Sometimes God doesn’t work the way you want Him to. Even as I write these words, I see so many things wrong with that statement. Nevertheless, it’s true.
Sometimes our food doesn’t taste the way we want it to.
Sometimes our clothes don’t look the way we want them to.
Sometimes our words don’t come out the way we want it to.
While I can’t always explain about your food, clothes, or the effect of your words, I do know the reason God doesn’t always work the way we want Him to.
I mean, really, it’s because He is God and He doesn’t have to do whatever we tell Him to do. But that’s not the way God works. The problem doesn’t lie on God’s end of the prayer, but on our end. So often we will pray for something that we feel is important, and if God doesn’t answer in the exact same way that we prayed for, then we mark that prayer as ‘unanswered’ and file it away in a box full of unanswered prayers.
Except, that prayer did not go unanswered.
“Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, ‘You have seen with your own eyes everything the Lord did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials, and to his entire land. You saw with your own eyes the great trials and those great signs and wonders. Yet to this day, the Lord has not given you a mind to understand, eyes to see, or ears to hear. I led you 40 years in the wilderness; your clothes and the sandals on your feet did not wear out; you did not eat bread or drink wine or beer—so that you might know that I am Yahweh your God.” -Deuteronomy 29:2-6
In this passage, Moses is speaking to the Israelites, who, at this point, have been wandering through the wilderness for 40 years. I love nature and all, but I’m not sure wandering through the wilderness for half my life sounds like the trip of a lifetime. When I picture this, I imagine the Israelites exhausted and sick of the autonomy that would probably come with 40 years of wandering.
We like to pray for God to answer things in our way. “God, please provide these people with enough food to eat and clean water to drink.” There’s actually nothing wrong with this prayer or the way it’s asked, but the issue arises in how we focus on it being answered. Once we pray for God to provide food and clean water, and we only focus on that aspect, we might miss out on how God works in other ways. We underestimate all that God can do, and when we do that, we put Him in a box. This box is where our focus is, patiently (or anxiously) waiting for Him to answer that prayer in the exact way we prayed it.
In high school, whenever we used to grade each other’s papers, some people would answer the question in the exact same way that the question was asked. For example, if the question was ‘what were the events that led to Christopher Columbus setting sail in search for new land’, some people would answer with ‘The events that led to Christopher Columbus setting sail in search for new land was….’. Though I don’t recall a teacher ever withholding points for a student answering the question that way, I do remember always thinking that it was unoriginal. Yes, I know that I am a word-nerd, and crafting sentences is enjoyable for me, but think about it.
God isn’t unoriginal. I’m not saying He won’t provide food and clean water, if that’s what His plan is, but it’s time we reshape our focus and expectations off of a small box, because the God we serve is so much more than anything that could be contained in a box. In verse five and six, it says, “I led you 40 years in the wilderness; your clothes and the sandals on your feet did not wear out; you did not eat bread or drink wine or beer—so that you might know that I am Yahweh your God.” While it would’ve been easy for God to provide the Israelites with food and water (He is sovereign, after all), He didn’t; however, that doesn’t mean that He wasn’t at work. He was watching over them the entire time, and provided for them in a different way, by making sure their clothes and sandals didn’t wear out.
If it were me, my first thought would probably be to pray for food, not wilderness-proof clothes and shoes. On the flip side, though, wouldn’t you need appropriate attire? Some Patagonia, Chacos, and North Face gear, perhaps, in order to face rocky and uneven terrain, rough brush, and the elements? God was in the wilderness watching over the Israelites, working in ways they couldn’t comprehend.
Like the Israelites, we want God to work in the way we want. We want Him to provide food in the wilderness, to answer a prayer in the way we prayed. Verse four feels like one of those BOOM moments in the Bible for me: “Yet to this day, the Lord has not given you a mind to understand, eyes to see, or ears to hear.” God works in miraculous ways that our little human brains cannot begin to comprehend. For me, this verse points out that God is always at work, but that we were not created to understand it all. In all honesty, I’m 90% sure that my brain would overheat and melt if God sat me down and explained all the ways in which He is working 200% of the time. The point is not to know how and in what ways He is working, but finding peace in the fact that He is working.
I had this rude awakening a few months ago. I’d been praying for God to answer my prayer in a certain way, to fill in the blank. While I had my eyes focused on that one little blank spot, God was doing things bigger than I imagined. It takes us knowing that He is working in order for us to see that happen; it’s time we take our eyes off that box we built and understand that He can and will work in ways that will never fit inside of a box.
A few weeks ago, I went back to Honduras for the second time in six months, and to say that it was simply awesome would not do the trip justice. One aspect that was awesome, however, was the ways in which I saw God at work. June 22 was the name of a village our team worked with while there, and upon first glance, the atmosphere looks bleak. There are clothes, couches, chairs, and other items lying outside, the people’s efforts to dry out their belongings after a flood filled their houses with five feet of water. You hear the story of these people, living without clean running water three months after it happened, and your heart begins to hurt.
But God is at work there, and I was blessed to catch a glimpse of Him in those people. No clean water, damaged possessions, and the most joyful smiles I’ve ever seen. In America, we are a material-based society that’s drowning in excess; one winter coat just isn’t enough, so we have six. Like those pair of shoes? Buy them in all five colors, just because. Within the village of June 22, their happiness was not based on the clothes they wore or the brand of the couch they had. They praised God with a joyful smile in the middle of a muddy field, because they knew He was at work, watching and providing for them every step of the way.
Like the Israelites, God is in the midst of June 22, providing in the way He sees fit, so that they will know that He is Yahweh their God. Perhaps it’s time we go through that file marked ‘unanswered prayers’.