Prayer, pt 4: What to expect

[Part 4 of a four-part adaptation of my message, “Our Daily Bread.”]

Matthew 6:25-34 was pivotal in my decision to come on staff at the church almost two summers ago. Back then the church was only a few months old; we weren’t even meeting in the school yet—we were still in Aaron & Amy’s living room. And I needed a job. I’d come to the end of a year-long internship and none of the jobs I’d applied for had panned out; in fact I hadn’t even heard back from any of them, which was disheartening.

When Aaron and I started talking about the possibility of coming onboard as the church’s first leadership resident, it seemed almost perfect: I had been a part of shaping the vision and culture of the church; I loved the people; it would mean that I’d get to stay in DC, a city I was learning to love. But there was one problem: the church, being as brand new as it was, didn’t have money to hire staff, and for me, financial security was a big thing. I would need to raise my own support, which I’d never done before—beyond raising money for a short-term mission trip.

So I took time to pray about it, and as I did so, God brought Matthew 6 to mind: “Do not worry about your life. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all that you need will be given to you as well.” It was both a challenge and a reassurance.

The last year and a half of raising support has certainly been an exercise in building trust. I wrote earlier that I hate asking for things, and money is the thing I hate asking for most of all. But just a few weeks ago, I got to a point where I had only about a month’s left of reserves—the couple months prior had been extremely exhausting and I hadn’t had time to fundraise, so it was getting close to crunch time. And so, out of desperation and also knowing that, while God said he would provide, he also wanted me to do my part, I sent out an email to friends and family asking them for help, asking them to give financially.

The response was overwhelming—someone gave within a couple minutes of me sending that email; someone else gave another thirty seconds after that. And over the couple weeks that followed, many, many people stepped up and gave, including one friend’s parents and grandmother!

On top of that, a few days later, the church’s Executive Team met and decided that, thanks to your generosity and commitment to the church—particularly in the area of financial giving—they could now afford to increase their support for me.

So God has provided, and that’s one way I’m learning to trust God—by seeing him come through on those things, those basic yet desperate things, that I bring to him.

And I know not all of our prayers get answered the way that we would like them to be. That’s a huge question that many of us have–for some of you it’s the biggest question–and I didn’t have time to dive into on Sunday, but I may do a stand-alone post on that at some point.

Ultimately, what we expect also comes down to whom we are asking, because if we make basic, desperate requests with trust of God our Father, who loves us, who cares for us, who knows us better than we know ourselves, and who certainly knows what’s going on in the people and the world around us better than we do, we can rest assured that he will come through … though it may look vastly different to what you expected.

One commentary says this: when we pray, we can trust that God will give us what we need—not what we want or even what we think we need—but what God our Father sees our need actually to be. This is our daily bread that we ask for; not our daily feast, though that would be nice, but our daily bread. So 19th century Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne concludes, “God will either give you what you ask, or something far better.”

Last week, Aaron shared about Ryan Woods, a pastor in Washington State, who’s been fighting a terrible cancer and whom doctors have given only a few months to live. He wrote a blog a couple weeks ago answering the question he gets asked a lot—“Do you blame God for making you sick, for the cancer?” Here’s one paragraph that I wanted to share with you all:

I think about my kids at Disneyland. They kept wanting to buy those big giant suckers that look really cool. But the thing is, they taste like crap and my kids hate them. Every time they buy one of them they regret it and wish they had bought something else. I know better than them. I do. I’ve got more perspective, I’ve got a better memory, I have more information … I just know better. I’m the dad. Ok, maybe that’s not the best illustration, but the idea that God knows better is important to me because if he truly is good (as my foundational assumption tells me he is) then I can trust that he’s not trying to screw me or those I love over. All of his activity is first and foremost motivated by love. Always.

This is why it is so important that Jesus begins the Lord’s Prayer with, “Our Father …” Because everything else that comes after, all the praises we can sing, all the requests we can make for provision or forgiveness or keeping us safe, that will all crumble under the slightest pressure if it isn’t founded on a relationship of trust and obedience and dependence and respect.

Trust God, who is our Father. Trust God, who is love. Trust God, who desires and knows what is best for you. Make basic, desperate requests of God with trust. “Give us this day our daily bread.”

What might “our daily bread” be for you and your community? What is that basic, stuff-of-life thing that, as far as we know, we need, desperately? I need a tough conversation to go well that I’m supposed to have today; I need this housing option to work out today; I need food for today; I need some way to get through the pain of this physical ailment today; I need some way to figure out this financial mess I’m in today; I need a relationship with God as Father today. “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Whatever it is, write it down: on a card, in your journal, in your diary, on your hand. Write it down, and come back to it every day this week, and ask God how he might be answering it—it may not look like you think it will, but trust that he knows what he’s doing.

God will either give you what you need, or something far better.

Amen.

Justin

Hong Kong | London | California | Washington, DC Christian | Theologian | Musician | Activist | Sojourner

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