What to do when God answers your prayer

You would think that the answer to this one would be easy: say “thanks!”, celebrate, or breath a sigh of relief. But sometimes we can be left not knowing what to do, and not knowing how to be before God. When we’ve sat holding this prayer before Him for so long, it’s like suddenly we don’t know what to do with our hands, we don’t know where to look, we don’t know what to say.

Some years ago I was at a woman’s conference and I found myself exactly in this space. It felt so strange; I was at a woman’s conference, and I wasn’t crying – normally my eyes start leaking just on the way driving there. But this time, I had just received my breakthrough. After a protracted season of struggle and disappointment we’d finally conceived our youngest daughter, we’d passed the “danger zone” of pregnancy loss, and it felt like I had nothing left to say to God. I’d said thanks, but now what? I had inhabited the space of grief for so long, that now it was resolved it felt like I didn’t know who I was before God now, I didn’t know what to bring to him.

What do we even talk about any more God?

I’ve felt the same when a long-standing source of frustration has been resolved. Breakthrough has arrived! And, don’t get me wrong, it is great… but I’ve found myself struggling to identify what I’m bringing to God now that I’m not perpetually pissed off any more. What do I journal about now?

I’ve struggled to shift out of a posture of complaint or lament.

Some of us struggled to ever find a posture of lament or complaint before God – this is a whole other issue for another blog post. But suffice to say, God has no problem with receiving your lament and complaint – He takes it all up into love – it’s us who have the problem offering it to Him. Everything can be spoken before God, even Psalm 88’s closing line “darkness is my only companion”. We don’t need to pretty it up, we don’t need to turn it into triumph. If you’re not familiar yet, there’s a whole songbook of psalms that give you permission and give you language to complain and lament before God – Psalms 13, 22, 38, 42-43, 88, and 130 are my favourites; Psalm 137 is a challenge, but in our Scriptures there are words for speaking even that kind of rage to God.

But sometimes shifting out of those seasons is remarkably difficult. It has taken me by surprise again and again.

It shouldn’t really though, because I’ve seen the pattern repeated in friends’ lives. It goes something like this: things are dire in some way >> we realise we need God >> we draw near to God >> He helps make things better >> we feel like we don’t need God >> we drift away from God. Familiar? It happens on a grand scale in a person’s salvation story, and on a smaller scale again and again in our minor trials and dramas. We’re not all that different to the Israelites in Judges, however spiritually advanced we might like to think we are.

And that’s always how I’ve explained it: “when things go well we feel like we don’t need God anymore”. But there’s more to it than that. I’ve certainly never heard a person articulate a conscious decision to pull back from relationship with God or with the body of Christ because they feel they don’t need Him or it any more. I suspect that in part the challenge lies in knowing how to shift our posture before him.

When we’re left saying “what do we talk about any more God?” when our prayer has been answered, there’s a feeling of disconnection. It was the grief, the disappointment, or the frustration that connected us with God – and this is good. But when we disconnect with those emotions, we need to find new points of connection, we need to adopt new modes of prayer, we need to pray the joyful psalms and not just the lament ones.

We can find new habits of being and new patterns of relating to God because our relationship with God was never based on that need and our hope that He would answer it. Sometimes we treat God like a divine ATM, but it is not a transactional relationship that He invites us into (see this post).

I wasn’t leaning into God just because I wanted a baby (spoiler alert: when you get the baby, you discover a whole new area of need). But I’d been stuck in that posture so long that my relational muscles were stiff, and a new posture felt uncomfortable. It took work to reshape my prayer life and it felt unfamiliar to reach for different language, but it was certainly possible. Perhaps we’re just creatures of habit more than we would like to admit, but how foolish could we be that we would let an answered prayer cause us to drift from the source of our blessing?

Just as foolish as we’ve always been. Thank God for grace.

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