Dr. RB McFee
“He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He will also hear their cry and save them.”
When we pray, do we really expect an answer? It is said there are no atheists in foxholes. But when “save them” arrives, do we recognize it? Do we look for God’s answers?
Many of us are familiar with the story of the man and the rising river. Let me share a version of it….
The dam broke and the waters were rising, threatening to destroy a lone house on the banks of a river. The owner prays to God for rescue. “God save me,” the man cries out. Shortly thereafter an old fisherman in a rowboat appears, shouting out to the man, jump in and I’ll take you to safety. The man replies, “no thanks, God will save me.” The waters rise. The man climbs higher. Soon a race boat appears, and the driver says jump on board and I’ll take you to safety. The man again replies “no thanks, God will save me.” Now the waters are in full rage, and the man is on the roof, again crying to God for salvation. Just then a news helicopter spots him, swoops down, and offers a life line. The man again replies “no thanks, God will save me.” Soon after that, the house and man are swept away.
Upon entering the Pearly Gates, God greets the man, who grumpily complains “why didn’t you save me God?” God replies –“I sent you a row boat, speed boat and helicopter. What were you expecting?”
Great question…. “What were you expecting?!” What do we expect from God, from prayer?
In Matthew 14 I am certain at least one of the twelve Disciples was praying to God during the storm. But when Jesus arrived, they were surprised. According to scripture it was Peter who first recognized the apparition was in fact Jesus, but even he asked for confirmation.
What about us?
The other day I was fortunate to speend time with the Bible Fellowship Group at church. It was indeed a time of sharing. And while the rules of Spiritual intimacy, not unlike doctor-patient confidentiality, apply, I think it is safe, and instructive to share one of the most powerful themes to emerge. And that is…..
God pays attention.
The Psalmist captured it best in Psalm 65:2
“O You who hear prayer.”
Throughout the Bible – from the Jewish scriptures to the very words of Christ Himself, we are told each of us matters to God.
In spite of numerous promises and affirmations God pays attention, sometimes I think we pray as if He doesn’t.
Or perhaps we pray as if we hope there is Someone to hear us, and that He is actually listening.
How often do we live as if we don’t believe He is watching, let alone listening or paying attention to us? How often are we startled when something happens that could only have occurred at that time and place as if it was orchestrated by the Almighty Himself?
During fellowship many such God moments were shared. And what corroborated they were indeed from God – each event was personalized to that individual – something that should not have happened, but was uniquely special to that person. But for the power of God’s message to be fully realized – the comfort, the promise, the guidance – each person had to accept and acknowledge it, then act on it, live it.
Put differently, not only are we special to God, not only does He pay attention to our prayers, petitions, needs, and desires, but He also understands us so well, that His answers are given in a way we can best understand, best know they were from the Lord, and for us, and us alone to find. Much like a question from a student, God unlocks the answer in a way unique to how we understand – in our language.
We all came away affirming to each other, and perhaps to ourselves by the very act of remembering and sharing our stories of God’s Love and Grace to us, that yes, God indeed does hear our prayers. God does pay attention.
Here’s one I can share – because it is mine!
Anyone who knows me, knows I love to sail. If I hit the lottery, expect invitations to sail on my new boat. But since I haven’t purchased a ticket I will have to await the boat at the dock for another time!
That said, a few years ago I belonged to a community sailing program. It was late in the season, and the rules for new certifications were going to change in the New Year….like a new requirement of falling overboard in really cold water without a wet-suit. I don’t think so! I used to live in Florida. Our “cold” beverages are warmer than the water up here, even in summer!
I was also about to fly out of the region and only had a few days left to take the test. Unfortunately the forecast was for thunder storms the entire week.
I know it is probably a goofy thing to pray for, but it was something that mattered to me for a lot of reasons. And it wasn’t really about the water temperature. I’ve gone ice diving with SCUBA gear, so it wasn’t about being a candy tail. Humor notwithstanding, let it suffice, I really needed to take that test.
Well it is the day before my flight. It looks like there’s a break in the weather so I race down to the docks, only to be greeted along the drive by drizzles. Undaunted, I keep driving.
I arrived at the facility, only to be met by instructors who shake their head and say “looks like another wash out day, we’ll test you tomorrow Robin.”
All of a sudden a voice inside me said “ask your favorite instructor to wait a bit.” I was strainieeng to hear that Voice against the deafening thunder and violent winds beating against the clubhouse, and banging against the boats, making the rigging sound like chimes gone wild. But I did as instructed.
The instructor looked at me as if to say “are you not seeing what I’m seeing –a gigunda thunder storm?” But she said “OK Robin, I’ll hang around for you.”
While she did, I got the sail, life jackets, and other parts of the rigging for the boat. One instructor came over and said “aren’t you being a little optimistic Robin? Today’s a washout.” I grinned. He didn’t know what I knew. I just believed the Voice, the Holy Spirit answer.
Yes it was a storm that was predicted to last all afternoon. There was no reason in the natural to expect it to vanish. All week long the afternoon storms lasted for hours. And yet this one started to diminish.
At first even I thought it was my imagination, as I held tight to the sail. At which point I saw something I had never seen before – a bright, magnificent rainbow against a black sky during a thunder storm – a storm that was clearing before my eyes, and yet the black sky rainbow remained. I started to laugh, and looking up said “thank you God, you so get me!”
God spoke in the language I understood – visual, and with symbols that I would get.
Soggy boat and all I got to take my test; the winds were favorable – strong but friendly, and the rainbow remained until I drove home that night. The Magi got a star, I got a rainbow. Thank you God. (never forget to acknowledge His gift).
God pays attention. But for that blessing to occur – I had to pay attention, too. And I had to act as if I knew it would happen. Then again, isn’t that what faith is predicated upon?
And for faith to be realized, we have to trust, to obey, to stay the course when at first it doesne’t look like the promise will be fulfilled. Lent teaches us that. From Good Friday to Easter Sunday, the time, the experiences all teach us that.
Will things always work out in such a timely, rainbow beautiful way? No. But God hear us. So while we may ask, does He pay attention, even in the storms, even when we don’t get the immeediate Voice? I can’t say why He makes us wait one time, and gives us a fast response at other times. But I am sure God wants us to be able to answer “Always!”
Do I always feel God’s peace in the storm or get an answer or get the solution, the healing, the curing, or the help I want when I ask for it? No. Do I at times have shaky faith? Yes. Will I tell you I always am expecting an answer? No! Will I tell you I am always happy with the answer when one arrives? No! But then, as God to Job, did I create a tree or put the stars in the sky? No, and no!
The key to faith and spiritual growth is to believe He hears even when we don’t yet see confirmation. Sometimes we look for His answers but can’t find them. But they will come, and when they do, will we recognize them? Acknowledge them? Appreciate them, Him?
Here’s a not so old thought to ponder….
“Jesus loves us, but do we take the time to feel His love?
God reveals Himself to us, but do we take the time to look?
The Holy Spirit talks to us, but do we take the time to listen?”
Sometimes we see signs in the snow, come back from church to see a hawk in our tree so close we could touch the feathers, majestic, unthreatening, a reminder that God is watching, or hear a bird chirping at a time when we feel all alone. We might even feel alone a lot longer than we want. But as my friend JM reminds me, if you believe in God, you’re not alone.
And maybe out of the blue, we hear the voice of a friend tell us what we hoped God would have said. Only to realize He just did, using another voice! He paid attention!
Maybe we are new to this. Or maybe we are heavily laden and don’t know any more if anyone is there, let along paying attention. All good! All human, and all normal! So maybe we need to tap into a close confident in faith – a partner in Christ, a pastor, a trusted congregant to help us discern, or to pray with us, and for us? God provides certain people in our lives to help us get closer to Him.
But when all is said and done, our God wants us to know Him, and come as child to Father in joy and sorrow, abundance and need. But when we do….
“In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice;
In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.”
On Tuesday we got together and shared our affirmations that “You will hear my voice,” and we reminded ourselves that when we “eagerly watch,” which is to say expect our Lord to get us, to hear us, to answer us, we are rewarded by rainbows against black skies, falling stars on a lonely ride home, a birds song, a passage of scripture at a time when we so very much need God’s guidance. These are the reminders God is paying attention….proof joy comes in the morning after the dark night of our soul.
God Pays Attention, Do We?