I hate multiple choice surveys.
Ask me a good question, give me enough space and time, and you’re likely to get a response that’s thoughtful, maybe even passionate. Just don’t force me to give canned a-b-c-d answers. Multiple-choice responses rarely represent my true thoughts or feelings. In fact, multiple choice is usually apathy-producing for me.
Why, then, do I so often pray multiple-choice prayers? Do you know what I mean? I’m referring to prayers like:
- God, would You please cause Mary’s medical tests to come out negative, but if she does have to have this frightening illness, would You please give her good doctors and excellent care?
- Father, You know that Tom has an interview for his dream job on Friday. Would You please give him favor with the guy he will be meeting with? But if this is not the job for him, then would You please cause something even better to come along?
- Jesus, I am desperate to (fill in the blank: find a spouse, get pregnant, be reconciled in a relationship, see a prodigal come home etc.). Would you please do this for me? But if not, then would You please help me to be content and trust You anyhow?
I was praying one of those prayers Monday morning when I sensed God saying, No, don’t give Me multiple choice. What do you really want Me to do?
I was surprised. I guess I’d been thinking that I was being polite and submissive by allowing God “options.” Since I’m not always the best judge of what’s best for me and the people I love, I wanted to make a “suggestion” of what seemed good to me, but then allow Him the freedom to do something different, if that seemed better to Him. After all, He knows best. That kind of praying seemed pretty mature and spiritual to me, actually.
But the Holy Spirit pressed me. When you pray multiple choice prayers, you detach emotionally from your desire. You really want Me to do a certain thing, but you’re afraid I won’t do it, so to protect yourself from disappointment, you hedge the request.
I thought of the account of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1. She prayed so desperately for a child that the priest who watched her thought she was drunk. Her prayer was not, “If You please, it would be very nice if you’d give me a child, but if You don’t, well, maybe you could help me to be content with a puppy?” No, Hannah prayed one thing, and one thing only. And she prayed it with deep anguish and bitter tears. She was not ready to settle for less than the thing her heart most desperately longed for.
I also thought of Paul who had a thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12). Paul didn’t give God options—he pleaded with the Lord to take it away! Three times, Paul pleaded and asked God for exactly what he wanted.
In Hannah’s case, God gave her the desire of her heart. In Paul’s, God denied his request and gave him something that turned out to be even better. But in both situations, Hannah and Paul asked for precisely what they most desperately desired. They didn’t give God options to choose from; they prayed for the good things they longed for—and then let God decide how to respond to their requests.
So I took my journal and began writing my longings concerning a specific situation. I was a little surprised by how deep they ran. In allowing myself to express what I so badly wanted, I discovered passion and fervency I hadn’t recognized before. Multiple choice had caused my heart to be guarded, dispirited. But when I was honest about my longings, it’s almost as if my soul woke up from a long nap.
As I lingered with God about my longings, He led me to a Scripture that perfectly expressed my desire. He helped me to see that what I wanted so badly was something that He very badly wants, too. So, instead of multiple choice, this one thing has become my prayer.
Will He answer it the way I envision? I have no idea. He is God and He knows best. But I trust that He can redirect me when I am praying for something He chooses not to give, just as He did Paul. And, just like Paul, I don’t need to be disappointed. I don’t need to “protect” myself with multiple-choice prayers.