. Next, she must choose to dip into the Salt Sea. My prayers cannot force her to do it. But in the spirit of adventure, I know she will leap in and be cleansed. Just don’t wait too long, dear one, or the mud will dry, and you’ll feel itchy and ugly. Go wash and be clean!

Gina begs for a double-triple portion—afraid that only one bag won’t be enough. I laugh and assure her that God’s power is immeasurable and His grace sufficient. Like Peter, she begs to be washed all over. But I’m instructed to squeeze only one drop from her bag onto her index finger. I don’t understand why, but I obey. She’s curious too. What to do with it? Jesus tells her to rub the ointment into her eyes so she can see clearly!

These bags of prayers (all alike I thought) from my lips change into different forms and substances, according to the needs of the receiver. How amazing is that!

Who’s next? I have so many bags left. I want to distribute them all, but they seem to be multiplying like the loaves and the fishes. I hurry over to offer one to Helen. She thanks me, smiles, and says good for me for handing them out and then carefully places it on her shelf, next to her idols. Sigh. Maybe her idols will topple over in the presence of the Holy One like the Philistine god Dagon.

One for Ira, who gladly accepts it and carries it around with him wherever he travels. He’s grateful for it and recognizes its power—ready for use at a moment’s notice.

Next I offer one to Janine. She thanks me, declares it smells good, and tosses it into the back of her car. I decide that’s not good enough, so I secretly toss a bagful, like fairy dust, over top of her house. Curiously, the particles dry up and dissipate before they touch her roof. I try a second time, and it happens again. What gives? There seems to be an impenetrable shield over her house that deflects my prayers. And now I know why. Instead of a believer’s bag, I need to hand her the red one—the one that contains the blood of Jesus. Sprinkle that one . . . no . . . use a hose! Cover, saturate, flood that home! It’ll force her to exit and look up. I happily spray her with it as well. She laughs. She tastes it on her lips. She wants more. She wants to drink it, dance in it, twirl like a little girl before she first got hurt. Jesus says, “Just hold the hose, Karen, just hold the hose.” Then she grabs it from me and sprays her neighbors who have come out to see what the commotion is all about. More laughter.

I box up two bags with extra padding and send them off to China. Though I don’t know their addresses, God safely delivers them to the doors of Kang-Chun and Liang-Lee, two persecuted pastors. There’s healing ointment in the one, I see, along with some bandages. I can’t tell what’s in the other box. The pastor isn’t home. Oh, there’s bread and wine and cheese and rice (of course!) for the starving wife and children. Like the widow’s oil, it keeps replenishing itself. Splendid!

I set down the rest of the bags. M through Z will have to wait for another day.

And now, Lord, I need one for myself. It’s in pill form, easy to swallow. I don’t need to know what’s in it. God’s work/word is unseen as it nourishes my body, gives life to my brain, feeds my arms and my legs, my liver and my heart. Nothing gets wasted or eliminated. “Drink,” He instructs me. “Drink deeply of Me, of My presence, My Spirit, My love. Let it cleanse your every pore. Let it wash through you and make you clean . . . strength for today and always. Breathe deeply. I’ve given you the breath of life itself. It’s My breath. I breathed into you to make you a living soul. Your very being is a testament to My power and creativity.”

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Fighting Fires

From my 2016 Journal. I feel like I’ve been fighting fires for months—rows of houses are ablaze or burned to the ground, and I’m tired of holding the hose, climbing ladders, and rescuing people. I’m weary, and the fires keep spreading. I also see gleeful little gremlins throwing gasoline over the houses.

Lord, I need your help!

A strong wind blows the fire back on itself, and water from the sky douses the flames. But suddenly the scene shifts and my perspective changes. The water is actually coming from a watering can, and the blaze is no bigger than a campfire. I’m just a little ant, so everything looks enormous—unlike from God’s perspective. All my effort and fretting just made me tired.

And so I ask the Lord, “What is my role? Do You want me to hold fire hoses or stand back and watch you work?” I think of Moses who obediently went to Egypt, but it was God who did all the work once he arrived.

I’m tired before going to my next appointment.

“Just show up and obey My instructions,” He says. “And I’ll do the rest.”

That helps. I can rest in that thought.

God Appointments

Excerpt from Diamond Fractal

Sometimes God makes appointments for us that aren’t penciled into the calendar. One day I had a lot of errands to run, and as I thought through the best route to take for the greatest efficiency and gas consumption, Wal-Mart came up first on my list. I parked the car, grabbed a cart, and “accidentally” met one of our clients coming out of the store. The look on her face was priceless, as she exclaimed, “I just prayed ten to fifteen minutes ago: Lord, I need to see Karen or Minna right now!” She was in crisis mode as she was on her way to a family member’s funeral.

And so God’s business was done in a makeshift office (her air-conditioned car in Wal-Mart’s parking lot) as we prayed together and she released her panic and dread to the Great Physician. “God is so good,” she kept reiterating. Indeed He is! Later she reported, “The funeral was amazing! No terror or panic. Just peace. I cannot thank you enough for following the leading of God and being there. I don’t know what I would have done.” There are truly no words to describe the love, mercy, and grace of our Father in heaven.

Another day, I walked into the dental office a few minutes early and sat in the waiting room. Immediately, the only other person in the room (an African-American man) turned to me and said, “I hate being here. I’ve served in the military and I’ve jumped out of airplanes, but I’m scared of a little ol’ dental appointment.”

“Why are you so fearful of it?” I asked.

Pause. “I’ll tell you why,” he replied. “When I was a little boy, my father had to wear dentures, and I remember the awful pain he had to go through.”

“Why was that so fearful to you?” I asked again.

He thought a moment. “Because I could imagine the tools the dentist had to use to extract his teeth.”

“What were you imagining?” I asked.

“A chisel and a screwdriver.”

And so I asked him gently, “Would you like me to pray with you?” His eyes lit up, he grabbed my hands, and exclaimed, “Sure!”

“Just look at the picture of the tools and focus on the fear,” I told him. And then I prayed, “Lord, what do You want to show this man in that picture?”

Immediately he relaxed. “He took them [the tools] away!”

“And how’s the fear now?”

“It’s gone! Wow!”

And then we had the sweetest time of fellowship, as he shared about his ministry to special-needs adults with a Christian organization down the street. The whole transaction maybe took all of ten to twelve minutes, but it was just long enough for God to jump in and do His miracle in this man’s heart.

Praying for the Sick

From my 2009 Journal. I get a little confused when I hear others pray and teach on prayer for the sick. Chrissy claims the blood of Jesus “by His stripes we are healed” for anyone who is sick and expects instant physical healing. She had a little crisis of faith when her father passed away. One pastor says it’s weak praying to say, “If God wills” because we shouldn’t be asking for healing unless we know it’s His will. What if, he says, the illness is “unto death” and we don’t know the person’s heart? What if he/she needs to let go of rebellion before God wants to heal him/her? How can we ask if we don’t know what to ask for?

Maybe it’s God’s will that all be healed, but Man still has a will and a choice as to how he treats his body, and God is not obligated to override his choices. I can’t ask God to make a person choose something, but I can trust God to know how to get a person’s attention like He did for Jacob or for Jonah.

Somewhere there must be discernment in our prayers for the sick. The biblical author James says to pray for the sick, and the elders of the church should anoint with oil. Should we do this for every sniffle?

Sometimes I think we’re so focused on physical healing, we forget to pray for the spiritual. Jesus often mentioned the faith of the person who asked for healing. The disciples healed many sick after the resurrection. Did they stop to ask if the person wanted healing or what was preventing their healing?

Maybe our prayer for the sick could be, “Reveal to X anything that is preventing his healing, give him courage to face his pain, may God be honored through his responses and reactions, and heal his body if it will give God greater glory.”

I take comfort in the fact that God knows my heart. He can interpret my words and intent and use them for His glory. He knows me well enough to know what I believe and mean.

2020 Update.  I find it interesting to look back at how I struggled 10 years ago. Those questions no longer burn in my heart. It’s not that I have fewer questions; it’s that I’m more content with not knowing all the answers. I just ask and let God sort it out.  This past week a dear friend and prayer warrior had a massive stroke. The church gathered together to pray for her, but our emotions were conflicted. We wanted to see Mary Lee fully restored to health, but we opened our hearts and hands to release her to heaven. We trusted God to do what was best. Today she is dancing with the angels, and I’m okay with God saying no to the cries of our heart to give her physical life back.

photo of woman lying in hospital bed

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Just a Little Talk with Jesus

red ant on green leaf

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From my 2009 Journal. God is SO big—bigger than my puny imagination can handle. I can see Him occupying heaven’s space with earth as His footstool. I feel like an ant in His sight. How does an ant talk to Someone so magnificent?

And Jesus says:

“I know. That’s why I came down to your level and became an ant. We want relationship with you. Why do you make prayer such a chore? Such a to-do list? Such a grocery list? Just talk to Me! I already know what’s on your mind and in your thoughts and in your heart. You don’t have to speak it for Me to know it. But I love having conversation with you. I love it when you tell Me about your day and when you’re worried and why you’re afraid and who you’re concerned about. Just talk. Just tell Me. And if you’d rather draw a picture in your mind, that’s okay too. I love you, you know. You already know you can trust Me. You just need to learn to relax and enjoy Me. You keep saying you need friends. I’m the best friend you’ll ever have!”

BOXES OF PRAYERS

Each prayer is like a seed that gets planted in the ground. It disappears for a season, but it eventually bears fruit that blesses future generations (Mark Batterson in Praying Circles around Your Children).

From my 2009 Journal. As I continue to struggle with the concept of prayer, I can see myself seated in the middle of a room, conversing with Jesus. A large number of boxes line the periphery of the room. What are those? I wonder.

Boxes 2

“They are your prayers,” He says. “You had a question about them?”

How did He know? (Well, duh. He knows everything.)

“Yes,” I say. “I want to know what good are they?” They’re in files, categorized and maybe even numbered, but here they all sit, here in my mind. What good are they? I can go to a box, pull out a file, read what I wrote, but so what?

“Would you like Me to take them off your hands?” He asks.

“Sure. You’re welcome to them.” I have no clue what He’s going to do with them, but I agree.

Several angels enter and start picking them up, loading them onto carts, and removing them from the room.

“So now what?”

“Just sit and talk to Me,” He says.

“What shall we talk about?” I ask.

“Anything we like,” He responds. “Got anything on your mind?”

Nothing comes to mind.

“Okay,” He says. “Want to play checkers?”

Really?! This is the answer to my question “What good are they?”

“Do you trust Me?”

“Explicitly,” I reply.

“Then don’t worry about it. The angels know what to do with them.”

I watch as one angel pulls out a file and reads the contents. He laughs. Is he mocking me? Was it a silly little prayer that I tucked into that folder?

“Not at all!” responds Jesus to my thoughts. “It’s giving him something to do. He has an errand to run and delights in fulfilling my commands.”

“Your commands?! But that was my prayer!” I exclaim.

“But you gave it to me, didn’t you? You said you trusted Me with it. Now it’s mine to do with as I please. Some of the prayers will get dispatched immediately. Others need to stay in the box a little longer—it’s not time yet. A few of these files don’t belong there. We’ll sort them out and discard the redundant ones and the soiled ones. (We will replace those with clean copies before they’re dispatched.) A few we’ll just toss in the fire if you don’t mind.”

“Mind? Of course not! I trust You to figure out which is which.”

“Good,” says Jesus. “Your move.”

I mull over what He’s just told me. “So I don’t need to figure out what to pray or write down? Just do it, file it, and keep handing the boxes off to You?”

“Yep, that’ll work.”

“Jesus . . . thank You.”

“You’re welcome. You still have a question?”

“Yeah . . . does a bigger folder get more attention than a smaller one? For example, if I pray for someone once, it creates one sentence on one sheet of paper and makes one skinny file. But if I pray for someone daily, their folder gets stuffed and may even need a filing cabinet to hold them all.

I sense at once that no single piece of paper gets lost. But . . .

“So what’s your question?”

“Do You give preference to bigger files?”

“Do you trust Me?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Really?”

“I think so.”

“What would happen if this room burned down and all the boxes were gone?”

“It would feel like a waste.”

“But what if one paper survived? What if it was made of an incorruptible material?”

I raise my eyebrows.

“What if that one item was your heart? Prayers are important enough, but it’s your heart that I care about even more.”

“Wow!”

And all this time my focus was on how many prayers I prayed, how long I prayed, what I prayed—all the “shoulds” and “supposed tos.”

There’s no should in a love relationship.

Intercessory Prayer—God’s Part vs. My part

From my 2009 Journal. I know that God loves the person I’m praying for, and He wants her to have relationship with Him. God knows what a person needs and will pursue relationship with each person in His creation because of His great love. So, God’s going to pursue her whether or not I pray and ask. So why pray?

It’s an age-old question. I know that prayer releases something in the spiritual realm that I can’t see. But everyone has a choice, and God will not violate a person’s will. So, what do my prayers for this person accomplish? Does it change God’s mind? Does it change the person’s mind? Of course I pray by faith, ask what I know is God’s will, and leave the results to Him. I know that. How then should I pray?

Jesus, I have a friend who needs relationship with You. Is there something You want me to do today that will nudge her closer to the kingdom?

Now there’s a prayer I can sink my teeth into!

U of the South 2 (2)

University of the South, Sewanee, TN

More Thoughts on Prayer

From my 2009 Journal. I want to learn to pray. I really do. It’s been a drive, a passion, and a pursuit of mine since junior high. It’s one of those spiritual disciplines that one never seems to master. I think I am motivated by what others do, say, preach, and model. I listen, attempt to imitate or explore, try to learn from . . . but ultimately, this conversation is between me and my Creator, no one else. Is He satisfied with my performance (or non-performance)? Is my heart right? At peace? Are my motives pure? If they’re not, can I trust God to reveal them to me? To expose me? I keep learning, trying, applying, but it never seems “enough.”

It’s the word enough that trips me up. More implies time. Is one minute a day in prayer enough? Is one hour? What about 20 hours? If I talked to my husband nonstop for two hours, I’d be tired. It’s okay occasionally, but I don’t make a habit of talking that much. I prefer to listen. So . . . if prayer is also listening, I can increase my “time” easily. But does a certain amount of time spent with someone indicate how much you care for them? No. but choosing to do so out of delight in being together does. “Having to” is totally different from “longing to.” [2020 Note: I’ve since learned that enough and more are not quantifiable and never satisfied, and that’s why Satan loves to bind us with them. Relationship is about connection more than just time spent, though time spent can certainly impact relationship.]

I recognize that some people are more naturally gifted in the art of communication. And I also know that it’s not just the words themselves that communicate. When I smile at someone, or when I frown, I’m communicating. Cannot God, who made me, interpret every nuance, know every secret longing, and read between the lines, or does He expect me to use words every time? Those who have been given a prayer language would say words aren’t always necessary.

So how do I go deeper? How do I find that place inside that is deeper than words? Are visuals the key for me? The word pray sounds so formal: on the knees, head down, petitioning the King for a boon or a favor. Sometimes prayer is like that. But sometimes it’s chatting with your best Friend around the dinner table. Or snuggling up in your Papa’s lap and telling Him how much you love Him and appreciate Him. And sometimes prayer is begging for mercy for having disobeyed Him while He’s holding the chastening rod. Perhaps prayer is just breathing in and out.

candySometimes my prayers are so shallow, without thought, childish, and me-centered. But Jesus understands that we’re frail and immature and ignorant. He doesn’t mind our childish babble—when we’re children. When my kids asked for candy, I knew it wasn’t always best for them and often said no, and I said no because of my love for them. But sometimes I said yes because it was fun to give them a treat. Candy before dinner on an empty stomach? Not such a good choice. But if they insisted and persisted and perhaps secretly ate some anyway, hopefully they soon learned from experience that getting a sugar high and crashing or feeling sick afterward or getting a headache wasn’t worth it. And so I can relax with my prayers. I can ask whatever I want but trust God to run interference for me if I run my mouth off the wrong way.

Bottom line: I delight in spending time talking to and listening to God. It’s not a chore. Sometimes I make appointments with Him, and I like to keep those appointments. And if God makes an appointment with me, I won’t miss it. He’ll make sure I’m there. He knows how to get my attention.