God doesn’t always do the same thing, the same way, every time. He’s not ruled by habit, like I am. Just look at the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s healings and you’ll see what I mean.
Sometimes Jesus healed with a touch, sometimes with a word. Sometimes He healed up close, sometimes from afar. Sometimes He healed with mud, or fingers in the ears. Sometimes he rebuked demons that caused illness. Sometimes the sick person needed to exercise faith, sometimes his friends did, sometimes Jesus healed out of pure mercy. You never knew how Jesus would heal—He rarely did it the same way twice.
This principle is important for us to remember, too. When my husband’s multiple sclerosis symptoms were actively worsening, people often wanted to pray for him. We needed and welcomed their prayers. But sometimes they would add well-intended instructions with their prayers. If we would only pray a certain way, or according to a certain Bible promise, or be prayed for by a certain person, or combine our prayers with a certain spiritual activity, then God would heal Him. After all, that is how God did it for them when they experienced His healing. But that’s not how God chose to work in my husband’s case.
Why do you suppose God doesn’t give us a formula? I’m not sure, but I have an idea. I think it’s because He wants steady, moment-by-moment relationship with us. Check out this example I ran across again the other day while reading in 2 Samuel 5.*
Kind David caught wind that the Philistines were about to attack Israel. So he asked God what to do. “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hands?” (verse 18). And God said he should go, and yes, He would deliver the Philistines into his hands. So David went and it turned out just as God said.
Not long after that, the same thing happened again. The Philistines rallied and got ready for another attack. It was exactly the same situation as before. But instead of assuming that God would operate exactly as He had the last time, David inquired of Him again.
And it’s a good thing he did because God’s answer was different this time. God gave David a different strategy than he had used the previous time. And of course when David followed that strategy, Israel’s army won the victory.
David eventually wrote more than half of the psalms. They show us that his relationship with God was extraordinarily close. His conversations with God were frequent and soul-felt. His dependence on God was undeniable. No wonder God said David was a man after His own heart. David talked to Him about everything! He didn’t lean on his own understanding. He didn’t expect God to act the same way every time.
Sometimes I think that I would like God to give us recipes for following Him and prescriptions for prayer. I usually prefer things black and white, straightforward, and unambiguous. But if God operated that way, He could just give me the user’s manual and I’d go off on my merry way, with no need to check in with Him, no need to seek His counsel or help. I could Do-it-myself through life, thank you very much.
But ultimately, I realize, that is not the life with God I want. In spite of how independently I act sometimes, I want that moment by moment “what are we doing now, God?” kind of conversation. And I want to experience surprise and wonder at the creative ways He works in my life. As long as He knows where we’re going—and He does—then I can inquire of Him each time, as David did. And then my relationship with Him will be fresh–not just the same old, same old.
*Rusty Rustenbach (http://rustyrustenbach.blogspot.com/) first alerted me to this passage in a Navigators’ Listening and Healing Prayer seminar a number of years ago.