On Prayer

This is going to be a hodgepodge of thoughts about prayer, and I want to tell about an amazing answer to prayer as well, because now it’s public information.

An Example

Let me start with the start of the story of an answer to prayer. First, about the praying:

It was December 2018. I was thinking about my New Year’s Goals. Every year for the last few years, besides goals, I’ve made prayer requests that I pray every day. What are the top things I want to ask God for?

For years, one of those requests has been getting out of debt. It was a long-term goal (We’re talking $30,000 in credit card debt) and I didn’t really expect it to happen any time soon. But then in early 2018 after my old car died and I bought a new one – I discovered that I had enough equity in my home to get a home equity loan that would pay off all my credit cards! So my prayer was answered! And my monthly payments were smaller so I hoped to build up some savings.

But alas! In the summer, just when I’d successfully paid off some unexpected large bills including a dental crown – my hot water heater broke and the cost to replace was over $3000. I charged it.

So now it was December 2018 and I was discouraged by that bill. I’d just paid it down to exactly $3000 but it felt like I was back in that grind. I was probably going to add to my debt with Christmas gifts and some more unexpected expenses hitting then. Would I ever get it paid off?

The next day when I went for my walk and prayed through my prayer requests, I actually thought, Why do I even bother praying to get out of debt? It’s not like God can give me a sudden influx of cash now. I’m not applying for a better job. There are no prospects of money on the horizon. Why do I even pray about this?

And it took a minute, but I thought, No, I’m going to ask. Because wasn’t I completely surprised when God did it last year? And now what I owe is so much less.

Lord, I do ask that you would get me out of debt. I don’t see how you’ll do it, and maybe it will take patience on my part, but that’s what I ask. Thank you that you helped me pay off ten times this amount last year when I least expected it. Lord, if this is my opportunity to pay it down little by little over a few years, thank you that it can still happen. Thank you for providing for me. Thank you that I have a job I love. Thank you for credit cards and that I was able to get that water heater fixed when it was leaking down into my neighbor’s hot water closet. Thank you that I can afford the payments on this, and thank you that you faithfully provide for me.

With Thanksgiving

That’s what I want to talk about regarding prayer: With thanksgiving.

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything. But in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Why give thanks when making a request? It reminds us that God will come through. Whether or not we get what we want, God will come through. Doing it in my prayer above completely changed my attitude.

A lot of Christians know about the Philippians verse. But did you know this idea is also in the Psalms?

I’ve already talked about forms of psalms, particularly Laments and Thanksgiving Psalms. Both forms – even the lament where you’re asking for help from a dire situation – end in praise.

I also love the words of assurance – Here’s what God will do.

In a lament, the psalmist fully moans about his plight – and then talks himself into trust. Sometimes he asks God “What’s taking you so long? Don’t you even see what trouble I’m in?” But he goes on to say, “I’m going to be praising you in the great assembly after you get me out of this!”

Look at the end of Psalm 4, after he’s asking for help:

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.

Look at the end of Psalm 5, where he’s got enemies after him:

But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

Or look at the refrain in the great Thanksgiving Psalm, Psalm 107:

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.

But I’ll go on for hours if I try to list all the Psalms that end with thanks. Go through yourself and look at how psalms end – so many end in praise. And yet many also begin with requests for help out of great trouble.

And one thing so interesting about the Psalms is that a lot of that thanks and praise is about what God is going to do. They give thanks for God’s future actions. Yes, psalms go over what God has already done, but that’s usually in the main body of the psalm. As the psalmists work themselves into a better place, they remember what they know about God – and one of those things is that they can count on him to help.

Look at the end of Psalm 7. Note the future tense:

I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness;
I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.

I’ve been looking at Psalm 117 lately, the shortest psalm in the Bible. The first verse says to praise the Lord, and the second verse says why:

For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

God is faithful.

So we know that however he answers our request – Yes or No – He will still be faithful; he will still be good to us.

My challenge is: Thank God for the outcome, whatever it is. And thank him ahead of time.

Manipulation and Faith

When I desperately demand that God answer a certain way, when I believe it will be utter disaster if he does not make happen what I want to happen – then I’m trying to manipulate God, trying to tell him what to do, trying to control circumstances with my “faith.” But is that faith?

When my ex-husband left me, I connected with a well-meaning ministry that taught you must “stand for your marriage,” and for years I tried to pray my husband back. (Now, this ministry had many positive effects in my life, one of them being encouragement to listen to what God wanted to tell me.)

But through various means, it became clear to me that with my prayers and my words and everything I did or didn’t do, everything I said or didn’t say – I was trying with all my might to make my husband come back – or even to make God make my husband come back. Put bluntly, I was trying to manipulate God. Or at least I was trying to manipulate my husband by manipulating God.

But if I stopped praying for my husband to come back, wouldn’t that be lack of faith?

One day, our pastor preached a sermon that spoke to that. He brought in an actual chalkboard and made a big diagram on it. On one end he put “Fate” or “Letting it happen” and on the other end he put “Control” or “Making it happen.” He said where we want to be is the sweet spot in the middle – the Path of Trust.

And it dawned on me that telling God what to do is not trusting God. All this time in my prayers, I’d been telling God what to do – bring my husband back.

But isn’t that what we think of as faithful prayer? Tell God what to do! And the more boldly you insist, the greater your faith, right?

But what if instead I lay my requests before God – and thank him for what he’s going to do. Do I still trust that God is faithful if his answer is No?

I can think of a lot of prayers that didn’t go as I hoped. My husband did not come back. Because I needed to work full-time for the first time in my life, I got my Master’s in Library Science and became a librarian. I love being a librarian, but I wouldn’t have done it if not for the divorce, I would have been content working part-time.

Back in 2013, I was on the ballot to be on the Newbery committee. I missed being elected by 15 votes (out of about 800) – and was heartbroken. Four years later I tried again – and the timing was much, much better, for multiple reasons including that now I had an empty nest and more time for it.

There have been a couple of jobs I applied for and prayed for and didn’t get. There was the time I got cut from the library because of budget cuts. But all of those things worked out to the amazingly wonderful job I have now, with co-workers who are fantastic to work with, a library system that paid for my trips to the ALA conferences for Newbery deliberations and even nominated me for an award. (More about that in a minute.)

All that is to say that God does and has done in my life exceedingly abundantly above all I ask or think. And very often the blessings come after not getting what I asked for.

Why not thank God for the outcome in advance. The thing is – whatever happens, I know that God is faithful.

Answer to Prayer

Back to that December 2018 prayer about getting out of debt, prayed on a day when I had just paid down the debt to be exactly $3000.

The next day I was at work, and my branch manager asked me for my resume. She said she hadn’t wanted to mention it to me, but I was being nominated for an award and they wanted to be sure they listed all of my qualifications. She wasn’t sure exactly what the award committee was looking for, but it was a Public Library Association Award about knowledge of books. The Library Director of our library system and Branch Coordinator (who had once worked with me as my branch manager) had asked her to write up a nomination for me for this award.

Well, I was completely honored! Wow! Nominated for a librarian award! Kind of puts a capstone on God working things out for good from my divorce. Kind of emphasizes that my life is going a good direction. Feels really good to be nominated, too! Wow!

But she hadn’t known exactly what they were looking for, so I started wondering – would I feel like a fraud being nominated for this award? Did I at all fit what they’re looking for? So – I did a search on the PLA Awards. I knew this was about knowledge of books.

I found the Allie Beth Martin Award. The award is for a public librarian who has demonstrated: “(1) extraordinary range and depth of knowledge about books or other library materials; and (2) distinguished ability to share that knowledge.” At the bottom of the page it says to think of people “who have widely and enthusiastically shared their knowledge through book talks, presentations to community or professional groups, written reviews, etc.”

Okay, I don’t feel like a fraud being nominated for this award, seeing as I’ve been writing Sonderbooks since 2001 – on my own time and for the love of it. I’ve always felt like Sonderbooks epitomizes who I am – incorporating my love of reading, love of writing, and fun with a little bit of computer coding. And now I learn there’s an award for being who I am! Not to mention that it feels like being on the Newbery committee gave me an advantage – since I’d been living and breathing books all year.

But the punchline? Much to my surprise (the Newbery doesn’t come with any money), the Allie Beth Martin Award comes with a $3000 honorarium!

And I found this out the day after I’d asked God for help paying off my $3000 credit card debt! Even though I didn’t think he could! It felt like God saying to me with a big smile, “Oh can’t I?”

The postscript to the story is that I did win the award. I won’t receive the honorarium until June at ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. (Since it’s in DC, some of my colleagues can come to the presentation.) Honestly, I recently had to get another dental crown – and the total I owe is now more than $3000. And they’ll take out taxes, too. But I simply don’t have any doubt at this point that God will meet my needs. And can get me completely out of debt again.

It sure took the worry away.

Now, I’ve got other prayer requests. Some others that I’ve prayed daily for years without getting what I asked for. I’m not saying that praying this way always has such a dramatic result.

But I’m more and more sure that God is faithful.

And like the psalmist says:
I will sing your praises, Lord.
I will be telling everyone I know about the amazing ways you will work these things out.
Thank you, Lord!

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