So, in Heaven there's a big warehouse.
A storage facility freely open to the public, but rarely visited. Dust gathers. Now and again a freak draught makes a breeze that blows dust bunnies along the floor and they collect in corners. It's silent, deserted.
This is the storehouse for answers to prayers that nobody asked for.
Billy Graham said: 'Heaven is full of answers to prayers for which no-one bothered to ask.'
Some time in the future (only you know when) I am quite sure that I won't be able to resist coming to have a look round this place. Do you remember the old game shows on telly in the seventies where the compere at the end used to say, 'And here's what you could have won!' I imagine it'll be a bit like that.
In this vast place there are heavy duty racks that stretch up far overhead. There are boxes and files and packages and more boxes. They are all labelled with contents inventoried. It's very organised.
There's a shelf with my name on it, and to my horror this shelf stretches into the distance before there's another name tag.
It turns out that there were a lot of answers to prayers that I never prayed.
Lord God, you had so much for me that I never asked for. Problems that I never laid before you; either because I thought I could manage on my own (how did that work for me? I guess I'll know by then) and also things that I just didn't trust you with. Prayers unprayed. Solutions to difficulties that I chose by default to struggle through on my own.
Unnecessary pain that I went through? Suffering that might have been avoided? Uncertainty that could have been turned to confidence?
Times in my life when things could have been so much better with your input, but I left you out.
How does that make you feel? Do you shrug your shoulders and marvel at my shortsightedness? I made my bed and then I tossed and turned on it? Do you watch with interest as I collapse beneath the weight of a burden that you were waiting to help me bear?
Or do you grieve for the opportunities that I ignore, for the chances that pass me by, whispering, 'Poor child. Ask me. Ask me.'
'You do not have, because you do not ask God.'
I am learning so much about prayer. I think it might be a lifetime's course of study and at the moment there are parts of the course that are just too hard for me and chapters that I skim over without really taking them in.
I recognise that sometimes I start to pray and I'm so preoccupied with my agenda that I start out giving it all to you and then get distracted into trying to work out what to do about something that I turn away and walk off. Alternatively, the more I pray, the more I see the need to pray. There's an endless list; the need for you stretches as far as the eye can see. There is so much worry, so much pain, so much fear, grief, hatred, confusion; it's everywhere. There's so much that I get overwhelmed; not even in a selfless sort of way - I get overwhelmed just by my own neediness. I'm not sure where to start. So I stop.
I know, it makes no sense. But there it is.
No wonder there's a warehouse in heaven with a shelf that's all mine.
I really, really don't want to get to heaven and find that I might have been so much more; made a real difference, but I didn't ask, and so you never gave me what I needed.
What if everyone is like me, to some degree? (perish the thought). What if we could be so much more powerful than we are, but we don't ask for the power. We don't ask for the wisdom, the courage, the discernment, the insight, the words? Would we be in a completely different place if we only asked you? Would the world be a better place if we consulted the Maker's instructions more often?
I reckon it would. And I'm starting to realise that maybe it's not all down to the Archbishops and the church leaders and visionaries and clergy. Maybe among those boxes of unasked-for answers there might be some things that might have made a real difference to me, to my family, to my church, to my town, my country, my world...? They were tools for me, ME - but I never picked them up or learned how to use them.
Perhaps I'm over-simplifying this whole thing. It could well be that my metaphor doesn't stand up to such scrutiny... but I think I might be onto something, am I?
What do you have for me that I don't have because I don't ask?
What could you do through me that you can't do because I don't give you the chance?
What should I pray for that I'm not?
What should I bring before you that I'm hiding away, thinking that I have it under control?
In 'Jesus Lives' * Sarah Young writes that you warn us:
'Beware of dividing up your life into things that you can do and things that require my help.'
This is exactly what I'm talking about. The truth is that I compartmentalise my life and only let you into bits of it. How much better, richer, more satisfying, more successful might it be if only I laid it all in front of you? Because without you I can do nothing. Any ideas I might have to the contrary are just illusions.
Lord, help me be faithful in prayer. Persistent, like the lady in the Bible who knocked and knocked and got the guy out of bed to answer her just to stop the knocking. Help me keep asking and not lose heart, or start to take over myself. Help me to pray instead of just saying that I'll pray about something. Help me to pray from the heart instead of just with my lips.
Inspire me to pray.
Give me wisdom to pray.
Lead me to pray with your Holy Spirit.
Show me what I could change if only I would pray.
More faith, please, Lord. I want those boxes of answers to prayer to be delivered, not just languishing in dust. I don't want to miss all the opportunities you have for me.
'So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.'
Father God, let's start at the beginning.
I'm asking you to help me pray, and to develop my prayer life into something effective that you can work through.
I am seeking you, and I know that you have promised that you'll be found.
Lord, I'm knocking. I want that door to be wide, wide open.
*Jesus Lives by Sarah Young, Thomas Nelson 2009
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