Grass prickled into my back. Stars shone stark and bright above. The air smelled of wood fire, and it skittered chill across my arms. That fall night, my chest ached with a hollow the size of the unfriendly universe, made all the worse because it couldn’t evidence itself externally, except for the tears on my cheeks.
“God.” Just the one word, so futile. I tried again. “God. Please. Where are you? Speak to me. Why can’t I see you? Why can’t I hear you?”
He spoke to His servants in the Bible, certainly. Why not to me, if He was real?
But I heard nothing. No audible words. Only a quiet thought, a Bible verse I had often meditated on in recent months:
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. (Col. 1:16-17)
My eyes caught sight of a branch extending from a nearby tree. Why should there be a tree branch? Why anything at all instead of scattered particles and chaos? There He was, my Lord Jesus, right there — holding that branch together — literally, making it “consist.” Holding me together. I couldn’t see God because He is a spirit, but I could see the result of His existence.
Later, as I was recording that moment in my journal, I realized something else. God had spoken to me. I would not have remembered that verse or understood its meaning if not for the Holy Spirit living in me. God was telling me, “You don’t need me to thunder from Heaven. I wrote down all the words you will need long before you were born, in my Scripture.”
Not only had God shown me Himself and spoken to me personally, He had answered my prayer the instant I had finished speaking. Expecting one manifestation of God, I had received another, gaining just the slightest flavor of my Lord as He truly is.
Ever since this moment when God touched me, I haven’t doubted His existence. And so I learned something about power in prayer: “for he that cometh to God must believe that he [exists], and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Heb. 11:6)
That second half of this verse is often a little harder to believe, however. I, for one, have grown weary in prayer on several occasions. How diligently must I seek God, and what kind of reward is He promising, anyway? I think the answer to the second half of that verse links into the first. It isn’t enough to know some kind of God exists. As a distinct personality, He wants me to know Him as He is, not as I imagine Him to be.
In one of my favorite Bible stories, shortly after a great victory over the priests of Baal, the prophet Elijah flees from Jezebel and hides fearfully in a cave. The Lord asks him what he is doing there, and Elijah relates his woes. How does Yahweh reply?
And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. (I Kings 19:11-12)
God exists, and He manifests Himself as He chooses. If I am listening for an earthquake when I pray, I might mistake His voice. I need to seek His face in the written Word and learn who He is and how He wants me to come to Him.
I’ve noticed that small children put out a particular whiny, obnoxious noise when they want something, but they don’t wish to ask for it. In my house growing up, we often heard it when one of us wanted something down from a high shelf. My father never let us get away with that. In his wisdom, he would simply wait. And then he would say, “You’re not using all your height.” When at last we asked, he would fetch what we wanted.
Similarly, God waits for us to “diligently seek Him” before he rewards us. He wants us to come to Him like children, recognizing our proper place of humility. As Catherine Marshall, author of Christy, writes in her devotional book Adventures in Prayer, “Admittance to the School of Prayer is by an entrance test with only two questions. The first one is: Are you in real need? The second is: Do you admit that you are helpless to handle that need?”
Also, when asking, it is easy to forget that God is a Person and not a vending machine. He is not obligated to give us what we want, and He is certainly not obligated to give it to us now. In fact, the more furiously we demand our right to a petition now, the more we demonstrate our incapacity to appreciate God and His judgment. As James writes, “Ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3-4).
For my first two years of college, for example, I really, really wanted a car. I persecuted my parents about it, in fact. I don’t remember now what was so urgent; perhaps it was because I was living on a postage-stamp campus I could cross on foot in five minutes. At any rate, nobody had any money for a car, and I made us all miserable.
God taught me many lessons my first two years of college, and by junior year I had grown reconciled to my lack of vehicle. Incidentally, at the very time I grew more content, I found that I needed to earn money for tuition. All the tutoring jobs that gave a good return for my time required transportation. Finally, I prayed, and in less than a month, God answered. I inherited Thing, a white-ish 1987 Pontiac Grand Am with peeling paint and upholstery, for $300 — all the money in my bank account.
God is a Rewarder
I could stop there, with the immediate answer to prayer, except the form the answer took is illustrative. The classmate who sold me Thing explained that my new car ate alternator belts every 500 miles or so. Along with this, among Thing’s other charms, he possessed no cruise control, air conditioning, or CD player, and he hemorrhaged oil. Moreover, after about a year the speedometer stopped working. Rather than indicating my speed of travel, the little needle either hung stubbornly at zero or flicked back and forth with a certain carefree joy. Thankfully, I could always tell my approximate velocity, because at 60 mph Thing jolted indecisively between gears.
Every holiday journey, then, became an adventure in prayer. If I stopped Thing for a brief rest so that I could visit the bathroom, invariably he refused to start. He coughed in a weak, pathetic fashion, feigning illness. I often belabored his ignition for half an hour, sweating desperately, afraid I would have to call my mother with the news that I was stranded in rural West Virginia, but as soon as I remembered to pray, Thing submitted innocently. Eventually, I learned. I started with prayer, rather than resorting to it. And Thing behaved like a lamb, albeit a lame one with the hiccups.
To bring this illustration home, like many other singles, I frequently pray for a spouse. As I pray for this spouse, I remember Thing. I loved my car, as I expect to love my spouse, but boy oh boy was he flawed! Oddly enough, I loved my car even more for his flaws. Nobody else had one quite like him. Also just like my future spouse, God willing, we remained together until death did we part. Thing wheezed out his last lung, tragically, only a few weeks before my college graduation.
Most importantly, receiving my car did not end my prayers, but increased them. God wanted His presence known in both the asking and the owning. He gave me a car just when I needed one, but much more than that, He called me to grow closer to Him. Just like the tree branch above me in my parents’ backyard, Thing deepened my understanding of God’s power and presence.
I notice, then, that the verse from Hebrews does not focus on the reward itself, but on the One who gives it, the “rewarder.” God doesn’t give me a gift so that I can play with it apart from Him, but so that I can bask in His presence ever more. He wants us all to share in the very essence of His soul — His love, peace, patience, faith, hope, and righteousness. And so through a lifetime, we begin to grasp that a relationship with the Rewarder is, in fact, the greatest present of all.
Copyright 2009 Sarah Pride. All rights reserved.