Imagine for a moment that God is speaking to you… right now.
But instead of hearing a profound morsel of wisdom, He simply tells you to leave everything you know and head in a direction that isn’t even particularly clear. You’re allowed to take your immediate family, as well as one of your brother’s sons, and your belongings. But the certainty of your extended family, inherited job security, and solace of your friends are now history. You have to leave all your comforts behind. He promises you protection and provision, but, ultimately, God leaves it at that.
What would you do?
In Genesis 12, Abram is faced with this exact dilemma. God gives the father of Israel’s faith two choices–either stay in a place he knows like the back of his hand or jump into a life, new and unknown, that’s backed by the Creator. Thankfully for us, Abram obeyed. So what does this have to do with prayer?
For years, my prayer life was bookended by “Dear God” and “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” For the most part, the middle was two to three minutes (if that) of obnoxiously arrogant demands. Sure I would throw in a “thank you” and an “I’m grateful for,” but my prayer life was similar to a two-year-old who tells his parents “no” every time they ask him to put away his toys, and rants orders for new playthings every chance he can.
I spoke to God, but didn’t listen to Him.
Prayer is supposed to be a two-way communication between God and us. Yet many times, we do all the talking. We’ve resorted to using our prayer times as one-minute monologues. We even have the audacity to expect God to answer when we don’t take the time to listen to what He might have to say.
God is dying to have a conversation with us. He looks forward to those moments when we take time out of our day to spend time with Him. And He definitely has a lot to say. Unfortunately, we miss out on the morsels of wisdom because we’re so quick to get to the latter part of the bookend and go about our business.
Jesus, in the Beatitudes, told the crowd to pray with the utmost honesty and simplicity. He said, in Matthew 6:7- 8, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (NIV).”
I spoke to God, but didn’t listen to him.
Coming out of college into the middle of a confused career path, I continually asked God for guidance. I appealed to Him to clearly show me what career I needed to pursue. On top of that, I was nearing my wedding date and I desperately needed answers that would allow me to provide for my new family and live the American dream of having a nice home and 2.5 children. I, as Jesus so eloquently put it, babbled on and on, hoping that God would hear me. Ironically, He did. And He actually spoke and answered my prayers. I just wasn’t listening.
When I finally decided to listen, I heard God’s desire for me to leave my job and go. Where? At the time, it was unclear. But like Abram, God simply wanted me to obey.
When it comes to our relationship with God, I think most of us are willing to do just about anything (or, at least we tell Him that we are). But when it comes to complete obedience to Him, things become quite different. We’re willing to say, in prayer, “I’ll do this God, if you come through for me. I’ll give up my addiction to alcohol, if you help my family out with our finances. If you bless me with a second chance to make things right, I’ll go to church more often, pray daily, and devoutly read your word every morning.”
We’re quick to negotiate with God.
Yet, when it comes to diving head first into God’s call for our lives, we hesitate. And for whatever reason, we’re willing to sacrifice everything for that one thing we want at the time. The funny thing is God could care less about our sacrifices.
After the nation of Israel–or more specifically, Saul–took the practice of sacrificing animals for the atonement of sins too far, God simply told them that all He really desires is their obedience, not their sacrifices. (1 Samuel 15:22)
Many times we pray out of desperation or an anguishing desire of our hearts. Other times we only resort to prayer because we want something from God, like a quick, easy solution, and can miss the deeper relationship. We treat God as if He were a genie promising to grant our wishes. But it doesn’t always work that way.
Does that mean we should avoid prayer altogether or refrain from asking God for things? Of course not.
Remember, prayer is a two-way street. God wants us to come to Him with our requests. He wants us to come to him with our deep longings and desires. God wants us to divulge our hearts and vulnerabilities. But we need to be mindful that God wants to say something too and we have to be ready to accept what He has to say.
When God called me to leave my job security, I had no idea I was being called to a life more fulfilling than what a yearly salary could provide. I was leaning more on what made sense than on Him who actually knew what was ahead. I didn’t know what every day would look like if I actually left my job. But after all the arguing, I let my guard down, trusted God, and left everything behind.
Sure the first few months terrified me, but I slowly began realizing God planted me in the center of what it meant to fully rely on Him. With a wife-to-be by my side and no job, the only one I could trust was God. After all, it was He who led me down the path of uncertainty.
Being a pastor and as involved as I am with the community now, in hindsight, had I held on to my other job I wouldn’t have as much time to invest in the people I love. Leaving my job, in this case, was not only following God’s lead, but was His way of releasing me from the shackles I didn’t realize were binding me. It was God’s way of building my trust and faith in Him, rather than building on my limited capacity to achieve.
Imagine for a moment.
God spoke over the course of six days and everything He articulated came into existence. Now imagine that very power speaking into your prayer life.
Imagine the possibilities.