I’ve been praying selfish prayers since 2003. I was told to make a list of ten Impossible Requests that year at a Navigator fall conference and to use that list to pray for the things I really wanted. Tom Yeakley, our speaker, told us to pray specifically–not just for a car, but for a car that cost less than $5000 that was red and had a lot of trunk space; not just for a house, but a house with a yard and a park nearby and an attached garage so you can carry in groceries while your baby sleeps in her carseat. Tom shared story after story of specific prayers he’d prayed that had been answered.
I was appalled. I had been taught NOT to treat God like a colossal vending machine by praying for things I wanted. I had read books that suggested I shouldn’t actually say anything to God when I pray, I should just listen for Him to tell me what He wanted me to pray for. I had been taught to try to guess God’s will and pray only for that.
Tom taught me about a God who was a loving father to his children, who desired to give his children what they needed and delighted in giving them what they wanted; a father who knew enough to sort through our selfish requests and decide how to respond. Tom told me that I should always ask, even for things that seemed impossible, selfish, or silly, and that when I receive what I asked for, I would know that it came from God.
And so I set off on an entirely different sort of prayer journey. I wish I had kept track of all my “impossible” lists through the years, but I do know I prayed for spouses for several of my friends, most of whom are now married. For over a year, inspired by the idea in James 5 that “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years,” I prayed for good weather so that I could have a beautiful outdoor wedding on May 28, 2006 and, well, you were there! You know how that turned out! It was hotter than hot with a lovely breeze.
Not every request has been express shipped to our address. Paul and I prayed for a job, an apartment, and a scholarship when we moved to Colorado. I found a job and an apartment but the scholarship fell through. And that was okay. We trust God’s will is good, pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:1). We know what it is to be in need and we know what it is to have plenty (Phil. 4:12).
I’ve gotten many of the “impossible” things I prayed for. Others, I’ve experienced a definite “NO” and still others I’ve given up on after realizing I didn’t really want or need those things anymore.
The good news is that I get God’s will whether I pray for it or not. My prayers cannot force God to give me what I want (although persistence in prayer is often rewarded!) My prayers are simply REQUESTS! I can ask for anything I want and I will ALWAYS get God’s will for an answer! David asked for his enemies to die, and he was not punished for asking. Many people asked Jesus to heal their loved ones or even raise them from the dead, and they were often rewarded by getting exactly what they asked for.
I know God’s will is better than mine, which is why I ask him first for the things I want and need. If he gives me what I asked for, I thank him and praise him! If he doesn’t give me what I asked for, I thank him and praise him. And I keep making new lists.
Listen, I could list more examples of God’s faithfulness in providing what I asked for but I challenge you to start asking God for what you really, really want. You can explain the details, you can justify why you need it, you can beg over and over like a kid at Christmas, you can ask however you want. But please, don’t be afraid to make requests of Him. You’re going to get God’s Will as your answer every time! And his will is better than ANYTHING you could ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).
**This post ties in to all sorts of other ideas about “God’s Will” that Paul and I have been pondering over the last several months. There will likely be more on this topic as I consider how to address it well.