Many months ago on a Thursday night, my mom handed me her cell phone to read a text she had just received. It said something to the effect of, “I don’t have Bekah’s number so please tell her that God wants her to know that it’s ok to pray selfish prayers.”
My immediate, snarky response was, “God is SUCH a teenage girl. I really wish He would talk TO me and not ABOUT me.”
After a couple of days, though, I began to wonder what such a statement said about me and my prayer life. If she really had heard from God (which I still highly doubted since her “word” was confirming NOTHING that God was already working in my life), what could it possibly mean?
Selfishness is not exactly a fruit of the Spirit, so could it mean I needed to pray more about personal things? I was aware of my own tendency to hide from intimacy with my Heavenly Father by talking TO Him about the needs of others instead of spending time WITH Him conversing about daily life. Maybe He meant that He wanted me to pray the prayers for which I had already assumed His answer was going to be “no.” I don’t do rejection, so why ask something I know He won’t give me?
After more than a month of rolling this idea around in my head, I received some news that allowed a selfish desire of my heart to suddenly have “Yes” as a potential answer. So I stepped out on “faith” and prayed, “Ok, God, if you want me to pray a selfish prayer, here it is.” And I asked Him to please let me have this thing that I had never previously even allowed myself to consider. Simply praying for this thing opened up my heart to vulnerability and risk of rejection; rejection from a person and perceived rejection from God.
“But,” I thought, “surely God wouldn’t tell me to pray a selfish prayer and then say ‘No.'”
But “No” was most definitely the answer, as the secret desire of my heart once again became unattainable as quickly as it had become a possibility.
I tend to be a slow learner, so when a ministry position was presented to me a couple of months later, I jumped at the chance. It was my “dream job,” the one for which I had moved back to Chattanooga before I had even finished seminary.
I’d spent the last three and a half years teaching with the assumption that it was just a “season” until God had me ready to do the work He had really called me to. So I prayed for God’s blessing on my plan, and I jumped in feet first.
I verbally resigned my job. I asked my church family to pray for guidance and wisdom as I began making a fundraising plan for this mission/ministry work to which God had obviously called me back. I taught at one seminar, attended another, and began letting people know that I was again working with women in targeted discipleship ministry focusing on sexual brokenneess. Everyone but my students knew I was leaving, and I planned to tell them the week after the second seminar I attended.
But in that one week, everything fell apart. The confirmation wasn’t there, the transition wasn’t working, the leadership of the ministry was encouraging me to stay where I was and pursue fundraising much more conservatively due to potential changes in the ministry. Working at both places part time was no longer a possibility, and I had to choose. And I chose to stay where I am.
For the second time I thought, “God, why dangle a desire in front of me, just to take away again?”
One more time I tried this selfish prayer thing, this time about a house. I found a house. I LOVED the house. I loved the history of the house. I wanted the house. I could afford the house. I pre-qualified for the house. “Finally, I prayed the right selfish prayer. Time to settle in where I am, do what Iove doing, and quit pursuing ‘bigger’ things. What’s bigger than the impact I have on my kids every day? Time to buy a house and settle down.”
One more time, it all fell through and the house was pulled off the market.
Then it went back on the market. And I tried again. And it didn’t work again. Someone else beat me to it.
This time, I was mad. I was mad at the lady and her “word” from God. I was mad at myself for believing it and acting on it, getting my hopes up, only to see them knocked down three times.
Relationships, careers, homes. The needs and desires of most hearts. Nothing inherently evil about any of them, but the answer was “No” all three times.
Finally, I got a little miffed at God. “What gives?” I asked one night through angry tears. “I haven’t asked for anything outlandish or wrong. What’s wrong with me that I can’t have love, ministry, or stability?”
And once again I heard the still, small voice of God for myself for the first time in many months: “You already have all of those things, in abundance.”
I have love. More love from more people than any one person could deserve or truly appreciate in a lifetime.
I have a ministry. I love my students like they were my own kids. I spend more time with them than I would spend with my own kids if I had my own kids to spend time with.
When people say to me now, “God is going to do great things with you,” I get offended. What’s greater than influencing the spiritual formation of the next generation?
I have stability. I have a God who loves me, who never changes. I have a family who stands by me, even when I try to run them off. I have friends who stick close even when I make it difficult for them to do so.
I’ve learned a lot the last few months about selfish prayers and a silent God.
I’ve learned I still don’t know what’s best for me. By praying for the desires of my heart, I saw just how out of line my heart was from the heart of God. Jeremiah was right: The heart is deceitful above all things, and only God truly understands it. But sometimes He reminds us that our hearts even deceive us.
I’ve learned that while I may make a plan, God really does determine my path. I decided I knew what God wanted for me, and I chased after those things, without confirmation, without really even consulting Him. I didn’t pray selfish prayers; I pursued selfish things. BIG difference.
I’ve learned I have a long way to go in understanding what communion and conversation with God really look like. He’s not a genie in a bottle or an oracle who speaks in mystical codes. He is my Father, who wants what’s best for me. And He’s determined to see that I get it, even at the risk of my heart breaking in the process.
Most importantly, I’ve learned that, when He is silent, He is not giving a “yes” but possibly a ‘wait’ or more likely, a “Be still and know that I am God.”
When there is no “Yes,” assume “Be still and know.” I need to know Him more and more until the single selfish desire of my heart is to know Him even more so. Being selfish should be a desire for what is best for me, and He is it.