Getting hurt by people is hard. Getting hurt by what God allows can feel unbearable. While I might phrase my disillusionment as a question of why or how, when I lay my head on my tear-soaked pillow, questions can turn into bitter feelings. I probably wouldn’t want to raise my hand at Bible study and admit I’m honestly struggling to forgive God, but I have questions around this. I have hurt feelings. Maybe you do too. That’s where I was last week.
For seven days now I’ve been praying, “God, help me to see what is in front of me as my answered prayer.” And I’ll be honest with you, my brain keeps firing alarming statements of resistance to this whole idea. But, as I’ve also looked at what God’s Word teaches us about the way God provides for us and why I might not interpret what I’m seeing correctly, I’ve been quite blown away. In a good way. Too good for me not to share this with you.
Since trust in relationships is built in part with good communication, then more effectively praying has to play a role in my trust with God. I’ve been praying for almost as long as I’ve been living. But I’ve very rarely had the thought to look around at my life and see today, this moment, in this season, as the answered prayer.
When I think about prayer requests, I think of what I “hope” God will do… not what “has been done” for today.
The reason I miss seeing what I’m living today as the answer to my prayers is that very often, maybe even always, it’s not what I thought it would be. God’s answers don’t look like what I have pictured so clearly in my mind.
And this is what complicates my prayer life; it all feels so unknown and uncertain.
At times I’ve seen my prayers as wishful requests that feel good to make but deep down I know are not very likely to happen. Like throwing a penny in a fountain or thinking of my deepest desire just before blowing out my birthday candles. I keep doing it but truly expect very little.
Or, I’ve looked at prayers like Amazon Prime deliveries. I want what’s delivered to look like what I expected and to arrive in record time. The answer will be delivered to my front door right away, and I feel so close to God because He did what I wanted! But there’s something too human and predictable about that being the way prayer actually works. Then my prayers become orders I place, the answers as cheap as products, and the sender nothing more than a far-removed entity I give little thought to until I need something else.
With prayer, I’ve expected too little of God and too much of myself. I’ve expected an infinite God to reduce His vast ways of doing things down to only what I can think up and pray for.
I want to change this. I want to come to God with my needs, my desires, my desperate longings, and recognize whatever He places before me is His daily bread. Yes, people may create chaos that’s not from God. And yes, the brokenness of this world may bring brokenness to my reality. But in the midst of this, there is good provision from God! That’s what I must look for and make the choice to see.
When Jesus taught us what to pray each day, His first request was for daily bread. But isn’t it true that bread took on many different forms in the Bible? Sometimes it looks like a loaf from the oven (Leviticus 2:4), other times like manna from Heaven (Deuteronomy 8:3), or best of all like Jesus who declared Himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:35).
But if His provision doesn’t look like what we expect, we might not recognize that what’s in front of us is His bread. As 1 Corinthians points out,
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. — 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT, emphasis mine
Only God can see what’s missing in our lives as we ask for His provision. We feel the ache of a need and naturally fill in the blank of what we think we need. But our lives are like a jumble of puzzle pieces. We are just slowly putting things together piece by piece, and while we make some connections of how things fit together, we don’t yet see the full picture. Therefore, we can’t possibly know exactly what’s missing.
God sees it all crystal clear.
He’s never unsure or afraid or intimidated by the gaps. He allows missing pieces so that we don’t have to do it all on our own. This is where His provision fits in. He always sees the shape of the missing pieces and gives us a portion of Himself, which sometimes looks like a loaf, other times manna, but most of all like Jesus.
All three are God’s perfect provision. But with our human eyes, we would probably only recognize the loaf of bread as good and most fitting, and what a tragedy that would be. We may be crying because nothing looks like a loaf while we have manna all around us or, even better, Jesus Himself.
The loaf of bread may be what I want from God — maybe even what I expect from God — but if it doesn’t look like I think it should, it can make me question His love or maybe even begin to resent Him for not coming through. I want His provision to look the way I think it will. But isn’t the loaf the least miraculous of all the forms of bread? It’s the kind of provision we have to work to receive from the ground. We harvest the wheat and process it and then bake it — all with our own hands. But maybe that’s what I like so much about the loaf of bread. Since I’m working for it, I have a sense of control.
Manna, on the other hand, represents what God simply gives. The manna that fell from Heaven for the children of Israel was God’s perfect sustenance for their desert living. It looked more like little seeds or flakes than loaves of bread. And yet it came directly from God day by day, not from nature, and kept more than two million Israelites alive in the desert for the forty years they needed it. It was miraculous. But even with manna, people had some part to play. They had to go outside their tents to pick it up. They didn’t grow it, but they could count on it consistently. So control and consistency make me feel like I’m trusting God when in reality I’m just counting on Him to the level that He comes through for me.
Let’s not forget the best kind of bread, though, which is the bread of life: Jesus Himself. This isn’t provision we work for or provision we simply pick up; this is provision in Christ deposited inside of us that nourishes and sustains us all the way down to our souls. Jesus is the most miraculous provision, and the one already given to us today, but maybe the one least recognized as being everything we need. And the one we struggle to trust because He is the provision we can neither control or consistently demand be delivered on our timetable. Ugh… that’s not a fun sentence to read, but it is important to consider.
If we have Jesus today, we are living in answered prayer and perfect provision. The one who brings about good, even from the awful we are seeing with our physical eyes, is actively working on our behalf right now. In 1 John 2:1 Jesus is called our advocate, meaning He sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). He is talking to the Father about you right now in ways that, if you could hear Him, would make you never afraid of what is in front of you. You wouldn’t question His love for you or His goodness to you. Therefore, we don’t need to forgive God. We need to trust Him.
Now, I know you might be saying, “Look, Lysa, what’s in front of me is awful, so this doesn’t make me want to trust God more. It makes me trust Him less!” I understand that. I’ve thought about my friends — One is sitting beside her daughter’s bed in the hospital, hearing heartbreaking news from the doctor. Another will be going to bed alone tonight, because her now ex-husband is with someone else. And the other is still emotionally paralyzed with anxiety. So I could imagine them saying to me, “I just want my daughter healed, my husband to come home, and my anxiety to go away. I just want my loaf of bread to look like the provision from God I expected.”
I know, dear friend. I know. I feel the same way about some of what’s in front of me right now too. Hard stuff that still makes me cry.
But if God isn’t giving His provision to us in the way we expect right now, then we must trust there’s something God knows that we don’t know. We may see it in time, or not until eternity. But until we see it, we can know with certainty that what He gives us truly is His good provision, whether that good is for today or part of a much bigger plan. Even when what we see in front of us feels confusing. Even when what we see in front of us isn’t at all what we thought it would look like. Even when we don’t agree that this is good. We don’t have to understand God to trust Him.
- S. Lewis created a beautiful word picture I like to think of when I cannot understand what God is doing. He told us to think of ourselves as a house God is renovating. We think we know what work needs to be done — maybe some small repairs here and there — and then He starts knocking down walls. We are confused and feeling the pain of this level of rebuilding. But maybe His vision is much different than ours. “You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”1
We see a cottage. God sees a palace. We see destruction. God sees construction. We see only what the human mind can imagine. God is building something we cannot even fathom. It’s not what we wanted, but it is so very good. And in the end, maybe it’s not what God is working on but how God is working in us that matters most of all.
So, pray what you know to pray. Pray what you need to pray. Pray all the words and let the tears flow into sobs and demands and frustrations and doubts mixed with hope. But then let the faithfulness of God interpret what you see. Let the faithfulness of God build your trust. Let the faithfulness of God ease the ache of your confusion and bitterness and bewilderment.
God’s faithfulness isn’t demonstrated by His activity aligning with your prayers. It’s your prayers aligning with His faithfulness and His will where you become more and more assured of His activity. Even if, maybe especially if, His activity and His answers don’t look like you thought they would.
Excerpted with permission from Forgiving What You Can’t Forget by Lysa TerKeurst, copyright Lysa TerKeurst.
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