“Be careful what you pray.”
It’s a sentiment I’ve heard passed on time and again. It’s a sentiment I’ve half-jokingly spouted in a conversation about patience and the frustrating process of being sanctified in such a lack thereof.
And woven into those quippy words is a subtle, deadly lie.
All of this began percolating in my mind about 3 months or so ago. You see, I’d been singing Hillsong’s “Oceans” for months on end and whenever I sang it, the words and melody mingled together into a passionate prayer wafting up to heaven like the temple incense of the days of Moses. I meant every word of that melodic prayer with every fiber of my being. I wanted more faith. I wanted to be led to places I would never go on my own. And I believed that the Spirit would take on unforgettable journeys that would be terrifying but incredible.
I knew in the midst of that prayer that there was great risk involved, that what I was asking would probably be answered and I would probably have days I wanted to swallow that song deep into my throat rather that proclaim it boldly. But, honestly, the fear I knew I was risking, couldn’t hold a candle to the reality of the answer I am walking in.
You see, I’m living in the middle of that ocean I was asking to be led out into. Trust without boarders…I had no idea. Honestly, I couldn’t wrap my mind around what that might mean until I found myself here. I’ve been out on the ocean before, but I’ve always been able to see at least one shore…one border. But, now, I’m smack dab in the middle of the Pacific. There is no shoreline in sight….only water. And I can keep trusting and walking, or I can drown.
Suddenly, my mind has wandered to that movie, Open Water, where the tourists get left behind on a deep sea diving excursion…never saw it. I have no desire to watch a movie like that. But I remember the previews. I remember the knot in my stomach as the vivid images stirred an already fear in me about oceans and isolation *(heebeejeebees)*.
But the truth is, I haven’t been forgotten and left behind. I don’t have to figure out how to survive out here. I was led here…I prayed for this. The Holy Spirit has led me to a place where there is nothing for me to hold onto but the hand of God. And He holds me by my right hand…The Bible tells me so.
But I found myself thinking on all of this reality the other day and the craziness of it all. All the little crevices of my faith where the enemy can wedge in a lie…and he will, anywhere he can. Isolation. The impossibility of provision. Lack of survival skills. All of this slicing into me as the spiritual world wages war around me. And that evil little thought, feigning as innocent, crept in. “Well, be careful what you pray for.” But immediately, The Spirit leapt up in me in protest. Those words that I’d uttered so many times….that had fallen on my ears so many times, suddenly turned to ash in my mouth.
There is death wrapped up in them. Be careful what you pray for? We offer it as a warning. Do not pray for patience because the Lord will give you a chance to learn it. Do not pray for more faith, you will be tested. WHAT?! Why would we ever suggest that someone not pray for these things.
Is it scary to pray for sanctification? Abso-stinkin-lutely. Will it be hard, maybe even seem impossible, when God brings you to the answer. Almost certainly. But, it is worth it. I experience days where it seems I will never feel the surety of solid ground beneath my feet again. There are days where the storm rolls in and waves crash up over my head and I’m certain I will drown. But there are more days where the shimmer of the glass seas sparkle all around me and I am overwhelmed with the kindness of a God who creates such beautiful moments. There are more days when I remember that I have prayed to see the middle of this ocean for years and my Lord has worked all things together for my good and in the fullness of time. There are more days when I notice that my legs are stronger from learning to walk on the inconsistent waters. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I don’t want to take back any of my prayers. I don’t want to go back to what I know. I want to keep walking out here, wherever the Spirit leads. Eventually, as we walk, the shore will come into sight again. There will be a time when this current ocean will lead me to ease once again….the tide will carry me to comfort. And when that happens, I will pray once more, “Spirit lead me where my faith is without borders…”
And as I consider the students I have the joy of loving and teaching, I am overwhelmed with compulsion to teach them not to be careful what they pray, but rather to risk it all in prayer. Pray with every ounce of faith you can muster, and beg for more. Then, keep praying as you wait and follow. You will find a day when God has answered your risky prayers and you aren’t sure you will survive His answer. But you will. You will not only survive but you will find more life than you have ever dreamt of knowing.
If you aren’t sure how to pray with so much boldness, then let the songs of worship we sing become your prayers. It is often easier to pray scary prayers when they are accompanied by the harmonies of God’s people.