Prayer is a dangerous thing because God may just grant your petition.
When I first came to faith, I used to pray these big and bold prayers, “God, do whatever it takes to make me more like Jesus! To allow me to enjoy more of you! Kill me if you must!” I would pray for things like that daily. Then, over time those bold prayers slipped out of my conversations with God.
I’m not sure why that happened, but I suspect it had to do with life getting comfortable. I was remarried to ex-wife, the kids were now running around laughing, I was killing it academically, I just landed a job with the potential to make more money than I ever thought I could, life was beginning to feel normal, and I was loving it.
When things got hard I would pray for God’s provision, for His strength, for His comfort, etc. But looking back I realized all my prayers were coming from a heart that saw these occasional hard times as attacks from the enemy and not as blessings from the Father.
Then in the fall of 2017, I was working on a lesson for ta Bible Study I was leading and I came across 1 Peter 4: 12-13:
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may also rejoice with great joy when his glory is revealed.”
I can still remember sitting at Starbucks after reading that and feeling like I had just woken up from a deep sleep. As I sat in that uncomfortable wooden chair, I bowed my head and prayed the following, “Father, forgive me for embracing comfort over conformity. I used to cry out to you asking you to do whatever it took to make me more like your Son… Now, I pray more about my circumstances and needs. So right here, right now, I’m begging you, Father, to burn everything to the ground that is a hindrance to me seeing more of you, enjoying more of you, depending on you for everything, and being made to look more like my King Jesus. Amen.”
After that, I kind of forgot about that prayer. But God had heard me loud and clear. God was now moving pieces on the chessboard to do the very thing I asked.
Over the next 16 months, God took everything I found security in and torched it to the ground. During these 16 months, I lost my job and was swallowed up by the ocean of debt. During these 16 months, I felt as if what was happening to me was unfair because I was serving the Lord. During these 16 months, I was certain this was a spiritual attack. During these 16 months, I questioned if God was good or if I was saved. During these 16 months, my marriage suffered terribly due to my narcissism. During these 16 months, my parenting seemed to be failure after failure. During these 16 months, I felt like a failure of a man in every sense. During these 16 months, I had to shut down the Men’s Muster Podcast due to no money. During these 16 months, everything I had built my identity on was burned down. During these 16 months, I was so focused on myself that I was blind to what God was doing.
I wish I could say that I had an epiphany and jumped to my feet in worship of God but I didn’t. Rather, I sat there wallowing during my morning devotions as running my fingers through the ash heap of everything that had made me, me. It was there that God grabbed me by the scruff of my neck, looked into my tear-filled eyes, and said:
Who is this who obscures my counsel with ignorant words?
Get ready to answer me like a man;
when I question you, you will inform me. (Job 38:1-3)
Friends, when God tells you to man – up, that is exactly what you do you man – up. As I read on through those last chapters of Job, God reminded me that His ways are not our ways. He is God and I am not. That the ways and reasons for how He does things are not always for me to know.
And then, God in His abundant grace and mercy led me to the book of 1 Peter and I read that passage that started my men’s ministry.
Now, the epiphany happened. These last 16 months God had been answering my prayer, I just hadn’t realized it.
So, let me end by saying two final things.
First, be careful what you pray for because God may just answer it and it may not be in the way you expect.
Second, I need to pray this again: “Father, forgive me for embracing comfort over conformity. I used to cry out to you asking you to do whatever it took to make me more like your Son… Now, I pray more about my circumstances and needs. So right here, right now, I’m begging you, Father, to burn everything to the ground that is a hindrance to me seeing more of you, enjoying more of you, depending on you for everything, and being made to look more like my King Jesus. Amen.”