This morning, at 5:12am, after a ride on my stationary bike, I was taking a walk through my neighborhood. As often as I do this, I look up to the heavens and speak to God. This morning started out as any regular ol’ morning. There was no reason to think I was going to meet God differently than before. No special prompting to prayer. No sudden wake up in the middle of the night. Just a routine day . . . so I thought.
As I walked up the final hill before coming in view of my house, continuing to pray, something odd happened. I ran through my normal list of things to bring before God. Nothing special happened then. However, I began to pray about something that has been heavy on my heart recently. Without getting into specifics, it was a prayer for a certain person to change. Now, in truth, I do not know whether this person really needs to change. In other words, I am not sure of the Lord’s will with regard to this particular issue. My prayer was basically this: “Lord, please change this person if they are making the wrong decisions.” You see, I happen to believe more than not that this person’s decisions and chosen life path are wrong and potentially destructive on many levels. But it is one of those things. Yes, it could be wrong and destructive, but it could also be an incredible blessing sought out by one who was just trusting the Lord and following his convictions (as the person of whom I speak believes them to be). Anyway, I prayed to the Lord for this person to change and something happened.
You must understand something: I love to pray outside. Though everything in my theology says otherwise, I simply feel as if God is closer when I look into the sky. Perception can go a long way in prayer, as many of you know. When the sky is clear and the moon and stars are shinning bright, I perceive myself to be more in the presence of God than at any other time. My prayers feel like they are more productive. I feel as if I have a red phone hotline to my Father. Simply put, it is hard for me to feel forsaken when I pray outside. And this morning was no different.
However, as I came up the hill and began to pray for the Lord to change the mind of this certain person, suddenly the sky went dark. No, not literally. But had the sky actually gone dark, it would have had the same effect on the way I felt at this moment. It was as if my phone call to the Lord suddenly got disconnected. I thought nothing of it at first, but as I continued to pray this same prayer, the perception remained. It was as if God was not listening to this particular prayer. So I began to pray about the prayer itself. “Lord, are you trying to tell me something? You know I am trying to be more open to this type of communication – this prophecy stuff.” Interestingly enough, when I prayed this prayer, the heavens opened back up. The dropped call was instantly reestablished. So I tried the previous prayer again, “Lord, please change the heart of this person.” Once again, the call was immediately dropped. The heavens, as C.S. Lewis would put it, were brass.
Was the Lord telling me something through this prayer? Was he telling me that I needed to let this one go? Better yet, was the Lord telling me this person was on the right path and my own opinion, that he was wrong, was in error? It certainly could be interpreted in such a way.
However, as many of you know, for better or for worse, it is not like me to think this way. In fact, I believe over-interpreting experiences such as this one is very dangerous and, ironically, as destructive as that which I was praying about (what the man was involved in). Therefore, I followed the path of Gideon. You know: the guy in Judges 6 who was called by God to deliver Israel? It’s an interesting story. When he was called to this path of deliverance he timidly asked the Lord for an evident sign (just in case he was misunderstanding things). He told the Lord to make a fleece wet with dew overnight, while the grass surrounding it stayed dry. When this happened, he asked the Lord, even more timidly and with more requests for forgiveness, to give him one more sign. This time he asked for the overnight dew to fall on the grass and not the fleece. The Lord obliged, and Gideon moved forward with God’s plan.
My feelings of a disconnected call were not enough for me to change my thinking about this very important issue. It would be crazy for me to interpret life and truth with nothing more than a “feeling” of the Lord’s disapproval. So I said to the Lord, “Forgive me. But your word and truth are too precious to me to let this one experience change my thinking. There is nothing in the Bible to give me definite guidence here. Therefore, if you have indeed come down from heaven and intervened in my emotional well-being during this prayer in a miraculous way, so as to make the heavens close, may I ask you to do something else for me?” My iPad was on my stationary bike in my garage. As I searched for my own “fleece,” my thoughts went directly to it. I don’t know why, but I was compelled to ask the Lord to do something miraculous with it. I had been reading my “through the Bible” reading plan this morning before my walk and prayer. I was not sure if I had closed the Bible program out or not. So I asked the Lord to do something I could not deny. “Lord, if you are truly attempting to communicate to me about this issue the way this feeling can be interpreted, please see that I am protecting your name in my life by asking for a more direct and evident sign. Therefore, when I come back into my garage, let my iPad be open (not locked as it usually is when idle).” I know, I know . . . that is easy. Just hang with me. There is more to the prayer. “Let my iPad be open to the book Saving Darwin.“Why did I choose that book? I don’t know. It was the first thing that came to my mind. I had not read it in a long time so it seemed enough to be a valid sign. But there is still more, “Lord, let it not only be open, but let it be open to page 134.” Why 134? Again, I don’t know. That is just what came out.
I got to my garage and with great anticipation looked at my iPad. And you know what? The screen was dark. It was not open as I had requested. However, I thought that perhaps the Lord did not understand me about making it “unlocked” (after all, is the Lord up on such technology?). So I opened it to see if the requested book on Kindle was open. Guess what? . . . It wasn’t.
Not what you expected? I am sorry for the letdown. But I think there is an important lesson here.
I had a feeling this morning. I could have let it stand on its own. I could have based something that I believe upon such a feeling, something very important that the Bible was not clear on. However, this would have been very irresponsible. The volatility of emotions and feelings is, well . . . volatile. They come and go. They are easily and frequently misinterpreted. I can’t just believe, adjust, and change my views on things simply because I feel like the heavens closed during my prayer. Who am I to feel my way to truth? Am I not fallen? Is my heart not desperately wicked? Are my ways (feelings) always to be interpreted as the Lord’s ways (feelings)?
I have nothing against feelings. I have nothing against emotions. I believe the Lord often uses these in our lives. But when we let feelings rule our lives, no matter how profound they might be in the moment, destruction and misery are soon to follow. Soon we will be making pivotal decisions based upon feelings alone (“I just don’t feel like the Lord wants us to stay married”). Soon we will be adjusting our theology, with feelings being in the driver’s seat (“I don’t feel forgiven by God” or “I don’t feel like the Lord would allow people to go to hell for eternity”). Soon we will be making unwarranted accusations due to these feelings (“I have a deep down feeling that you are having an affair”). Soon feelings will sit control just about everything. Soon, we who think we are following the Lord due to these feelings, will be far away from him because we are not more jealous for the word of the Lord than we are for our feelings. The Lord is not going to come down upon you for asking for a more substantial sign than a feeling. When I read the account of Gideon, I get no sense that the Lord was displeased with him for asking for two evident signs.
Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.
Notice: Gideon was already promised something from the Lord. Yet he needed more. All this talk about “doubting Thomas”, how does Gideon get a pass? But he needed more than whatever he already had and the Lord provided. Why? Because God is that big. He can do some amazing stuff.
Feelings are wonderful. Emotions are persuasive. Therefore, we need to keep them in check, harnessing them into subjection to reality. The Lord is not going to reprimand you for not bowing to your emotions every time the sky goes dark. In fact, he is more likely to reprimand you for doing just that.
Did the “darkness” mean anything? I don’t know. But I have not adjusted my thinking about this issue with my friend. I still am not sure whether his decisions are right or wrong, though I lean toward the wrong. The experience of not having an experience did not definitely condemn him! Nor should it. I will continue to pray the way I prayed before about the situation.
Please note: I have included this post in the category of “doubt”, “depression”, and “losing faith” because this is where these type of things inevitably lead.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]