“What’s your shirt about?”
I had just seen a guy by the dumbbell rack at LA Fitness wearing a bright red tee shirt with the words “Spiritual Battle” in bold black letters on the back. He got a funny look on his face and mumbled something about getting it at a retreat. Of course, I knew there had to be some kind of Christian connection, but this was a good conversation-starter. As we chatted, Paul revealed he was working through some pretty big personal issues.
We got together for lunch a few days later and then about every other month for the next year or so until he moved. Over that time, through me and others, God solidified a lot of important things for Paul, and today, he is a vibrant Christ-follower, having a strong impact for the Kingdom.
During our third or fourth meeting, Paul revealed some interesting details. First of all, the reason he was taken aback when I initially approached him was that no stranger had ever spoken to him in the gym before. Secondly, he wasn’t sure why he wore the “Spiritual Battles” shirt that morning. In fact, it was the first and last time he ever wore it. But most interesting was the fact that the very morning we met, he had prayed specifically that God would bring someone into his life to help him sort through the challenges he was facing. So, I was a direct answer to his prayer. How cool is that!
Think about the timing factors that had to fall into place for our relationship to get launched. I go to the gym a couple of times a week on different days and at different times. The day we met, I was there unusually early, so would could have easily missed each other. Then there was the shirt, only worn once. And finally, there was his specific prayer that very day for someone to talk to. God worked all this out behind the scenes, and I was literally an answer to his prayer.
As I look at my own life, I see a mixed bag of answered and unanswered prayers. Just last Saturday, November 10, marked the 48th anniversary of my conversion. There are people for whom I’ve been praying for nearly half a century and who seem no closer to the Lord than they were back in 1970. And then, despite my fervent prayers, there have been the major relationship-related, work-related, and ministry-related disappointments. What’s up with that? Why hasn’t God answered my prayers?
I’ve concluded two things about these contrasting situations – being used by God to answer someone’s prayer and God’s seeming silence about some of my own. First, he certainly can orchestrate circumstances in miraculous ways in response to our prayers, just like he did for my friend Paul. But, for reasons known only to him, he often doesn’t. Secondly, I can be OK with that if I view the situation in light of God’s perfect, 100% love for me. As Tony Evans says, if someone actually dies for you, don’t you think he’s on your side?
So, seeing God miraculously use me to answer someone else’s prayer helps me trust his power, and knowing his perfect love for me helps me relax when I don’t always get my way. Can you say you’ve gotten to this point? I’m not there yet, but I’m getting closer.