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Please, No Substitutes!

Read: Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 6:7-8; Matthew 7:9-10; James 1:17

In the past, we have ordered one or two things on line to be picked up at a store, but a few weeks ago, we selected a substantial list of items, and a pick up time. The store's employee brought them right to the car. A convenient way, we discovered, to get grocery items. One question we were asked after we had filled our on-line cart was whether or not we would accept substitutes. If something we chose happened not to be in stock, would we allow the one who filled the order to choose a comparable item? I said no because I didn't know either the one who would be choosing for me or what might be available for the choosing. It turned out that all our items were in stock, and the order was filled without a hitch. Such a convenient service, and we appreciated it. Even so, when we order again, we will continue to ask that we receive no substitutes.

If you are like me, sometimes you come to Jesus in prayer with a multitude of requests concerning people and circumstances that all tug on your mind, pulling your thoughts this way and that. It feels like a ping pong match is going on as our thoughts volley from one thing to another. Some requests seem straight forward at least to us. The answer we want from the Lord seems obvious. At other times, we can't fathom what might be the best answer to a dilemma that we or a loved one face.

When it comes right down to it, there is a great deal of mystery surrounding prayer. It is not cut and dried like submitting a grocery list to be filled, and we can't ask the Lord not to substitute if His will is different than our own. His wisdom and ways are not even within the choices that we can even fathom, Romans 11:33-36; Ephesians 3:20. Yet, even though we often don't understand what our Creator/Redeemer is doing in the lives of people for whom we are praying, we know precious truth about Him that can comfort and encourage us at times like these.

1. Romans 8:26-27 reminds us that when we don't know how in the world to pray, the Holy Spirit will pray through us what we would pray if we could know the Father's will. Have you ever known someone so incredibly gifted in an area that you couldn't talk to him about a problem within his area of expertise? It isn't like that with the Lord. He doesn't throw up holy hands and send us away because our requests make no sense to Him. Even though He rarely explains what He is up to in a given area, we know that when we come to Him humbly in prayer, no matter how much we might muddle through it, He takes our inability and exchanges it for His expertise.

2. Matthew 6:6-7 reminds us that we don't have to browbeat God in order to be heard. He is not like the weary parent at the checkout counter whom the child finally wears down so he can finally get that candy bar. The Savior Who gave us Jesus is pleased to give us His help no matter if we need something that seems small or large to us, Romans 8:32. If he withholds something, it is not because He is reluctant to help us.

3. Matthew 7:10-11 reminds us that if God does give us a substitute, rather than our hoped-for answer, it is because we simply can't understand what is good in the situation. Please know that I don't write this truth flippantly. When the Father gives us something very different than what we asked Him for, our hearts might ache, and our tears might fall. If this is the case, we can be assured that God invites us to run to Him and pour out our hearts, Psalm 62:8; Hebrews 4:14-16. When the substitute we receive brings pain, we know that Jesus understands what it is like to feel pain too.

If good parents want to lavish their children with what will be best for them, how much more will the One Who can be nothing but good give to us what is best. After all, He is the One Who first thought up everything wonderful and beautiful, Genesis 1-2; James 1:17.

Lord, Sometimes You answer a prayer in the way we hope. We love that. However, when You do substitute, remind us of Your wisdom and love. Thank You that a day is coming when we will receive more understanding concerning how wonderfully You have worked, especially during those times when we were unable to put the puzzle pieces together.

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