By David Sanford, Crosswalk.com
“God,” Jason prayed, “if You are real, say something. I need to hear You speak to me.” I have heard God speak in vivid detail several times over the decades, but it certainly doesn’t happen every year. Then again, when God speaks, you know it!
Jason, however, waited and waited. As far as he was concerned, God never spoke to him. That’s probably the case. Sadly, Jason was trying to use one of the wrong ways to know God was (and still is) in his life.
3 Wrong Ways to Know God’s in Your Life
1. “God, speak to me.” My friend Jason added, “If You don’t speak to me, God, I’m not going to believe in you anymore.” Unfortunately, Jason had forgotten who the Lord God is. He had forgotten how God works. Then he made an unbiblical demand.
Biblical prayer is how we speak with the Lord God, and how He sometimes chooses to speak with us. The Lord also spoke to the prophets and apostles through visions, dreams, and many other means (Hebrews 1:1).
Rarely, however, do we find a prophet earnestly praying for the Lord to speak to Him right away. One exception is Daniel right before his execution (Daniel 2:13-18).
Bottom line: Unless you are as godly as Daniel, don’t demand that the Lord to speak to you. It’s unbiblical.
2. “God, strike me with lightning.” Again, that’s not how God works. Yet atheists have used this line in public forever. Many others have said, “God, strike me with lightning if I’m lying” or similar. A true Christian who knows God’s Word would never say such a thing.
Granted, James and John asked Jesus for permission to call down fire from heaven, but to destroy a Samaritan city...and the Lord rebuked them (Luke 9:54-55). And Elijah prayed earnestly for the Lord to send down fire from heaven, but only to consume his offering (1 Kings 18:36-38).
Unless you’re as godly as Elijah, don’t pray for lightning.
3. “God, show Yourself to me.” The first and last humans here on earth to see the Lord face-to-face in sinless perfection were Adam and Eve before the Fall (Genesis 2-3).
When Moses asked the Lord to show Himself, the Lord gently but firmly rebuked him (Exodus 33:18-23). In the end, the Lord partially acquiesced to Moses, but the great prophet fell with his face to the ground. In other words, he probably didn’t see the Lord, after all.
3 Right Ways to Know God Is in Your Life
1. “God, I want to sense Your presence.” This may sound similar to the wrong ways above, but this time it’s biblical. We see this frequently in the Psalms, where David and other writers beg the Lord to not forsake them and instead help them know He is near.
2. “God, please answer this very specific prayer.” Again, this is biblical. We see this repeatedly in the Old Testament and again in Acts.
Sometimes these prayers were public. Sometimes they were secret. The latter had special significance. They still do today. As a result, we also can...
3. See God’s providence. This is the Lord’s purposeful guidance and gracious provision. It’s completely outside our influence and control.
We pray in secret, God surprises us, we praise Him, and we know again (even more) that God is in our lives.
How do points one, two, and three work? Usually together. Allow me to share a personal, painful, and yet, ultimately, hope-filled story. It’s a more detailed version of one of 52 such true-life accounts in Amazing Modern-Day Miracles.
During the early days of the Great Recession, my wife Renee and I suffered steep business losses. Clients canceled huge projects in mid-stream, refused to honor contractual terms, and left us with zero income in the weeks leading up to our older son’s wedding. As a husband and father, I can’t begin to tell you how helpless and hopeless I felt.
Renee and I did the math and realized it would cost at least $1,800 or $1,900 for our family of four (including two younger children) to travel to the wedding, pay for the rehearsal dinner, cover other expenses, and travel back home afterward.
Together, the four of us agreed to pray for $2,000 “just in case” and, as always, coveted to tell no one but God. Within a week, we received an anonymous gift for $1,000.
Renee and the kids were thrilled. I felt smaller than ever. Sure, we could get to the wedding, and pay for part of the rehearsal dinner, but what then? I was depressed beyond words.
Sensing my downcast composure, my 10-year-old daughter, Anna, tried to cheer me up. “Dad, hey, do you think that $1,000 came because you were praying? No, it was me! Don’t worry about anything. God is going to provide.” She paused. I didn’t smile.
“In fact,” Anna continued, “I want you to make a deal with me. You don’t pray. Just me. And you don’t get the mail either. Only I can get it. Promise?”
I didn’t respond.
“Okay.” I turned to hide the grief and anger now racing toward my chin. Our trip was slated to start the following Wednesday morning. What kind of father can’t afford to go to his oldest son’s wedding?
The next afternoon, Anna came running in the door and said, “Dad, guess what? The check didn’t come in the mail today. That means it has to come tomorrow, Saturday, Monday or Tuesday. Isn’t that exciting, Dad!”
“Anna, darling, another check isn’t coming. I don’t know why, but God sent only $1,000. That’s all we’re getting.”
Anna smiled. “That’s why you’re not praying and not getting the mail, Dad!”
After school the next day, Anna came skipping into the house with the mail. She was almost giddy. “Dad, you’re not going to believe it! The check didn’t come in the mail today. That means it has to come tomorrow, Monday or Tuesday. Can you believe it?”
No, I can’t believe I’m in this situation, I thought. I can’t believe I can’t afford to go to my own son’s wedding. I felt worse than ever.
Saturday was terrible. When the mailman came by, Anna rushed out the sliding glass door, over to the gate, and ran up to his truck. He handed her our mail for the day. Anna was bobbing up and down when she came back into the house. I’d rarely seen her so excited.
“Dad, I can’t believe it! The check didn’t come in the mail today. That means it has to come Monday or Tuesday.” She couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. I couldn’t contain my anguish, so I quickly turned and walked away.
How can I get her to understand? I wondered. God doesn’t always give us what we think we need. Even here in America, Christians often go through much worse things than this. Still, I’m so embarrassed, so ashamed. I’m such a failure.
I didn’t have a good morning at church the next day. I felt completely dry, empty, and hollow. I honestly couldn’t pray. Why even try?
After school Monday, Anna ran through the front door almost yelling. “Dad, this is so exciting! The check didn’t come in the mail today. That means it has to come tomorrow!” She was literally jumping up and down.
“Anna, you don’t understand. I don’t know what we’re going to do, but no check is coming. We already got $1,000. That’s it.”
Anna just smiled. “I told you. It’s not your prayers. It’s mine.”
Sure enough, Tuesday afternoon Anna ran into the house, jumping higher than ever. “Dad,” she practically yelled, “this is so exciting! The check didn’t come in the mail. That means someone is going to knock on our front door in five minutes and hand it to us.”
In harshest tones I snapped, “That’s never going to happen.”
“But God told me.”
“God didn’t tell you that!” I yelled. I was so furious. I couldn’t bear the now inescapable shame that lay ahead of me. Why? Why!
A few minutes later I had started to cool off. When I heard the doorbell, I yelled again, but more politely, for Anna to take care of it. Thirty seconds later, she flew into the kitchen with the biggest brown eyes possible.
“Pastor Jim just came to our door. He can’t say who, but somebody came by his office and said, ‘God impressed upon me that the David and Renee Sanford family needs help. I feel it’s urgent. You’ll see they get this within the hour, won’t you?’”
I couldn’t hold back the tears. “I am so sorry, Anna. I said terrible things. I said God did speak to you. He really did. Will you forgive me?”
I’ll never forget how hard she hugged me. After a minute she whispered in my ear. “I told you it was my prayers.” I laughed, hard, for the first time in weeks. Then Anna handed me the check, signed by the pastor, in the amount of $1,000.
Yes, I’m hard-headed, but eventually, I catch on. And want to do it again and again.
Recently Renee and I needed to buy another car. We hadn’t talked about it with each other, let alone with anyone else. Each of us simply started praying about the need. We trusted God would prompt our spouse to do the same.
A few days later, Renee received a phone call from a close family friend. This was shortly after a death in their family. The friend called and asked, “Renee, do you and David need another car?” Well, yes, now that you mention it!
What Does This Mean?
When we pray in secret and then God provides exactly what we need, that’s a clear-cut example of the Lord’s providence. God’s providence includes both His purposeful guidance and His generous provision.
The sooner you start looking for both, the more you’ll know God is really is in your life. It’s also a great way to sense God’s presence. All three will wonderfully increase your faith and trust in the Lord.
Let your wonderful, faith-filled adventure begin!
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Zinkevych
David Sanford’s book and Bible projects have been published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Thomas Nelson, Doubleday, Barbour, and Amazon. His newest book is Life Map Devotional for Men published concurrently with his wife Renee’s new book, Life Map Devotional for Women.