Prayer is essential to the Christian faith. We are told throughout Scripture to call out to the Lord and Jesus gives us several examples of this including The Lord’s Prayer and my personal favorite, John 17, in which Jesus prays for Himself and for all believers just before the crucifixion. In each of these examples, Jesus teaches us to pray within the will of God the Father.
When it comes to prayer, I’ve prayed many prayers that I thought needed a certain answer. We can all relate to prayers of healing for a specific ailment, salvation of a loved one, or prayers for the sale of a home. These type of prayers are made with a specific answer in mind. In essence, they are a petition to God, a request made to fulfill a specific need. The books of 1 Samuel and Daniel use the term “petition” asked of the Lord many times. We are also instructed to present our requests to God in this way as noted in Philippians 4:6:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Thank God in Prayer
I have become quite versed in the asking, presenting, and petitioning but often need to work on the “with thanksgiving” part if I’m being honest. Thanksgiving in prayer and thanking God for answered prayer is something I have personally been working on. This includes thanking God for the answer to that prayer before it’s answered in faith that He will not only answer it but He will answer it in the absolute best way. But what happens when the answer to our petition, our specific prayer is not what we expect? God’s best way is often different than what we think is the best way.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9
God’s ways are not always understood by human minds. This is why we can often stumble in obedience because we just can’t understand how the pieces fit together. In 2 Kings 5 we learn about Naaman’s experience with unmet expectations. He was not a believer but God had planned to use Him. Naaman was the commander of the Aram army, a well-known and mighty warrior. But he suffered from leprosy. He was indirectly referred to the prophet, Elisha, for healing by his wife’s young maid. Let that sink in. The army commander was referred by a servant girl who had been captured in a raid on Israel. There is so much to learn here but let’s start with her.
Obedience Over Revenge
Scripture refers to her as a “little girl” at the time of her capture. We are not quite sure how young she would have been but at any age, I’m sure being held captive as a servant in a foreign land was not something she had prayed for or desired. Her father and any brothers were most likely killed in the raid and the women divided as spoil. This was not uncommon in this time period but her circumstances were certainly unexpected as we can speculate this was not the plan she had for her life. When it came to her captor’s leprosy, she could have harbored revenge in her heart and not shared about Elisha, the prophet. She could have thought this was God’s punishment for attacking the people of Israel and smirked on the inside. But she didn’t.
God will use our unexpected circumstances for His purposes if we have a willing heart.
God planned to use her unexpected circumstances for good and she spoke up. I imagine this took a lot of courage. The people of Aram did not worship the God of Israel. We all know how intimidating it can be to speak to unbelievers in similar situations but Naaman, the great warrior, was more intimidating than the average person.
Have you ever hesitated to tell someone about God? I know I have. It’s honestly one of the most difficult things for me to do. Now imagine that particular someone is your master and has the potential to inflict punishment if you speak out of line. But she stayed true to her beliefs and she did speak up. God used her unexpected position to spark a journey for Naaman that would lead not only to his physical healing, but also his spiritual healing and perhaps that of many others. We don’t hear anything further about this young girl but we have much to learn from Naaman.
Naaman spoke to the king of Aram, who told him to visit the prophet by way of the king of Israel. Naaman set out to visit the king of Israel with gifts of silver, gold, and clothing.
Our expectation is the soil that grows disappointment.
Naaman had an expectation that he would be healed either by orders of the king or receive special healing by the prophet due to his high ranking status and presentation of wealth. However, if you read through Chapter 5 that is not what happened. The king of Israel was outraged and offended by this request specifically stating, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?” 2 Kings 5:7 (ESV).
When Elisha hears of this, he asked the king to send Naaman to him so might know the power of the God of Israel. Elisha does not meet or speak directly to the great army commander but instead sends a messenger instructing Naaman to wash in the Jordan River seven times and he will be healed. Naaman was less than impressed by this response and leaves in anger stating, “I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.” (2 Kings 5:11)
The answer and method of delivery God prompted Elisha to provide was part of His plan for Naaman’s growth.
Naaman had arrived with horses and chariots and expected great pomp and circumstance to accompany his healing. He had a glamorous idea of healing in his head. Washing in the dirty Jordan River was not glamorous and certainly did not meet his expectation. Therefore, he determined it would not work.
God I know just how you should answer this.
Have you ever asked God for something and thought you knew just how He should answer? This can be dangerous territory for several reasons. When we expect God to do something a certain way, we are essentially asserting that we know the best possible solution for our circumstance. This puts us in the position of knowing and God in the position of obeying. Does this sound a little backwards to you? If God is omniscient (all-knowing), shouldn’t we be obedient to His commands instead of assuming we know the way?
I am guilty of getting this backwards more times than I care to admit. When the Holy Spirit convicts me of this, I find it helpful to read Job 38-40. These chapters put me in my place, bringing me to a level of humility where my prayers can now be more effective. I love how the NLT states it in Job 40:1-2:
Then the LORD said to Job, “Do you still want to argue with the Almighty?
You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?”
I am seriously humbled, every single time. How could we not be?
Initially, I was shocked by Naaman’s arrogance and refusal to accept the instruction he was given for healing. In Naaman’s time, a diagnosis of leprosy was a serious matter. I would assume most people would try anything for a cure. Besides, washing seven times in the Jordan River couldn’t possibly be the worst thing a great warrior had to endure. Yet, how many times does God give us a command or nudge to do something that we choose to ignore? In our moments of clarity, we know God’s instruction is best and for our good but yet we have what I now refer to as a “Naaman moment” and express discontent with the answer to our request saying, “God, I couldn’t possibly do that, anything but that.” You too?
God’s answer will not always meet our expectation.
In this story, Naaman continues to rant over his unmet expectations and offers several other rivers that he perceives would be “better” for healing. He is not a believer at this point but as a believer, I can still relate. I have found myself pleading with God on more than one occasion in a similar manner to Naaman’s that goes a little something like this: “God, I asked you for ______ and instead you gave me _______.” I suspect we all may be able to fill in those blanks.
Humility comes before healing.
Naaman’s saving moment was when his servants convinced him to humble himself and take Elisha’s advice. Once again, the great army commander receiving the counsel of servants. He then agrees to follow in obedience and dip himself in the Jordan River seven times and was healed of leprosy as a result. He became a believer proclaiming the God of Israel as the one true God on the spot, his life forever changed by humble obedience. God not only used the servant girl to direct him to Elisha, he used servants to humble Naaman into obedience.
Friends, we also need these voices of reason in our lives to redirect us in our periods of defiance. Those times when we know what we are called to do or what we should do but our pride, fear, feelings of inadequacy, or lack of faith limits us. It is so important for each of us to have truth speaking, God fearing friends in our lives to guide us in our Naaman moments and remind us God does not answer to us. He is not bound by our expectations.
God is not bound by our expectations. What we call unexpected has been expected by God since before the world began. Nothing surprises Him, nothing at all.
I have prayed several prayers over the years, many of them specific. I specifically prayed for women in my life to guide me in truth and light and I can tell you God provided that in an Ephesians 3:20 kind of way. I could give you example after example of specifically answered prayers. But I can give you just as many examples of prayers that were answered very differently than I ever expected and some that from my human viewpoint, have yet to be answered. I had an expectation of God just like Naaman had an expectation. But thankfully, God is not bound by our expectations.
God’s answer is sometimes no, not yet, or this way instead.
Sometimes God answers our prayers with a “no”, “not yet”, or “this way is best” answer that can be significantly different from our expectation or how we would have answered it (again, Job 40:1-2). Naaman holding fast to his expectation almost caused him to miss out on his healing, both physical and spiritual. Just like Naaman, we are not called to understand, only to trust. God alone is omniscient and I personally will read the story of Naaman and God’s response to Job as often as I need to remind myself of this. I also pray we are humble enough to receive wisdom from those to whom God grants it, regardless of social structure or perceived status so we don’t miss out on opportunities for healing and growth in the unexpected places, such as our own version of the “wrong river”.
We need godly influences in our lives.
I thank God for women like many of you who encourage me, guide me, and when needed, turn me in the right direction in my “Naaman moments”. If you do not have spiritually sound friends and mentors to lean on I encourage you to petition God to place people in your life who will do just that. I can assure you that is one prayer He loves to answer with an astounding, “Yes!”. Just keep in mind they may not fit the mold you expect.
As we dive into this series of Unexpected over the next month, I want to share stories of women who have found God in the unexpected and responded in faith. Women who have used their circumstances to grow in their faith and as a result, glorify God. I hope they encourage you as much as they have encouraged me. In this introductory post, I want to leave you with two important steps to dealing with the unexpected. We will unpack these more throughout this month.
Two Important Steps to Deal With the Unexpected
First, immerse yourself in the Word of God every single day. What we store up in the easy times gets us through the hard times. It might be a silly analogy, but we have a ton of squirrels in our tree lined yard. They are constantly gathering and storing up nuts and any food they can find. It’s this constant storing up during the warmer months that allows them to survive the cold winter months. The same is true for us. We should be like squirrels, storing up the Word of God even in the warm times in order to survive the bitter cold that will eventually come at some point (or many points) in our journey through this broken world.
Second, surround yourself with godly influence. Seek out spiritually strong women and get to know them. There is a saying you are like the five people you spend the most time with. If that’s the case, Lord give me Jesus and four God-fearing people to spend my time with. In all seriousness, we grow from one another as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). God gifted us with the church, the community of believers, for a reason. He knew we would need it.
Expect the Unexpected and Prepare Ahead
These two steps are a must in order to navigate the unexpected circumstances of a broken word. We must know the Word of God and surround ourselves with other believers to help us stand firm in our faith when the storm winds come. That is the only way we will be able to Stand Up, Shake Off the Dust, Straighten Our Crown, and WALK FORWARD CONFIDENTLY GROUNDED IN TRUTH!