We do not know what we ought to pray for. (Romans 8: 26)
Often it is simply the answers to our prayers that cause many of the difficulties in the Christian life. We pray for patience, and our Father sends demanding people our way who test us to the limit, “because . . . suffering produces perseverance” (Rom. 5: 3).
We pray for a submissive spirit, and God sends suffering again, for we learn to be obedient in the same way Christ “learned obedience from what he suffered” (Heb. 5: 8). We pray to be unselfish, and God gives us opportunities to sacrifice by placing other people’s needs first and by laying down our lives for other believers.
We pray for strength and humility, and “a messenger of Satan” (2 Cor. 12: 7) comes to torment us until we lie on the ground pleading for it to be withdrawn. We pray to the Lord, as His apostles did, saying, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17: 5). Then our money seems to take wings and fly away; our children become critically ill; an employee becomes careless, slow, and wasteful; or some other new trial comes upon us, requiring more faith than we have ever before experienced.
We pray for a Christlike life that exhibits the humility of a lamb. Then we are asked to perform some lowly task, or we are unjustly accused and given no opportunity to explain, for “he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and . . . did not open his mouth” (Isa. 53: 7).
We pray for gentleness and quickly face a storm of temptation to be harsh and irritable. We pray for quietness, and suddenly every nerve is stressed to its limit with tremendous tension so that we may learn that when He sends His peace, no one can disturb it.
We pray for love for others, and God sends unique suffering by sending people our way who are difficult to love and who say things that get on our nerves and tear at our heart. He does this because “love is patient, love is kind. . . . It is not rude, . . . it is not easily angered. . . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Cor. 13: 4– 5, 7– 8).
Yes, we pray to be like Jesus, and God’s answer is: “I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Isa. 48: 10); “Will your courage endure or your hands be strong?” (Ezek. 22: 14); “Can you drink the cup?” (Matt. 20: 22).
The way to peace and victory is to accept every circumstance and every trial as being straight from the hand of our loving Father; to live “with him in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2: 6), above the clouds, in the very presence of His throne; and to look down from glory on our circumstances as being lovingly and divinely appointed.
I prayed for strength, and then I lost awhile
All sense of nearness, human and divine;
The love I leaned on failed and pierced my heart,
The hands I clung to loosed themselves from mine;
But while I swayed, weak, trembling, and alone,
The everlasting arms upheld my own.
I prayed for light; the sun went down in clouds,
The moon was darkened by a misty doubt,
The stars of heaven were dimmed by earthly fears,
And all my little candle flames burned out;
But while I sat in shadow, wrapped in night,
The face of Christ made all the darkness bright.
I prayed for peace, and dreamed of restful ease,
A slumber free from pain, a hushed repose;
Above my head the skies were black with storm,
And fiercer grew the onslaught of my foes;
But while the battle raged, and wild winds blew,
I heard His voice and perfect peace I knew.
I thank You, Lord, You were too wise to heed
My feeble prayers, and answer as I sought,
Since these rich gifts Your bounty has bestowed
Have brought me more than all I asked or thought;
Giver of good, so answer each request
With Your own giving, better than my best.
~Annie Johnson Flint
Cowman, L. B. E.; Reimann, Jim (2008-09-09). Streams in the Desert: 366 Daily Devotional Readings (p. 194). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.