What do you do when you pray for something and God answers, but not in the way you were thinking He would? What do you do when He answers your prayers in a way that you didn’t even anticipate or imagine could ever happen? What do you do when it seems like God decided to answer your prayers in the most difficult way possible?
Recently, I was in a situation that I had prayed about for months on end. I had prayed that I would have opportunities to make Him known in this situation. I had prayed that God would prepare hearts to hear about Him during this situation. I had prayed that God would work in peoples’ lives and bring them to a place where they would be most receptive to Him and to understanding their need for Him.
Boy, did He answer. But not in the way that I was hoping He would. In fact, He answered in a way that I never imagined… that I could have never planned for.
I spent several hours in prayer in the wee hours of the night during this situation – this very situation I had prayed about for more than six months. And yet, here I was. On my knees. Doubled over in agony of heart. Praying still. Praying like I had never prayed before.
I had made some very specific requests to God. All of which I know were pleasing to Him. I’m confident of that. But I wasn’t prepared for Him to respond outside of what my brain could fathom. I wasn’t expecting it to be this… heart-wrenching.
I asked that people would be made most receptive to Him. I asked for an opportunity to glorify Him. I asked Him to replace my heart of stone with HIS heart, to burden my heart for that which burdened His, to make my heart beat in sync with His so that I could walk in step with Him.
The situation wasn’t pretty. It was ugly. Terribly ugly. Even as I type these words, tears flow. Because muscle memory kicks in and my heart remembers the weight of it all. Because my heart cannot bear such things.
The Lord opened my eyes like never before to sin’s rampant destruction of this world: of hearts, of relationships, of marriages, of churches, of neighborhoods, of schools, of lives.
The pain that sin brings is too much to bear. How is it that we’re still standing? How is it that we’re still skipping along our merry way? How is it that we’re not shattered and crawling to get from one place to the next?
I felt the tiniest fraction of what the Father feels when He looks down on this world He created – this world His Son died for. The tiniest fraction and I could barely stand. I could barely breathe. I could barely do anything but let out a heavy, heaving, snot-running-down-my-face-but-I-don’t-even-care sob.
Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” | Matthew 26:38
These are the words Jesus spoke to His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane before His betrayal and arrest. Such heavy words. And yet I hadn’t given much thought to them before today. In taking our sin upon Himself, Jesus was driven to such agony, such sorrow – “even to death.” I couldn’t bear the anguish sin brought about in the lives of a handful of people for a mere twelve hours.
But Christ bore all, for all, once and for all.
As I sat at the top of that staircase, chest heaving, snot running, the Lord revealed much to this feeble heart. He reminded me how the terrible things in my past had prepared me to understand this particular situation. He reminded me that this situation was nearly a decade in the making. Though a decade ago I had no idea what was beginning, He knew. And He prepared me. He equipped me. He grew me and changed me over ten years for this very situation. And then I understood:
The sorrows of my past had purpose.
I was in utter disbelief. A decade ago I was a train wreck. Those were sorrows I had accepted as irredeemable. But here, a decade later, God gave purpose to those sorrows and redeemed those years of bitterness and deepest anguish. He allowed me to feel just the tiniest fraction of what His heart feels on the regular. Ten years ago, I couldn’t understand it – I couldn’t even see God in the midst of it.
My, how He works!
And so my prayer in those wee hours of the night teetered back and forth from deepest sorrow to highest praise. Sorrow in witnessing the pain and pervasiveness of sin, of witnessing it’s merciless destruction, of experiencing darkness trying so hard to extinguish the flickering, feeble flame of my heart. Praise in realizing He is sovereign, He is good. Praise in witnessing my suffering given purpose, in understanding how deeply sin grieves His heart, in comprehending the height and width and depth and breadth of His merciful love towards us. Sorrow and praise. Teeter totter. Up and down. Back and forth.
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. | Luke 22:44
The tiniest fraction is all I know. But I’m thankful for it. And I press on, praising Him for answering my prayers in a way I didn’t think He would, in a way a couldn’t anticipate or imagine. I press on, praising Him for answering my prayers in the most difficult, heart-wrenching way possible, because it was through such heaviness of heart that I came to understand His love, His sovereignty, His perfect will on a grander scale.
Thank You, Jesus, for drawing me to Yourself, for giving me a glimpse into Your heart, for redeeming the irredeemable. Thank You that though my heart cannot bear such things, Yours can and does.