“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13, NIV)
Today, on this National Day of Prayer, my mind went back to an email conversation that I had with a skeptical friend many years ago. He had sent me a link to a YouTube video with the caption, “So what’s wrong with this?”
The video was produced by an unbeliever who branded prayer as an optical illusion. He made the point that it doesn’t matter whether you pray to God or a milk jug, the results will be the same.
Okay, I admit that there have been times when God seemed as responsive as a milk jug. You know what I’m talking about — you pray and pray for a certain ‘something’ to happen and when it doesn’t, you wonder if God is even listening.
Fact is (and this was my response to my friend), prayer cannot be primarily understood as a wish list. To be sure, God is our heavenly Father who desires to give us good gifts. But when we want God to remove a painful situation, His good gift might be endurance so we can learn deeper truths of trust and patience. God’s ways are not our ways (Is 55:8).
In the early 1990s, serving as an associate pastor in the DFW metroplex, I was walking past the office when the church secretary intercepted me with an emergency call. A woman had come home from work to find her husband on the floor, stricken by a fatal heart attack. I rushed over and stayed with her and family members for a few hours. Before I left, I volunteered to pray. After I finished, I opened my eyes and the woman was looking heavenward, tears snaking down her cheeks. “God is so good,” she whispered.
The laywoman taught her pastor something that day: prayer is face-to-face communication with God, in bad times and good. The most common term for prayer in the New Testament, proseuche, is a compound word that blends “toward” or “drawing to” with “passion, desire or vow.” In this context, we see that prayer is a moving toward the Lord with heartfelt intensity with no conditions on our circumstances. This is the bottom-line of prayer, to develop an intimate relationship with the Godhead. We do not worship a cosmic Santa Claus, but a Creator-Redeemer who yearns to reveal His heart even when He deems it best not to grant our prayers in the way we demand or desire.
God promises that when we seek Him with our whole heart, then we shall find Him. That’s a promise that a milk jug can never make.