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?

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Door with handle

Invited into Intimacy

Whenever I read Hebrews 10, I think of Seinfeld. Not Jerry, but Kramer – the way he would swing the door open and stride into the room without ceremony, without even a knock (no idea what I’m on about? See here). In (kind of) the same way, “…we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus” (Heb 10:19).

Even if our conscience is guilty, we don’t need to hide our mistakes (I hope Dad doesn’t find out!), instead, we can “go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him” (Heb 10:22). We can run into the Father’s presence, even when we’re feeling like that’s the last place we belong. I love how The Passion Translation expresses Romans 8:15-16,

And you did not receive the “spirit of religious duty,” leading you back into the fear of never being good enough. But you have received the “Spirit of full acceptance,” enfolding you into the family of God. And you will never feel orphaned, for as he rises up within us, our spirits join him in saying the words of tender affection, “Beloved Father!” For the Holy Spirit makes God’s fatherhood real to us as he whispers into our innermost being, “You are God’s beloved child!”

We don’t just enter God’s presence in order to find mercy in a transactional sense. It’s not like we hand over the paperwork and get our account book back with our debt cleared; nor do we hand over our afterlife passport to get our heavenly visa like we’ve entered some kind of spiritual immigration office. What we are able to enter into so boldly is not just an audience with the king; we are invited into intimacy with our God. We are invited into the presence of God in order that we may present to him, and that we may experience his present-ness to us. Just as two people can sit together at a table in a cafe, both sipping their coffees but absorbed in separate phones, we can be in a space where God is, but not be present to him. On the other hand, however, because God is everywhere, the opportunity is always open to us to enter into his presence.

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Fine print of mortgage terms and conditions

Terms of Engagement

Now, if I was Creator God, I would have set things up differently in the Garden of Eden. It seems like a bad arrangement from the start: why even put the tree there, in the middle of the garden? Everyone knows that if you don’t want your kids to eat the treats, you hide them out of sight, up high in the cupboard, or you don’t buy them at all. You certainly don’t leave them out in the middle of the kitchen bench.

I would have arranged it differently. It would be less risky, I’d have less chance of being rejected. It would be safer, more controlled, more… robotic. But, of course, that’s not real relationship. Love requires the possibility of being rejected, and so the choice to disobey is offered to Adam and Eve.

In eating the fruit, our first parents weren’t just disobeying a rule, they were pushing away from God. The underlying thought goes something like “I can’t trust God to guide me in life… I know better… I can decide for myself what’s good for me… I’m going to make up my own life separate from you God”.

Turns out, you don’t know better, and your own life separate from God is full of hurt, shame, and ultimately death.

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Painting, Path Leading through Tall Grass by Renoir 1877

Well-worn paths

Every preacher has a favourite verse or theme that they slip into every message. Mine is probably Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (NLT).

Time and time again, I come back to the idea that a large part of the process of transformation of discipleship lies in changing the way we think. We need to move away from broken systems of thinking and behaving and allow the Spirit to transform us inwardly by a total reformation of how we think. The NIV calls these broken systems “the pattern of this world”, and I think that captures something of the neurobiological reality of who we are as persons: a lot of our being in the world is shaped by patterns of thinking. These are habitual thought processes, ingrained stories that we tell ourselves, ones we picked up from our family of origin, formed as a result of experience, and repeated again, and again, and again.

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Ultrasound scan of missed miscarriage

Dream and disappointment… and dream again.

Several years ago I came home from our national pastors’ conference knowing that it was time to try for a fourth child. I had been arguing about God with this one for a while, but something had shifted, and I had felt a clear nudge: NOW. There followed a constellation of “coincidences” that confirmed that we should go ahead at this time, and before long we had a positive pregnancy test. 

A new dream was on her way!

But that dream didn’t last. The 12-week scan had only bad news: my womb was empty. That little bittie had died weeks ago, but my body hadn’t realised yet it yet. 

I was crushed.

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The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai

Deep calls to deep

If there was ever a good place to have a meltdown, it has to be in the shower. It’s usually private, you’re alone with your thoughts, and because the water is already flowing the tears come easier somehow. At the least, the fact you’re having a good cry is a good reason to stay there a little longer, and, let’s be honest, any reason will do.

It’s in those moments that Psalm 42:7 often comes to my mind

Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

However great your water pressure is, you’re never literally experiencing the desperate flooding the psalmist describes, but sometimes, in your heart, you are.

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We have everything we need

Air rage – I’ve never experienced it, only read about it thankfully. Angry people make me uncomfortable, so the thought of being trapped with an angry person while 30,000 feet in the air sounds terrible. But it happens. And it happens a whole lot more on planes with first class cabins.

It’s not the pampered rich up front who are kicking up a stink, it’s the act of walking through the first class cabin on your way to cramped economy that significantly increases the incidence of air rage. If you enter the plane from the middle or rear, skipping that envy-inducing walk, the incidence of air rage is the same as if everyone was seated in economy (read the paper here).

As humans we’re wired to make comparisons with others, and usually it’s upwards to those who have more and are more than us. (I enjoyed this podcast from NPR’s Hidden Brain on the subject). While it mightn’t make you mad enough to act out on a plane, it can be demoralising and discontenting. And it’s so darn pervasive.

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children's book picture of Martha angrily baking

Martha, Martha

I often feel that Martha gets a bad rap. After all, she’s just trying to cook up something amazing for Jesus. But she turns into a stressed-out hostess, trying to make sure it’s all perfect, but poisoning the atmosphere with her grouchy attitude… that sounds a lot like me in the hours leading up to a daughter’s birthday party. If you haven’t witnessed that scenario, firstly be thankful, and then secondly (re)acquaint yourself with Luke 10:38-42.

She works hard, she gets grumpy, she complains to Jesus, and Jesus tells her to chill out.

Anyone else identifying with Martha here?

I hear the rebuke, the redirection towards peace and connection, but I’m still left wondering, What about dinner? Who’s going to take care of that?

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Love is patient

You know how when you’ve read something too many times it starts to lose all meaning? Just pick a word and write or speak it out repeatedly and very soon you’ll find yourself wondering if it is even a word at all, the letters and syllables have dissolved into nonsense.

The most familiar passages of Scripture get a bit like that too. They’re just words – our eyes glide over them, they slip past our ears – and while we might murmur our assent at their familiar tones, their meaning doesn’t touch our heart.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 has got to be one of the most often repeated Scriptures. Hands up if you had it at your wedding, or if, like me, you purposely didn’t have it at your wedding because everyone else did. It was like Pachelbel’s canon in the 90s, poor overused and under-appreciated Pachelbel.

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(No) shame on you

I’m hoping this doesn’t come as a surprise to my parents, but as a child I was a little light-fingered for a time. I don’t think I ever shoplifted, but I distinctly remember pilfering these fancy stickers that my mum had. What a treasure! But where to hide them? I know… down the side of my bed, no one will ever find them there! Until mum changes the sheets duh. I recall being embarrassingly slow to confess, pretending I had no idea where they had come from. Ah kids… I’d like to think it was just a phase. I’ve certainly grown out of it now.

Well, parental karma is a thing, and we’ve had similar phases with our kids. For one daughter though it is dragging on longer than I’ve got patience for. And it’s happening at school, so there’s this public dimension to navigate as well.

I know better than to shame myself — it’s no reflection of my poor parenting — and I’m going to resist the shaming of others (“you never expect it to be the pastor’s kid”). But I am a little tempted to shame her.

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