When It’s Okay to Tell God What You Want


When it's okay to tell God what you want

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Confession: I struggle with the word surrender. At least I struggle with the way some people use it. The way many Christians talk, it seems like surrender means we are supposed to achieve a Zen-like place where we no longer want…and no longer feel. We should be completely, perfectly happy exactly as we are. No wants. No needs. No regrets. No desires for the future.

But honestly? I don’t see that definition—or that example—in the Bible. When I read the Psalms, I read heartfelt pleas from unhappy people begging God to change their circumstances. Wondering where He is in the wait. Thanking Him for what He has already given, yes; maintaining deep respect for His sovereignty, always (or maybe I should say usually!)—but not giving up on what they’re praying for. Not letting it go until God gives the final “No.”

how to pray through grief

I don’t see David, living on the run from the murderous King Saul, praying, “Never mind, God. I know You told Samuel to anoint me as Israel’s next king, but don’t worry about it…I’m good. I’ll just live in caves as an outlaw forever. I surrender to being trapped in this situation.”

I see David saying,

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
(Psalm 13:1–2)

We don’t see the man whose son was tormented by demons saying to Jesus, “Lord, I’m content for my son to continue throwing himself into fire and water. I’m surrendered to his illness.” No, we see him kneeling desperate before Jesus and pleading, “Lord, have mercy on my son” (Matthew 17:14–20).

Jesus urges his followers to be persistent in prayer when He says, “Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 HCSB). Jesus even tells the story of the feisty widow who basically annoys her local judge until he gives in and gives her what she needs! Jesus concludes the story by saying,

“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” (Luke 18:7–8) 

What can we take from this?

It’s okay to ask.

To want.

To need.

To feel.

It’s okay—and hang with me, because we’re going to talk more about this—to be unhappy.


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Our goal is not to shut off our feelings and hopes so we can robotically surrender to whatever happens…our goal is surrendered faith. And what is surrendered faith? Surrendered faith is about learning to hold onto conflicting emotions at the same time: hope in one hand, submission in the other. Hope that God can change our situation…but submission if He doesn’t change it now (or ever).

What do I mean when I say “submission”? I mean that even though we’re sad, we still thank God for our other blessings, and we do not resent Him for saying, “No for now”—or even “No forever.” We submit to God’s almighty, mysterious timing and ways, acknowledging that He knows things we do not (Isaiah 55:8–11)—even as we continue to plead our case. We fight to be content in the sense that we are okay—we choose to get up every day and live a Christ-focused, selfless life—even as we still pray for and long for The Thing we desire. We don’t shut off our feelings and hopes and mindlessly surrender to whatever happens…we seek surrendered faith.

Hope in one hand, submission in the other: it’s a picture we see many times in the Bible. And what does that picture look like? What does it feel like?

It looks like people tearing their robes and mourning and grieving for things that are lost…but then getting back up again. Learning to live a different life than the one they had planned. Choosing to still live and love and serve God in spite of heartache and loss. (See 2 Samuel 12:12–25. It’s a complicated story, but in it we see both persistence in prayer and surrender to God’s sovereignty…and, eventually, the grace of a second chance.)

It looks like Paul clinging to contentment and gratitude even through persecution, financial hardship, and loneliness: “ I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12–13 HCSB).

It looks like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego standing boldly before King Nebuchadnezzar, knowing they could be thrown into a furnace if they refused to bow down to an idol, but saying, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17­–18, emphasis mine).

It looks like Jesus in the Garden, asking God to take away the sacrifice and pain to come…but wrestling in prayer until He could say, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matthew 26:42).

Surrendered faith means still praying, still praising, from the depths.

It means still honoring God’s wisdom and ways (and timeline) even when they don’t match up to ours. Still obeying Him even when we don’t like the way our life is going.

It means being grateful for what we do have now, even as we pray for what we don’t have yet.

It doesn’t mean pretending to have a full heart when our heart has a hole.

It doesn’t mean flogging ourselves with unnecessary guilt by saying, “I must be sinful—and God must be angry with me—because I still feel sad about a loss or an unfulfilled prayer request.”

More specifically, it doesn’t mean saying, “I shouldn’t still want to be married after all these years being single. I should banish that desire completely and be completely content with God.” (Should we all, single and married alike, be content with God as our greatest love? Of course. But I suggest we can feel both things at the same time: we can be content with God as our Husband even as we still desire a godly husband on earth!)

It doesn’t mean saying, “I shouldn’t still want a child after all these years trying for a baby.”

It doesn’t mean saying, “I shouldn’t still want my wandering child to turn back to God. I should let them go.”

Maybe surrendered faith means we can say, “I may never stop wanting…to get married…to be a mother…to see my child come back to the Lord… but even if God never grants those desires, I will still love Him, serve Him, and trust Him, and I will still live a life filled with love and purpose.”

Maybe faith is taking our prayers from,

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart? (Psalm 13:1–2)

to

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:5–6)

When David starts praising God, his problems haven’t gone away yet. (Notice these verses come from the same psalm!) David is likely still hiding in caves, fleeing his enemies, waiting for God’s promise to come true, but his faith is intact. Even as he waits and questions and prays, he finds gratitude and praise. He knows he is safe in God’s hands. He thanks God from the cave. He trusts God in the wait.

Now that’s a definition of surrender we can all fight to embrace. That’s surrendered faith.


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