When It’s Okay to Tell God What You Want


When it's okay to tell God what you want

Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

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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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When You Need to Remember


Photo courtesy of Unsplash. Photo credit TJ Holowaychuk.

My husband, Mr. Dreamer, loves this time of year with its resolutions and new beginnings; I, Mrs. Over-analytic and Fearful, find the whole new-year-new-you thing kind of exhausting. Scary. Overwhelming. We have a running joke in our marriage: Kevin likes to live in the future; I can’t get out of the past—so somewhere, between the two of us, we find a way to live in the present.

Every January, we get pummeled by the same message: Look ahead! Dream big! Pray brave! But sometimes it’s hard to look ahead. Tiring to dream big. Scary to pray brave.

And that’s where remembering comes in. Remembering what God has already done: love already shown, gifts already given, prayers already answered. Sometimes we become so consumed with the future, so eager to move on to the Next Big Thing, that we forget to celebrate what God has already done. The astounding miracles we have already witnessed. The crazy prayers that have already been answered. The progress we have already made—imperfect progress, sure; incomplete progress, yes; but still—progress! Forward motion! Growth!

The other night we had a fun talk as a family. We intended to make a list of family prayers for the new year, but then we went off on a tangent. Kevin and I started telling the kids our favorite stories about times when God has answered crazy prayers for us—prayers that once felt impossible. We talked about everything from our miracle Christmas baby story after years of infertility (a story the kids have already heard ten thousand times and will hear ten thousand more because it’s the greatest God story of our lives); to the time when, after decades of unbelief, Kevin’s beloved relative turned to God, thanks to a run-in with a falling oak tree; to the “smaller” stories, like a time when we were working like crazy but still couldn’t pay our bills, and Kevin and I both secretly and independently begged God to mail us money—and when we went to the mailbox there was a check for the exact amount we needed!


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Reliving these stories, the miracles big and small, was a powerful reminder for me and Kevin, a reminder that we have already seen God perform staggering, “HOW DID HE DO THAT?!” deeds many times; a reminder that even when the road ahead feels scary, our problems overwhelming and impossible, we already have so many reasons for great faith. . . It made me—me! faithless, scaredy-cat me!—get excited about daring to write down big prayers for the new year. It made me faithful that the powerful God who has done great things in the past can—and will—do great things once more—in His own time, in His own way. It made me confident that God hears us even when His answers come more slowly—or in different form—than we had imagined. And it reminded me just how loved—how deeply, personally loved—we are by our heavenly Father. Best of all, as we recounted these stories, we watched faith light in our kids’ eyes. I could see their faith blooming even as we spoke. They laughed, they grew wide-eyed, they stood in awe of God.

As you ponder your hopes and prayers and needs for the new year, I hope you’ll first take an hour to sit down and remember. To remember all the prayers God has already answered, all the miracles you have already seen. To celebrate and thank Him once more for gifts already given. To bask in His love, which He has proven time and again. If you have children, sit them down and tell them your God stories in the spirit of Exodus 13:14: “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.'”

When all that is done, then you’ll be ready to start dreaming for the future, drawing hope and faith and confidence from what God has already done for you.

As for me, I will always have hope;
I will praise you more and more.

My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,
of your saving acts all day long—
though I know not how to relate them all.
I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. Psalm 71:14–16


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Three Psalms to Inspire Gratitude


3 psalms to help you pray grateful prayers

Gratitude is so good for our hearts. It reminds us to look past today’s temporary troubles to see the big picture of God’s everlasting care and concern. It reminds us that life is not as dark as it sometimes feels. It heals our wounds and protects us from bitterness. It reminds us of God’s faithfulness in the past, which gives us confidence as we look to the future. Gratitude strengthens our faith, cures our self-centeredness, and makes us happier people. The minute we start thinking about things we are grateful for, our mood and perspective start to shift. (Try it! Quick—think about 5 things you are thankful for. I bet you feel happier already, don’t you? Keep going with that list and you might even hit warm-and-cozy-in-a-cuddly-blanket-on-a-cold-fall-day levels of happiness!)

With Thanksgiving upon us (How is that possible? I just vacuumed the summer sand out of my car!), we are all looking for ways to express gratitude. I love borrowing words from the psalms to guide my prayers. I start by reading the psalm aloud to God, and after a few verses I usually find myself taking detours, adding praise and thanks of my own inspired by the psalmist’s words. If your prayer life needs a boost in gratitude, try praying through these three psalms! I abbreviated them a little here, but they are (of course) beautiful in their entirety.

3 psalms to help you be thankful

Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God. . . .
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
    they are ever praising you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion. . . .

10 Better is one day in your courts
    than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
    from those whose walk is blameless.

12 Lord Almighty,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you.

Psalm 89

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;
    with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
    through all generations.
I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
    that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.
You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
    I have sworn to David my servant,
‘I will establish your line forever
    and make your throne firm through all generations.’”

The heavens praise your wonders, Lord,
    your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.
For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord?
    Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?
In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared;
    he is more awesome than all who surround him.
Who is like you, Lord God Almighty?
    You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.

Psalm 66

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
    Sing the glory of his name;
    make his praise glorious.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    So great is your power
    that your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down to you;
    they sing praise to you,
    they sing the praises of your name.”

Come and see what God has done,
    his awesome deeds for mankind!
He turned the sea into dry land,
    they passed through the waters on foot—
    come, let us rejoice in him.
He rules forever by his power,
    his eyes watch the nations—
    let not the rebellious rise up against him. . . .

12 You let people ride over our heads;
    we went through fire and water,
    but you brought us to a place of abundance. . . .

16 Come and hear, all you who fear God;
    let me tell you what he has done for me.
17 I cried out to him with my mouth;
    his praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,
    the Lord would not have listened;
19 but God has surely listened
    and has heard my prayer.
20 Praise be to God,
    who has not rejected my prayer
    or withheld his love from me!

Thank you for reading, and for sharing a bit of life with me here on this little corner of the Web. Wishing you a wonderful holiday with the ones you love.


Looking for a great gift for Thanksgiving or Christmas? When God Says “Wait” is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and ChristianBook.com. I am deeply thankful to all of you who have read, reviewed, and shared WGSW. You are on my heart and in my prayers.

When God Says Wait: Navigating Life's Detours and Delays Without Losing Your Faith, Your Friends, or Your Mind


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When Your Life Feels Wasted


When Your Life Feels Wasted

Photos courtesy of Unsplash

My mom has this funny prayer she prays whenever she comes for one of her always-too-short visits: “God, please make this visit feel like a long time.” At first I laughed—my delightful mom has the most faithful prayer life, and she prays about everything—but then I was like, “Oh, why not?”—and I started borrowing her prayer.

But you know what I’ve found? There’s something to Mom’s crazy prayer. Whenever we pray those words, time somehow moves a bit slower. Her visit, however short, feels long enough. Even if we only have hours together—a layover between flights—every minute feels fulfilling. Meaningful. Rich. When she leaves we may cry, but still we feel satisfied, knowing we made the most of what time we had. In the mysterious ways of God, he helps us stop and savor and be fully present in our fleeting, priceless moments together.

How to pray when life is delayed

Sometimes we want time to slow down . . . but when we’re waiting, we want it to speed up and slow down at the same time. We want the wait to be over now, with no more time lost. We feel this pressure most acutely when we’re in the middle of one of those life-altering waits: The wait for a husband. For a baby. For a healing. Tick, tick goes the clock; flip, flip goes the calendar page—and you’re still stuck.

You feel your twenties passing you by, and you’re still single…

You’re well into your thirties, and you fear your biological clock will expire before you get to have a family

Your forties are flying, and you’re still sick or depressed—not quite yourself—unable to fully live the life you have…

Your fifties are coming to a close, but still your adult child wanders . . .

And if you’re like me—always watching the clock, painfully conscious of life’s brevity—you can start to get paranoid: My life is wasting away. I’ll never get back this time. These are lost years.

Slow down time

But guess what? God is more powerful than time. Listen to this beautiful prayer:

“Relent, Lord! How long will it be?

Have compassion on your servants.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,

that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,

    for as many years as we have seen trouble.

Psalm 90:14–16 (emphasis added)

Do you get what the writer is saying here? He’s asking God to redeem lost time. To make up for lost years—to make Israel glad for as many days, as many years, as they have suffered.

Who wrote this prayer? Moses—Moses who spent forty years wandering in the desert, waiting for the Promised Land. Moses understood the pain of lost life and wasted years better than anyone. And yet he saw that God could still redeem that time, those desert years. In Moses’ eyes, it wasn’t too late. All was not lost. He knew the power of God—God who rained plagues and parted seas, God who appeared in cloud by day and fire by night, God who dwelled on the holy mountain. God could transcend time. God could make up lost years. God could make His people glad, so glad they couldn’t help but sing, for as many years as they had suffered.

We see God do this often in the Bible, showering suffering people with later-life blessings: Joseph. Naomi. Job.

I have seen God do this in my own life more times than I can count. After a tumultuous time in our church life, God provided a way for me and my husband to live in the same town as both our parents—we had never believed it possible, but we got to share eight happy years with both our families. We felt as though God went out of his way to comfort us after a time of trial.

After two years and nine months of infertility, God gave us three babies in…wait for it…two years and ten months. I can hardly see my computer screen for the tears filling my eyes—tears of gratitude, wonder, awe. It’s been eleven years, but still the joy of this blessing staggers me. Even now I ask God, “Why us, when so many others are still waiting?” I can’t answer that question, but I celebrate his gift even as I pray for others still awaiting theirs.

If you’re stuck on pause, mourning a delay, borrow Moses’ prayer. Remind God of the pain you feel watching time pass you by, and ask him to redeem the lost days. Ask him to restore joy. To make you glad for as many days—as many years—as you have suffered. I don’t know when or how God will answer your prayer, but I know he is listening. He is listening, he is concerned, and he is able.


Let’s stay in touch! Sign up for my newsletter here and I’ll send you a free ebook:

How to Find God—and Joy—When Life Is Hard


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When Life Is Uncertain


When life is uncertain

 

Some seasons, life is boring, predictable, uneventful: all the same things, all the same people. Same familiar road we’ve traveled a thousand times before, the view never changing.

We complain about monotony.

Dream of excitement and change.

no bends in the road

Photo credit: Marcelo Quinan, Unsplash.

And then…and then: A sudden bend in the road, a detour. The path unpaved, the future uncertain. We’re off-roading, exhilarated and terrified in equal measure. All in a rush, life takes us somewhere we’ve never been: New stages or roles, new places or people… Unfamiliar, intimidating territory. Situations and difficulties we’ve never faced before, in myriad forms.

curve in the road

Photo credit: Orlova Maria, Unsplash.

During times like this, I cling to Isaiah 42:16: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

Light to my path image

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Let us find comfort in this:

Where we are blind, God can see.

When our path is unmarked, He knows the way.

When the road is uneven, He can carve a smooth path.

When ankles turn, legs burn, and lungs cry out, He can grant strength.

Where shadows gather, our God—world-spinner, star-maker, light-giver—can shine sun.

And no matter how long the journey, no matter how winding or perilous the path, He never forsakes the ones He loves.

“Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10).

Wishing you safe travels, friends, wherever He leads you, now and always. 

(Want more from the Bible on this? Read Psalm 121, Psalm 23, Psalm 18:36, Isaiah 40:28–31, Psalm 119:105, Psalm 18:28, Psalm 33.)

A lamp to our feet

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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