Sometimes if I ignore God, he gets more insistent until I have to acknowledge him. It’s like my best girl Ashley says about her mom–if Mom wanted her to vacuum, Ashley would wake up and find the vacuum cleaner on the bed. Subtle. I think it’s more like pet cats bringing dead birds as gifts, but it’ll work for this object lesson.
Typically, and more recently, it goes like this:
God: Remember that thing I’ve been putting on your heart all day every day for quite some time now?
Me: Uh-huh, yep, yeah, I got it. Great word, God. Thanks for that lesson.
God: Yeah, so write it down. Share it with others.
Me: Mmhmm, I will, just one second. I don’t really have time right now…
(A couple days later.)
God: (whispering) Remember that thing?
Me: What was that God wanted me to do?
(A couple days later.)
Me: Didn’t God want me to write about something? Nah, it was probably just my own idea. No big deal. I’ll get to it someday.
Then God leaves a vacuum cleaner on my bed. Sometimes I still ignore it, cuddle up with vacuum cleaner, and then wonder why I can’t sleep at night. I’m amazingly ignorant when I want to be.
My soon-to-be stepson is ten years old, and when he’s asked to take out the trash or something similar, here’s how he responds: “Okay” or “Yes,” and he does it right then. We’re talking, immediately. It wouldn’t matter if he was on the verge of discovering cancer, he would leave his microscope or beaker and do it right away. If he’s in the middle of a video game or a great TV show or a good book, he does the task veryveryquickly (it’s incredible to see a child move that fast), but he never complains.
When I was little and my parents told me to do something, I said, “In a minute” or “But I’m in the middle of–” or “Why do I have to do it?!” I commented about this to my fiancé the other day, and he said the “in a minute” mindset used to be a problem, but he addressed it with his son and now it’s not an issue. How shocking to me that God is repeatedly addressing my “in a minute, God” problem and I still haven’t learned to say “Yes” and drop everything instantly when he speaks.
None of this was what I intended to write about, but I’m learning that when God leaves a vacuum cleaner on your bed, it needs to be acknowledged. So what was the vacuum this time?
It’s about others.
If you go to our church’s prayer gathering, you might recognize 1 Timothy 2:1 from this past Monday: “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” If you’re familiar with Air1, you might recognize it as today’s Verse of the Day.
What does Paul tell people to do first? Pray for all people. Yes, we can present our own requests to God and we definitely should, but first? Pray for others.
Job was a righteous man that God allowed Satan to test. Job lost everything that was important to him, and his three best friends came to “comfort” him by telling him that he brought all his loss and suffering on himself. Job argued with God, but never lost faith. Spoiler alert: in the end, Job was blessed twice as much as when he started. It’s a great story, and definitely one to pull a lot of good lessons from. But there’s one phrase in one verse that jumped out at me last time I read it. Job 42:10 says, “When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before!” The NIV says, “After Job had prayed for his friends…”
What happened first? Job prayed for his friends. Yes, God blessed him, and yes, he wants to bless us. But Job prayed for his friends first, and then God accepted the prayer on his behalf, forgave the friends, and blessed Job.
King Solomon is hailed as the wisest king who has ever lived. Early on in his reign, God appeared to Solomon and said, “I’ll give you what you want if you just ask me.” Sol says, “Sweet. You love me tons and you’re awesome, but here I am trying to lead your chosen people and I have no idea what I’m doing. ‘Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the different between right and wrong.'” (I may have paraphrased the first part of that.)
So God is stoked, and he tells Solomon, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies–I will give you what you asked for! …And I will also give you what you did not ask for–riches and fame!” I used to read this passage (1 Kings 3:5-13) and think, “That’s awesome. I should pray for wisdom like James tells us to do and God will give me riches and fame and super-intelligence.” Then I realized the part of the story I was missing–Solomon didn’t ask for wisdom to benefit himself. Solomon asked for wisdom for others, to treat others with understanding and justice, and to know how to care for this great blessing God had given him by entrusting him with God’s people.
Throughout all these lessons, I’ve realized four different reasons we should be praying for others first. I’m sure there are more, but most of what I’ve learned can be summed up in four very specific reasons.
1. We pray for others because we love God. To love him is to obey him. He tells us to do it. We do it. It’s just that simple.
If we’re not obeying God, we’re saying that we love ourselves more than we love him. (Yes, I realize that says something about me, having openly admitted to ignoring and disobeying him just paragraphs ago. Developing a relationship with another being is a constant lesson in how to love him more than yourself and how to put him before you in all you do. I spent 25 years serving myself first and the past three years fighting to keep my eyes fixed on God. That’s a lot of habit to break, but God is patient with me.)
2. We pray for others because we love them. Again, it’s just that simple.
3. We pray for others because it changes our hearts. Many, many times in my life I have been too hurt or angry or bitter with someone, I couldn’t even find it in me to pray for him. For a while, I actually was praying for the ability to pray for someone. I feel as if there’s something wrong there, but that’s probably a lesson I’ll have to learn another time.
Anyway, the more I pray for a person, the more I begin to love that person. The more I begin to feel compassion for that person. The more I begin to forgive that person. It’s a perspective issue; it’s hard to look at someone with your own eyes when you’re constantly lifting him up in prayer. Praying gives us God’s eyes and God’s heart.
At one point, I was so irritated and bitter about one person, I began praying all day every day (or as much as he came to mind) for him, for my attitude, and that I could see him with God’s eyes and show him Christ’s love. And wow. It was a radical shift. I began to understand where he was coming from. I began to have compassion for him like I’d never experienced for anyone before.
4. We pray for others because it teaches us. I can’t count the times I have been praying for someone else or giving spiritual guidance to someone, and the words that come out of my mouth are not only something I’ve never thought before, but are exactly what I need to hear at the exact time I need to hear it. The Holy Spirit often speaks through us if we let him. It always amuses me when he uses my mouth to speak God’s words to minister to myself. And none of that would happen if I was never praying for or spiritually advising others.
That’s about it for now. Turning off the vacuum until next time I wake up to find it in my bed.