We often ask God for His assistance in prayer. After we get what we want, many of us forget that we asked. When everything works out, we assume it was the result of our efforts and good fortune. I ran into a problem last August with a group from the United Church of God, Spokane/Coeur d’Alene congregation, while we floated down a section of the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River in Northern Idaho.
My wife and I were floating in our canoe. Everyone else was using tire inner tubes or inflatable rafts. One of the young adults stowed an ice chest containing his lunch, a pocketknife and wristwatch in the canoe. One of our teens also decided to stow her watch in the chest. We lashed the chest to a forward thwart, thinking the stowed items were safe and we headed downstream.
Even though it is easy to be cynical, I know God does answer prayer.
Because the river was unusually low, for most of the trip we had to pick our course carefully so as not to run aground. Near the end of our journey, before the last bend, the river narrowed and deepened. The current there was a little swifter and in the channel were several boulders, providing an extra challenge. Hoping to make this last portion a little more exciting I decided to practice maneuvering around the rocks by crossing the eddy line and backing up stream. In the process we swamped and rolled the canoe, dumping us into the river. The lid came off the chest and all the items fell out.
The canoe wedged against a boulder as my wife was swept past it with much of our gear strewn around her. She managed to rescue herself, but was unable to retrieve our equipment as it floated downstream, so I swam downstream to retrieve the floating gear.
By the time I retrieved everything, I was cold and unsteady on my feet. The slippery rocks and current made it difficult to stand in the hip-deep water. With everything in hand, I climbed out of the river, and headed back up stream to try to recover the lost pocketknife and wristwatches.
As I hiked back, I was very disappointed with myself for having lost what was entrusted to me. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I thought finding anything on the river bottom would be nearly impossible. I asked God to help me so that the owners would not suffer distress over the loss of what they had left in my care.
When I got to the point on the river where we had swamped, I left the gear I had retrieved on shore and waded out into the current to find the items from the chest. Another man from our group waded in from across the river to assist. I thought we might be able to see the items on the river bottom. The water was crystal clear. However, I quickly discovered that standing in the current made the water murky. The water rippling over the rocks, boulders and around my legs distorted my view. I could not clearly see the bottom. I continued to pray and search.
I saw a spot seemingly brighter in contrast to the rocks, similar to a grease smudge on a glass. It was there, but barely discernable. I reached down, hoping and praying it was more than a silvery colored rock. As I felt along the bottom with my hand, I was afraid I might merely brush against it and the current would sweep it away. I prayed that I could grab it securely. After a couple of attempts, I got it in my hand. It was the young adult’s wristwatch.
About the same time my wife called out from the far shore and informed us that she had lost her glasses. Encouraged by the discovery of the watch, I moved downstream and saw another less distinct smudge on the bottom. I reached down and retrieved the teen’s wristwatch. We continued to search for a while, but could not find anything else.
I was concerned one of us might get a foot or leg wedged between boulders, fall and end up with a broken bone or worse. We decided to abandon the search. I gathered our stuff from the shore and we waded across the river.
Moments after we reached the other side, two teenagers approached us from downstream. The young fellow came up to me and said they had noticed me looking in the river and wondered if I had lost something. I told him how I had found the wristwatches, but that I could not find the pocketknife or glasses. He asked for my permission to look for the items we had lost. I thanked them for their offer and pointed to where we had dumped into the river. I described where my wife had been swept downstream and where she was when she was able to gain her footing.
They waded to where we had swamped. The young girl put on her goggles and swam downstream with her face in the water along the path I had described. She stood up at about the same spot as my wife had and adjusted her goggles. I thought she could not have found anything so quickly. Disappointed, I hollered a “thank you” and was about to leave. The teen boy hollered back that she had found the items. He brought them over to me and they headed back downstream. I thanked them and put the knife in my pocket and my wife received her glasses.
I last saw the two teens as they were about to round the bend and head out of sight. He was wading and she was swimming with her face in the water searching along the bottom. I did not see them again. I do not know who they were. My natural inclination is to forget I fervently prayed to God for His help. I can easily rationalize they were there by chance. They were just good people and wanted to help.
She had her snorkel and goggles. She was already prepared for looking along the bottom of the river. Perhaps they were just looking for a challenge. It is easy for me to be cynical and reason away God’s intervention even though I asked for it. I wonder, will they read this some day and get a good chuckle at my expense? Will they laugh at the absurdity of my thinking they helped because of my prayer?
Does God answer prayer?
My natural inclination is to forget I fervently prayed to God for His help. I can easily rationalize they were there by chance.
The Scriptures tell us God responds to our fervent prayers (James 5:16 James 5:16Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
American King James Version×). Our desires and needs are important to Him. Jesus Christ said, “Whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22 Matthew 21:22And all things, whatever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.
American King James Version×). By faith we trust God. In other places we are called believers (Acts 5:14 Acts 5:14And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)
American King James Version×; 1 Timothy 4:12 1 Timothy 4:12Let no man despise your youth; but be you an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
American King James Version×). We are called believers because we expect God to help us. My natural cynicism comes down to a question of faith. Do I believe the little things in my life are important to God? Are my concerns and worries so insignificant in the scheme of things that I am presumptuous to think that God cares?
Part of the reason we are cynical when it comes to prayer is we perceive our prayers often go unanswered. Why does God answer some of our prayers, while at other times we must take care of things ourselves? As we seek the answer, we need to remember that God also reveals Himself through the physical creation (Romans 1:20 Romans 1:20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
American King James Version×). Jesus tells us that God is our Father (Matthew 6:9 Matthew 6:9After this manner therefore pray you: Our Father which are in heaven, Hallowed be your name.
American King James Version×). God established the family and human fathers at creation. Good fathers love their children and want what’s best for them.
I am a father. I have children that I love very much. Sometimes when they want help, I help; at other times they don’t get the help they want from me. I want them to learn to rely on themselves. I want them to be strong and competent. I wish I could honestly say all my decisions are made with their best interests in mind, but of course that would not be true. I’m human and subject to the weaknesses of a human father, but God, our spiritual Father, is not subject to weakness. He is perfect.
By faith we trust God. We are called believers because we expect God to help us.
Our Father in heaven is better than our human fathers. Jesus said, “How much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11 Matthew 7:11If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
American King James Version×). As a Father, God is looking out for our best interests. When God steps back and does not answer our prayers, (or tells us “no”), He does so for our benefit, to strengthen us (Proverbs 17:3 Proverbs 17:3The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD tries the hearts.
American King James Version×; 1 Peter 1:7 1 Peter 1:7That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found to praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
American King James Version×). God gives us room to grow and become strong.
Even though it is easy to be cynical, I know God does answer prayer. I prayed to God for His help. He answered my prayer. I believe He answered because He cares for the owners of the lost items and sympathized with my concern for their distress. God had compassion on each of us and sent the two teens to help.