My husband and I are born-again Christians.
In the evening, we try our best to have quiet time together, reading a few chapters in the Bible and reflecting on what they mean. Afterwards, we say a little prayer thanking the Lord of our good day, and asking for guidance in the days to come.
So we think about prayers a lot. What they are for, how they are effective and what do they mean.
According to Philippians 4:6, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
In 1 Chronicles 16:11, the Bible tells us to “Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his face continually.”
We believe in God and the powers of prayer, not for what it gives us but rather, because we believe that it’s good to cry our requests to God, to give him thanksgiving, and to leave our concerns up to Him.
I always tell people, “If you are worried or scared, that means you are not trusting in Him enough. Because He always has plans for you, to take care and to prosper you” (Jeremiah 29:11).
So it confounds us when our Christian employees tell us that they’ve been praying for good sales performance every night, and yet right in front of me, I only see consistently low sales performance.
“How is that possible, Bonita?” my husband asked. “If indeed, she is praying for good sales, then how come the Lord does not seem to answer her prayers? Does that mean that prayers are useless?”
Does God really answer prayers?
I looked back on the days when I prayed really hard.
Two examples came to light: 1) When I was in Taipei, I applied for a marketing job at DeBeers, and I prayed to God that I would get the job, and 2) When Trader and I broke up, I prayed to God to open Trader’s heart and make him realize that he loved me once again.
Both times, the Lord didn’t answer my prayers.
In fact, in my hurt and pain for not getting the marketing job at DeBeers and for finding out that Trader technically cheated on me and replaced me a month after we broke up, showing that he had planned the breakup all along, I asked myself if God really answered prayers.
“Lord, why don’t you give me what I wanted?!” I would ask as I wept in my sleep (Note: This was when I was broken-hearted with Trader. “I prayed so hard.”
When the Lord still kept silent, I tried a different prayer, “Lord, what is it you want for me?! Let Your will be done!”
“But please, show me what Your will is RIGHT NOW!” I would add to my prayer. You see, I was very impatient in seeing what the Lord wanted for me. My heart so wanted to be healed, and at that time, it was broken.
Still no answer.
Over time, I healed my heart.
I wasn’t really killed over not getting the DeBeers gig. Anyway, I was still in good employ in a multinational company and wasn’t really in a hurry to leave.
As for Trader, well, I moved on. I traveled around Europe, healed my wounds, and decided to come back home to the Philippines, a decision I’ve chronicled extensively in this blogpost, “Why I Went Back to Manila After 10 Years Overseas.“
I met someone online (See refresher in The Pros and Cons of Online Dating (And How I Met Someone There)), and two years later, I am writing to you today in happily wedded bliss.
I then realized that I was looking at prayers ALL WRONG.
Why do I say that?
I seem to think of God as my personal genie, as if God will grant my wish simply because I asked for them. The same way as we make wishes on our birthday, “Lord, grant me my wish, I beg you…”
But looking back, I think it’s the wrong way of looking at God and prayer.
God is Almighty and is NOT our personal wishing well.
On the contrary, He does what He wants as He pleases.
The only promise we can hold onto is that, although we may not know where He would lead us, we DO KNOW FOR A FACT that He would not lead us to the wrong path (Again, my favorite verse, Jeremiah 29:11).
Prayers however is for us to show Him our deepest desires. He wants to know. He delights in being dependent on. But it is really up to Him whether He wants to grant our prayers or not. And if so, it’ll be in His perfect time, and not in the time we demanded Him to give us.
That is why we don’t seem to feel that God answers our prayers. We feel that He ignores us. That He doesn’t care.
“If you love us and care for us, why can’t you answer our prayers NOW?!” we would cry — not knowing fully well that if God answered our prayers the way we wanted Him to, His plan, which is way better than we could ever have dreamed, could not have come to fruition.
If I got the DeBeers job, I would not have been able to find an even more awesome job six months later. I would’ve crashed and stumbled and failed miserably mostly because I couldn’t speak Mandarin as fluently then as the job would’ve required.
If I stayed with Trader, I would’ve been utterly miserable. I would not have met my husband and his wonderful family.
No, the Lord brought me to places I never even thought existed.
The better way to look at prayer
Instead of looking at God as our personal genie, would it be more fair to actually quiet our heart’s desires and try to listen to what God is telling us?
Why do I say that?
Because it seems that we are so preoccupied in telling God our heart’s desires, that we seem to hold onto our own desires. Because what we want is so strong, we blind ourselves with the possibility that God may want us to follow a different path — His Path.
Looking back at our Christian staff, I discovered how easy it is for her to invoke God into her conversations.
Two months ago, she said, “I was really pushed by God to apply in your company. I feel that this is what He wants for me.”
“I really feel that God wanted me to help your company, Bonita,” she would say. “After I came into your company, I found myself a sense of purpose. I am no longer depressed.”
At first glance, you cannot help but feel how Christianly she is! How close to God is she that she would talk to God daily, and the Lord would show His direction to her. And that, in a way, you were the answer to her prayers.
On our side, we were similarly happy to consider that maybe God is answering prayers through her. Anyway, how can you argue with God’s calling? If God truly wants her to apply in our company — and yes, we do have an opening then — maybe she is truly God’s answer to our prayers (since we were also praying for good people).
However, as I got to know her better, I felt that she was using God as a crutch to further her agenda.
In Matthew 6:5, the Bible warns us, “”And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
Her prayers got her inside the door.
But it should take more than prayers to keep her in the door.
It’s like when she prays for good sales every night, she tells me that she hopes that more people come to our store. That our business would blossom. That she can keep her job. That we can all grow together.
Prayers are good and fine, but I think she has to work on her listening skills.
Whereas she is good in bringing her concerns to God, she is not good in listening to what God is telling her, through us.
“Melissa, I am telling you, your sales are low because on how you manage your people,” I told her a month ago. “If you find that they are not following the rules, you have to discipline them promptly.”
“Yes yes yes, I will do it,” she would answer. And then proceed to hide her people’s faults away from management’s prying eyes.
“Melissa, you have to make people realize that the low sales is a result of them not selling every hour, every day,” I would say. “Do not believe their excuses. Ultimately, they’re not selling because they are not giving their very best.”
“But they told me they are giving me their very best,” she tries to explain. As if now, her people’s excuses are now her very own.
Finally, the nail in the coffin came when she told me this week, “Bonita, after analyzing my results the entire evening, I can tell you that I’ve had low sales this month and last month.”
“THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN TELLING YOU EVERY SINGLE DAY FOR THE LAST THREE WEEKS!” I finally said in exasperation.
It was then that I realized that Melissa doesn’t listen. She has no clue what I’ve been telling her every single day. She cannot comprehend what I’ve been telling her, and is merely holding on to what she believes, which is what she thinks is God’s purpose for her.
“I pray for good sales every night. I cannot sleep,” she says. “I pray that God can tell me what to do so I can do my job better.”
That is when I realized that she was using prayers as a crutch.
As a weapon to keep her job.
To allay our sense of pity in letting her keep her job.
And instead of listening to what God is truly telling her — maybe, that this career path may not be so good for her, or that she has to listen to me, her boss and make drastic changes to herself and her management skills — she chooses to hold fervently to her own prayers.
This is a lesson for all of us — LISTEN TO GOD’s COUNSEL!
When we pray, we also have to listen to God’s counsel.
He talks to us you know. He talks to us through our friends, our colleagues, our parents, and everyone around us. He talks to us through circumstances. God has a way of leading us to the path He wants us to follow.
“If it’s really God’s will for you, He will make the path smooth,” my mother in law once said. “If He makes it too hard, it may be that this is ultimately not His will, and you may have to follow another path.”
I found this to be true especially in my relationship with Hubby.
Our relationship is not perfect, in fact, we went through 16 pre-marital counseling sessions because our pastors saw us as a troubled pair! While most people get only 6, we got a whopping 16 sessions with three different sets of pastors and elders. 🙂
However, I realized that whenever our relationship hit a curb, the Lord always found a way to let us find each other again. When all things seemed hopeless, we somehow managed to find encouragement from those around us. And we never really managed to break up.
On our wedding night, Hubby and I cannot help but thank God’s grace in letting us find each other. There was so many ways our relationship could’ve imploded, and we wouldn’t had made it to the finished line!
It’s the same in Melissa’s case.
She has been praying fervently that she can do a good job. That we can let her keep her job.
And yet, she seems to be fighting against the tide.
For every encouragement we receive that she is not a hopeless case, there is another way that she seems to have lost her way. That she truly is indeed a hopeless case.
The path is not smooth. In fact, sales had suffered 30% under her tutelage.
You can bullshit how you perform your job, but nobody can argue figures. Her sales performance really sucks.
So I think that while I applaud Melissa’s religiosity, I do want to share her story with you so that you can be warned against following her example: Of praying without listening, of using “prayer” and “God” for your own personal agenda.
If it’s truly God’s will, He would’ve found a way to make her management style effective. Results will follow: Her people will follow her, and they will deliver.
Instead, it’s the other way around: Her people does NOT deliver. In fact, they deliver when they are new, and 3-4 days under her tutelage, they all become complacent and lazy, without any reprieve.
So is it God’s will or Melissa’s will?
I think it’s the latter.
You be the judge.
Stay dry and have a good weekend, everyone!