Be careful what you pray for.” I heard this saying repeatedly growing up. Yet somewhere along the line, I started praying that God would lead, but not through unreasonable hardship. Paralysis, hurricanes, death—we have all heard stories that so often get imposed on God as if He willed them for a greater good. Somewhere I had absorbed this erosive idea about God’s loving character without realizing it.
It was 18 months into the pandemic, and church members had started returning; care groups, Pathfinder troops, and Sabbath Schools were growing. One day, as I sat reflecting on how well things were going, I realized I was where I had not been in ministry for a long time. Life was becoming comfortable. Do not get me wrong, ministry is never without conflict and new challenges. Still, a shift had occurred compared to having to help run a church on life support at the height of a pandemic.
As I was spending time with God, I decided to ask Him an uncomfortable question: What one thing could I do that would make the most difference right away?
Immediately, the thought hit me. Move your devotional time with Me outside. Outside? The thought was a little uncomfortable, but the answer was clear, so I started sitting on our tiny balcony overlooking a dog park for worship. I immediately began feeling a more focused shift in my time with God. Within a week, my wife decided she liked the idea too. Two on this balcony was a bit of a crowd, so it was not long before I found myself back inside each morning as she enjoyed the view. Nevertheless, something had changed for the better for both of us.
What I needed
That fall, I was invited to teach a class at Southwestern Adventist University three days a week, nearly two hours from home. I immediately sensed this was the challenge I had been seeking. Pastoring, driving, and teaching began consuming my time. As I observed my students growing as they learned more about Jesus, I knew I had found my element. The semester ended, and I suddenly realized I was back where I started.
I knew something needed to change, so I surrendered to where God had placed us. While I was teaching, I realized that no loving parent would wish harm upon their child, so I quit praying that God would lead me around hardships. At the same time, I resolved to find new areas to grow the effectiveness of my church. I decided to resume brief doorstep visits with members, despite opposition. All our elders, deacons, and deaconesses were invited to join. We were blessed as we were able to pray for and be a blessing to many. With just two hours a week, we visited about 50 percent of our 500-plus members in 10 weeks.
I was planning for the rest of the year when I got a call. For over a year, I had been working on a project to produce and share free courses on Seventh-day Adventism’s rich contributions to understanding the Bible. From that, I learned about a possible sponsorship opportunity to study and complete a doctorate. I knew this would represent the challenge my wife and I had been praying for. These things usually take a year to process; however, within weeks and over 20 miracles later, my wife and I both found ourselves continuing our education with God’s provision.
Prayers that challenge you
Sometimes when we are most comfortable, it is because we have stopped seeking growth and the discomfort that comes with it. In that position of complacency, we are most vulnerable to just living our lives, pruning our potential, and neutering our ministry effectiveness. If you have stopped praying challenging prayers—that is, prayers that challenge you—maybe it is time to surrender your ideas about who God is and where He wants to take you next.1
- I produced a series by Dr. David Shin on surrendering our ideas as we engage Scripture and God. It is available through the Revival and Reformation YouTube channel or by visiting https://bit.ly/3vVWGLL.