My prayer was simple in those days: “God, please take this sickness away so that I can stay in college.”
One morning the first week of my senior year of college, I had woken up with joint pain. A few days later, I could barely walk or even lift my arms to blow dry my hair. Something was really wrong, but the doctors couldn’t figure out what. My mom stayed with me in the school guesthouse for the first few weeks, and then I moved into an apartment with friends.
That’s when things really began falling apart. One afternoon following classes, I sat in my car in tears. I called my brother, who was a sophomore on campus, and asked if he could drive me home. That night, as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, hot tears ran down my face. And my prayer changed. Instead of praying for God to take the illness away from me and get everything “back to normal,” I asked Him to provide for whatever came next — even if that meant dropping out of college.
What followed was an amazing story of provision and refinement. I didn’t actually have to drop out of college (in fact, over the next two years, God completely healed me). But my perspective changed dramatically when I let go of healing as my primary desire and embraced the uncertainty of whatever God wanted to do. That’s what prayer does. It changes your perspective.
My encounter with an autoimmune disorder is not the only time I found myself “praying for the wrong thing.” Maybe you can relate.
Whether you’re praying for a certain relationship to happen, a promotion, a new job or a family relationship to heal, you’re probably praying specifically. You’re right to do so. Jesus told His disciples, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14, ESV). God wants us to engage with Him about the concerns of our life — even those that may be first-world problems. Why? Because He wants to draw us into greater fellowship with Him, and He can change our perspectives and bring our prayers in line with His will.
John recorded a similar thought on prayer in 1 John 5:14:
And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us.
Did you catch that? He hears us.
We can be confident that He is listening. But asking according to His will is the mysterious part. We know some big pieces of God’s will for us — loving Him and others, living holy lives, being His ambassadors to the world. But we don’t always know the specifics — the workplace in which He will choose to use us, the spouse or family He may (or may not) choose to provide, the healing that may or may not come in this life.
The thing is, I’ve sometimes been off in what I’ve asked God for. In fact, I’ve been way off at times (Joshua Rogers wrote about something similar in “So Thankful God Said No”). But I don’t think that matters much. The point isn’t that I get better at guessing what God is doing; the point is that I “draw near to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16).
God honors His children for coming to Him. More than that, He uses prayer to invite them into the eternal conversation that is already taking place between the members of the Trinity. A prayer might change from, “Lord, give me a husband,” to “Lord, teach me how to honor and respect the men in my life,” or from, “Help me get a raise,” to “Help me manage my finances wisely so I have enough to bless others.”
As I bring my requests to Father God, the Holy Spirit enables me to fall more in step with Jesus and become less resistant to His plans for me. And that is a good place to be — even if I’m praying for the wrong thing at first.