When Prayers Seem Unanswered – Interview with Michael Wilcox [Video & Transcript]
Welcome to this episode of I Believe: Expressions of Faith, with guest Michael Wilcox. We welcome those of you of any faith, agnostics, Christians, those spiritually unaffiliated, all honest seekers of truth—and hope that you if you’ve been led to or drawn to this cast for any reason– whether you are in the gym, your car or carpool, on your mountain bike, wherever you are! Our desire is that you will discover and feel the Lord’s awareness of you and love for you, and an affirmation that He has heard and will hear your every sincere expression to Him—even if your first spoken words to Him come as a result of His speaking to you through this cast message, which we hope reflects His goodness & desire for intimacy and partnership with you.
And if you feel inclined to pray while listening, by all means, tune any part of this out and come back to it another time—follow that nudge!
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When Prayers Seem Unanswered
Karen: I’d love to welcome and introduce our special guest, Michael Wilcox. S. Michael Wilcox received his PhD from the University of Colorado and recently retired after thirty-seven-plus years as a religious instructor for The Church of Jesus Christ. He travels the world speaking and engaging audiences everywhere with his insights into the gospel of Jesus Christ. A few of his written works include House of Glory (The House of the Lord or “temples” will be addressed in other casts), Walking on Water, What the Scriptures Teach Us about Raising a Child, What the Scriptures Teach Us About Adversity, and many more.
Having been one of thousands graced by his insights into the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness, I’ve especially appreciated Mike’s ability to extract principles from the Word that are timeless templates that we can overlay in our real everyday lives and challenges coming to know–or coming closer to–the Savior.
Today, we’re going to delve into the subject of prayer–and the title of this cast is taken from one of Mike’s shorter, nugget-filled books titled, When Your Prayers Seem Unanswered. We’ll address questions frequently asked such as, Is God Hearing Me?, Why is This Taking So Long?, What’s Our Part in Prayer?, How Can I Recognize God’s Answers?, and more.
Thanks for being with us today, Mike. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
So, many friends listening, or among us, have encountered times in life– maybe you’re in these shoes right now–when the heavens appear to be either silent or slow, or there is no perceived direct response to some persistent pleas for divine help. For example, when a loving couple longs to have a child and is pleading, when someone wishes to be married but remains alone, or one struggles with changing a circumstance that isn’t immediately changed, overcoming the flesh, ending an oppressive time.
Mike, you’ve gleaned from a familiar New Testament account, found in Mark and John 6, and Matthew 14 in which the apostles find themselves in the midst of an awful storm at sea–some clear and comforting principles for those feeling a divine delay, or that their prayers at some point in time seem unanswered, or who feel that God is maybe not looking on or involved (though He is).
You’ve said, in essence, that God is sometimes, not always, but sometimes a “4th Watch God.”
Would you encapsulate and review the Biblical account and extract that principle for our listeners and seekers today?
Mike: The phrase “the fourth watch” comes from the account in Mark, and others in the New Testament, where the Savior during the day has fed the 5,000 and He sends the Apostles down to the Sea of a Galilee while He’s going to dismiss the multitude. Then He will pray, and the Savior will often pray a long time. So it’s late afternoon, early evening, when the Savior sends the Apostles down to the ship and they get in it and a storm comes up.
The phrase that Mark uses is “the wind was contrary to them and they toiled in rowing against the wind.” That expression is so fit for so many of us in our lives, I know in my own life, and I look at my children’s lives; we toil in rowing against the wind. There’s blessing we want but don’t have, there’s a trial we want over that isn’t over yet. In John’s account they row for about the equivalent for 75 football fields against the wind, and they’re discouraged, they’re tired. Hope is starting to wane. In Marks account I think one of the first things that really gives me comfort is that he says He saw them toil in rowing, He saw them. I’ve been to the Sea of Galilee a number of times and you can see the hills around the lake. I picture Him up there looking down on them, but they don’t know He’s looking down on them. Sometimes in our own lives He’s looking, He’s watching, He sees us toiling and rowing–we may not always realize that He sees us. And then it says that in the fourth watch of the night He came to them walking on the water.
The Hebrew day is roughly divided into 12 hours; six in the morning, roughly, was the first hour, so the sixth hour is noon, the ninth hour is about three in the afternoon. The night was divided into four watches; roughly six at night to nine at night, nine to midnight, midnight to three, the fourth watch–three in the morning to sunrise. And it’s in the fourth watch that He comes.
So I often say to myself and to others, we worship a Fourth-Watch God. In many areas of our lives He seems to allow us to toil in rowing against the wind. There must be something good in developing spiritual muscle. The problem is that I’m usually a first-watch person, or a second-watch person. And when the third watch starts, and He’s not come and my trial is not over and my blessing is not arrived, we may begin to make some assumptions that are dangerous. We may begin to assume that He’s not there, or that He’s there but doesn’t care, or He’s not listening, or maybe the most dangerous assumption ‘I’m not worthy.’ And I think the correct assumption I try to make–in my own fourth-watch times or with my children or friends–He’s there, He listens, He cares, we’re as worthy as we can be. We’ve not yet reached the fourth watch, and when we reach the fourth watch, He will come.
Now I think in one area He’s a First-Watch God, and that is whenever I ask for forgiveness. Then it’s a first watch, He comes immediately to give forgiveness. But in many other areas of life I need to endure until the fourth watch.
Karen: A couple of points come to mind here, Mike, as you share and have shared this:
We can and will encounter storms even when we are smack dab in middle of God’s will (Matthew 8:23-27). The apostles were in fact following Jesus, who, as Mark tells us “constrained his disciples to get into the ship and go to the other side” (6:45)–and they ran into the storm. Sometimes we are in the very wake of God’s will when storm hits, to stretch our faith in Christ and conform us to Christ. But as Mike said, it may be in the 4th watch or it may be sooner that ultimate answers or ultimate deliverance comes but either way, it won’t be a storm-free journey.
Mike: That’s a very good insight.
Karen: Let’s just talk for a second about these waves. They are real, and our listeners, maybe you, may be in the midst of those now. Maybe your waves are those of doubt, confusion, pain at betrayal, misunderstanding, alone-ness, grief, maybe waves of fear or distraction, illness, heartache, unemployment, addiction, rejection, some kind of oppression or abuse, lack of self-worth, disappointment, loss, childlessness, financial distress, inadequacy, emptiness…
Mike: Frustrations, disappointed hopes, family problems, employment, there’s a lot of things.
Karen: There is hope. Stay with us. God is near and aware. Trust God. I promise you, we promise, that wavy dark starlit night is lit with divine intent.
So let’s talk about 3 reasons that God and Jesus often allow us this 4th watch experience. Then we’ll open up our discussion and discuss revelation and recognizing revelation in our lives as a whole.
Let’s talk about some of the Lord’s potential reasons for delaying answers. Mike, you’ve referred to holding places that need to be carved out by our life experiences in order to fully receive and appreciate answers to our prayers.
Mike. Tell us your thoughts and experience around the idea that some answers need some preparation of our heart and mind or circumstance. I wonder if you’d share that concept with our audience and then share the experience about your father in that context.
Mike: I think the idea originates, at least as far back as I can trace it in my own mind, from something C.S. Lewis said, and Lewis got it from George McDonald who was a Scottish minister who taught as loving a God as you’ll ever hear–I often say I want to be judged by George McDonalds’s God, because He’s so loving.
McDonald refers to holding places, what I call holding places of a heart, as a pocket that God wants to put an answer in–but we have to have a pocket. So sometimes I think the Lord has an answer for us that’s very suitable and good, but there’s no place to put it. He says “Where do I put it, there’s no holding place. Life will create the holding place. Sometimes hard things in life will create the holding place, and when the holding place is created, when the pocket is there, as soon as it’s there, I will answer your question, your need.”
In my own life, my parents were divorced when I was just a baby. That caused certain challenges for my mother, my sisters, myself, as we were growing up. You know, you’re fourteen and you pray a good prayer, “Father in Heaven, help me to forgive my father,” because then he really didn’t have anything to do with us, “help me to forgive my father, to come to peace about this situation.”
It’s not that I was angry, but there was an unsettled something in my relationship with my father–and I had a wonderful mother. So you’re giving that prayer at 18 and you’re giving that prayer at 22, and I just want peace I want to forgive, I want understanding of my father’s abandonment of his family.
I got married, had two daughters, then I had two sons, and when this experience took place (I have three sons now, but at this time I only had two) one was 6 the other was 2 years old. I was preparing a talk on families and raising children so they grow up decently–which we all want–and I’m thinking of my mother. I’m going to talk about my mother, my mother was a saint, and my mother was the foundation of every good thing in my life. But the Spirit seemed to say that I should talk about my father, that I should think about my father, and I thought “What am I going to say about my father? I was not raised by my father, I was with my father one of two days a year each year.” But I began to think about my father. And I had made contact with him, and knew him a little better by then, by this time.
My two boys came in and stood in front of me as I sat on the couch, and looked at me, and I starred at those two boys, and the Spirit began to flood my mind with memories–of happy wonderful things I had shared with those two boys: Catching the first fish, carving Halloween pumpkins, blowing out birthday candles, Christmas morning, listening to their first little talk in primary at church, listening to their prayers at night, piggy back rides. Nothing spectacular, nothing earth shattering, just the everyday, little, sweet, lovely moments that a father shares with a son as they’re growing up. And I looked at those boys and realized how much I loved them, and I thought what an honor and a privilege it is to be a father and have sons–or daughters, but for the pocket, for the holding place in my heart, it had to be boys. And just at that moment, when I’m thinking how wonderful it was to be a father of sons, the Lord said in that voice in our mind, “Now that you are a father, now that you know a father’s love, would you be the son who lost his father or the father who lost his son?”
I realize at that moment, that whatever pain I had experienced in my life, whatever tragedy, my father’s was far greater because I knew what he didn’t know. There was a kind of mercy in that; I know more about my father’s tragedy than he does. He doesn’t know what he missed like I know what he missed.
Now I think why didn’t God tell me that when I was fourteen? I would never have understood it. Or when I was married? I’d begin to understand when I was married, when I had daughters I would begin to understand it, but it wasn’t until I had boys and had enough life shared with them to realize how great it was to be a father, that I understood what my father lost. And the Lord would say, “Now there’s a holding place, now I’ll give the answer.”I believe He answered my prayer as quickly as He could.
Karen: I think that’s a beautiful concept that the Lord has to create a holding place a context for us to fully receive His answers, and I’ve seen that in my own life. I want to reinforce that He’s perfectly loving: He delights to answer but wants us to have context….”He satisfieth the longing soul” (Psalm 107:9) and “The Lord will withhold no good thing” from those who seek Him (Psalm 84:11).
As I reflected on that principle, Mike, and listeners, I thought about another kind of holding place.
God prepares us for what He is preparing us for, a heart and soul enlarged to receive knowledge or understanding… and a heart and soul prepared to receive a set of circumstances in the future.
We talked about coming to Trust and Know God as one of reasons He stretches us to the 4th Watch: Part of knowing God and trusting in Him is to Trust His Timing.
I, like you, feel I’ve spent quite a bit of time in God’s waiting room. One of the books I could write would be titled “An Impatient Woman’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
We sometimes feel mistakenly that we are wasting time waiting when it may be the greatest time of purification and growth to wait purposefully on God. It is an active thing to wait. It’s sounds like an oxymoron. We’re not wasting time: God is too economical for that.
Even Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him (Genesis 21:2).
“The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of the heart through all generations” (Ps 33:11). But we must be prepared to wait on God’s timing. His timing is precise, for He does things “at the very time” (Helamen 12:2) He has set. It is not for us to know His timing, and in fact we cannot know it—we must wait for it.
If God had told Abraham while he was in Haran that he would have to wait thirty years before holding his promised child in his arms, his heart might have failed him. So God, as an act of His gracious love, didn’t disclose to Abraham the number of weary years he would be required to wait. Only as the time was approaching, with but a few months left to wait, did God reveal his promise: “At the appointed time next year…Sarah will have a son” (Gen. 18:14). The appointed time came at last.
Mike: And they waited a long time. That’s a wonderful story. The scriptures tend to deal with extremes. The stories are way out in the very edges, and I think they’re out there because they cover everything less.
Abraham and Sara is an ultimate story of patiently waiting for God to fulfill His promises. Most of us don’t have to wait 70+ years for them, but they are extreme. The scriptures tend to be extreme stories.
Karen: Then there’s the children of Israel. God promised the children of Israel a land with rivers of milk and honey. But 1st, He brought them for the space of 40 years into a land where not only rivers of milk and honey were not but where there wasn’t even a drop of water– to nurture them and to teach them as a Father and to do them good in the end.
So we can take heart when God requires us to wait. The One we wait for will not disappoint. He will never be even 5 minutes behind “the appointed time.” And soon “your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20).
Mike: Sometimes the holding place is a character trait. “I need to be more patient, I need to be wiser, I need to be more charitable to have more forgiveness.” I’ve often said the easiest forgiving act I ever did in my life was my father for abandoning us. But I certainly couldn’t have done it earlier. So part of that preparation of that holding place, or the children of Israel, or Joseph, or any number of other stories in the scriptures is the development of a character trait that is the holding place.
Karen: So seeing some of these things helps us eliminate some of the questions that you said can be spiritually dangerous in the 2nd or 3rd watch.
Mike: They are dangerous, yes. We need to assume “I’ve not yet reached the fourth watch, something is being prepared in my heart, a holding place is being prepared, my character isn’t refined yet, it’s going to be refined.” And I think the Lord promises all of us, no matter what happens to us, “I will make it good.” Joseph is a classic story in the Old Testament, “I’ll make it good for you, just stay with me and in the long run, it will be alright.”
Karen: And sadly we know people and perhaps you are one listening who has bailed out upset with God because He didn’t come in the first watch, or give up on our ability to receive answers. Sometimes help is just around the corner when our resources aren’t enough to carry on.
Mike, before we move on to why the Lord sometimes comes later rather than sooner, can you touch on Hagar’s and the widow’s experience?
Mike: The story of the Widow of Zarephath is it’s a famine, and she’s gathering her last two sticks, for her last meal for her son. She has a little bit of Miel in the bottom of the barrel and little bit of oil, and this is her last meal. And it’s at this time when Elijah comes through the gate and asks her to prepare something for him. And she tells him, “I only have enough for one last meal for my son and I,” and he gives her the promise that until the famine is over the meal in the barrel and oil in the bottle will not lack. But I’m sure when she went out that morning to pick up her last two sticks she didn’t realize that the Lord would bring Elijah to bring the solution to her problems.
Hagar’s story is very similar–they’re what I call Fourth-Watch Stories. The phrase is “The water was spent in the bottle” she’s been sent out, separate from Ishmael, Sarah’s worried, Abraham separates the boys, she’s desperate. She puts Ishmael under a bush in the shade, south of Beer-sheba, its the desert, because she doesn’t want to see him die. So she gets to the point that she has to see him die, and she doesn’t want to see it, she doesn’t want to hear his prayers, his cries, because they’re out of water. And that’s when the Lord says to her, reminds her in a sense of Ishmael’s name, which means’ God hears–the very name is a reminder God hears–the angel says, “God has heard your prayers” he’s heard it and he shows her then the well of water which saves their lives. And sometimes I wonder “Lord why didn’t you send Elijah when she had three meals left? Or why didn’t you when there was a little water left, or let her see it herself?” But He seems to be that kind of a God, with so often we often we have to reach the point that the water is spent in the bottle or we’re down to the last meal often before the solutions are offered to us, the hope comes, we’re shown the way out by the Lord. And it’s hard to always wait.
Karen: Whether with Hagar, the widow, or the apostles, there is a thread that runs through the stories that sheds light on the second reason there is often a stretch between the 1st and 4th watch: God wants us to realize our divine dependence so He can show forth to us His love and power and ability to bless.
Let’s go back to apostles for a second. Think about them—this was their livelihood, their profession. This was not their first storm or bout with the elements, but it was a more intense one. They used their own resources—strength, wisdom, knowledge of the seas and sailing, but this exceeded and exhausted their human resources. I wonder—we don’t know but I wonder—what might have happened had they cried out sooner in the first watch. The Lord wanted them to get to a place where they knew He was Lord and Master of all and willing to help.
Either way, here’s the point: Sometimes God will, for our benefit, allow for difficulty to come at such at alarming speed or level that we are compelled to acknowledge that all human help is insufficient. In lesser trials we had that recourse, maybe, of relying more on ourselves, but we come to a point where we must cast ourselves on our all-powerful God and Savior.
In other words, a crisis is sometimes necessary to bring us to the end of our self-confidence and self-effort. He wants us to give up the “I don’t want to ask for directions until I am sorely lost—can solve this totally myself syndrome.”
The Savior wanted to teach them, and us, not to be so utterly or ultimately reliant on our own self-management, solve-it-by-myself mentalities. God’s Master of my ship and without His influence, I’m unable to navigate perfectly in sunny or stormy days.
I don’t know about you or about those listening with us today, but in my life, I’ve noticed more and more recently that God will always get me to a place of dependence on Him—not denying the gifts or natural abilities given at all but in spite of those small endowments–whether in a new opportunity, where I’m “launched into deep” or through extremity, or trial. Then, and there I can feel and apply to His supernatural power working in me, I am one with Him and my knowledge of Him deepens.
It’s one thing for me to know Mike Wilcox wrote a particular book, another to know the words of his book, and yet another thing altogether to know him. The same is true of Jesus Christ. In this context, then, we come to see that this is not a random trial but a lovingly placed set, staged for our beautiful blessing of knowing God and having intimate partnership with Him.
It is extremely doubtful that a person’s soul can really know the love of God in its richness and in its comforting satisfying completeness until the skies are dark and threatening.
Mike: And that comes through personal experiences. We can relate to the Apostles, we can relate to Hagar and Ishmael, we can relate to the widow, but until it happens to you there’s not quite the same reality and intensity. The stories are there to help me when it comes to me.
Karen: I’d like to share a verse with you that relates to what we’ve just talked about:
When nothing on which to lean remains
When strongholds crumble to dust
When nothing is sure but that God still reigns
That is the time to trust
I considered the context of this storm, I realized that it came right after the apostles just saw the miracle of loaves and fishes but Word says: Mark 6:52 “For they considered not the miracle of the loaves, for their heart was hardened.” What I take away from that read is that a miracle, a sign wasn’t sufficient to sustain real faith. But watch the progression here. The Savior speaks the word and the storm is stilled. But after this they moved from seeing His power to seeing His word and then to seeing and knowing His person as Son of God! It’s only after all of this, they declare: “Of a truth thou art the Son of God” (Matt 14:23).
Mike: I think the last thing they expected was to see Him walking on the water to them. When they’re in a desperate strait, I don’t think they anticipate He’s going to come, but He does come. So even in our fourth watches, in the most unexpected answers, He may answer. He could have stilled the storm without even being there, but He walked on water to them. There had to be other reasons, and that knowledge they’re going to receive is part of it. But I think also if for us to realize we don’t know how He’s going to help. And often the way He does help is beyond our comprehension. We would never had expected it, or asked for that particular kind of help when it comes.
Karen: Thank you for those thought. Considering our audience, there are people out there who have maybe never prayed at all. Who have never communed, or felt a real connection with God. Can you share some thoughts around that, Mike? It’s certainly more than mere words tanked up to heaven, squeezing in number 12 or 13 when we’re on our way out the door. How do you like to think of prayer? What do you think genuine prayer consists of, how do you describe it, experience it? What scrips and word images come to mind for you?
Mike: Well there are a number of expressions in the scriptures I turn to sometimes. When I think about praying, there are different kinds of prayers. Pascal, a French philosopher, says that God gave man prayer that we might have the dignity of casual relationship with God. I love that thought that I can talk to him when I’m walking in the morning, informally! And many, many prayers are informal conversation. Sometimes I don’t even really expect an answer I’m just having a conversation. I can get that casual of a relationship idea. There’s a beautiful description in Isaiah of God and that’s when he says He can hold the oceans and the waters of the palm of His hand and the heavens between His thumb and little finger on one hand, in the span, and weight them out in scales, and count the stars and give them names—just this beautiful description of the majesty of God. And he ends that chapter with “He strengthens us, we’ll run and not be weary, walk and not faint.” This God who weighs mountains and holds oceans will help me personally.
Sometimes, it’s not just that conversational “It’s okay Lord, I don’t need a lot, I’m very grateful.” I think we can always be grateful. There’s what I call “pouring out prayer” which I think of Hannah when she want a child and she doesn’t have one. All the expressions that are used in that story in first Samuel, we can relate to I think fairly easily. “I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit, bitterness of soul.” A fret, I’m fretting, abundance of my complaint, can I complain to God? We’re not supposed to murmur, can I complain? All these expressions that she has in her, bitterness and sorrow, and grief, and complaint, and fret, and sore feelings, and then it says she pours them out before God. And there are times in my life I may be filled with guilt. And the Lord says, “Mike, pour it out.” Or complaint, “I don’t understand Lord why you run the world the way your run it!” It seems like there’s so much pain and other people… Why do you let these things happen?” I understand complaint to God. I’ve complained enough in my own life to understand complaint. And sometimes I try and hide it, and the Lord says, “I know what’s in your heart, Mike. Pour it out. Pour it out.” Sorrow, disappointment, frustration, despair, we pour it out, and pouring out prayers sometimes don’t even need an answers.
I used to come home sometimes to my wife who was frustrated, or an abundance of complaint, and she would start to pour it out. I would put my Mr. Fix-it hat on and try to solve all problems, and that’s not what she needed. She didn’t expect an answer. She just needed to pour it out.
And there’s the wrestling prayer, I call the prayer of wrestling. Jacob wrestles with an angel, why because he thinks Esau’s going to come and kill his family as he returns to the land of Canaan. And he wrestles all night. We labor, some of the words of scriptures, we labor, we struggle we hunger. The wrestling prayer where you’re grappling with something and sometimes the answer comes. We look at all the possibilities and we find the right one. We counsel with God and get the right one. And sometimes the wrestling itself is what the purpose is all about because in Jacob’s case, Esau wasn’t coming to hurt his family, Esau was coming to forgive. We have the beautiful forgiveness scene where they embrace and weep in each other’s arms, almost as good as the Prodigal Son. And God knows that, He knows that Esau is not coming to do damage to Jacob, but to forgive him. And I think, “Well Lord, why didn’t you just tell him that? Why didn’t you just say Jacob, what are you so worried about? Your brother’s forgotten, he’s forgiven you, and you’re going to have a wonderful day tomorrow.” He lets him wrestle with Him because the wrestling itself is valuable.
There’s the wrestling prayer, there’s the believing prayer. I think sometimes the Lord says, “If I answer, are you going to believe me? And are you going to act on the answer?” I call it the believing-acting prayer. Are you going to believe? Are you going to act? And I say, “Lord, I kind of want to hear what you’re going to tell me, then I’ll decide if I’m going to believe you and if I’m going to act on it.” And that usually doesn’t get much response. I think I need to have faith in what He’s going to tell me, before He tells me. I need past-tense faith in future promises. And I will act, you tell me Lord, I will believe, I will act. There are just lots of different kinds of prayers.
Prayers of desire, Teresa Avila calls it the prayer of quiet, where we don’t say anything. The prayer of recollection, she calls it, when I’m thinking of my sins I need to be forgiven of, my blessings I need to thank Him for, and sometimes she says you have to be filled with desire. Sometimes, I just say, “Father in Heaven, I love you, and I love your Son, and we don’t need to say anything else.” And He just says, “Just walk with me.” The prayer of quiet, the prayer of desire.
So many different ways we approach the throne of God based on our need and how we feel at the time.
Karen: I agree that prayer is more than a hit and run episode; it’s an outflowing of our relationship with God. It’s a place of communion where our soul’s desires and who we are is shared with a loving real present Father and through which we feel that connection and relationship.
And I love concept of “pouring out” our souls. If we’re not broken, in sense of being incomplete without Christ filling in the gaps and don’t realize our lack, He can’t provide it. There would be no room to receive the riches—the wisdom, love, strength, peace, that inheritance. Psalms 62:8 says, simply “pour out your heart out to Him” candidly pray to ask God to reveal Himself to you.
There are times when we don’t know what to pray. Someone said, “There is a wordless center in us.” Clearly God isn’t hard of hearing and can hear faintest cry and longings unexpressed so there is not a one-type-only formula for approaching Him. A prayer was offered in a sense through the very touch the border of His garment .
Many people often ask us how they should go about making a decision with God’s help and then secondly, how they can recognize revelation from the Lord: “Should I marry this person, go to this school, leave a job, take this job, move, not move?” etc. Many rely on their own resources, go to friends, and aren’t sure they can really go to God or think that if they do, they won’t know how He will speak to them.
Let’s start by talking about how we can find out the Lord’s will for our personal lives and/or make decisions and receive inspiration and revelation for our daily walk. Then we’ll move to: How can we recognize what He is saying to us? First, how do we begin to seek the Lord’s will for our life and/or make a decision about a course we are considering?
The Lord always show us the way to do things he’s asked of us and set forth a pattern for decision making and knowing His will in our lives. Would you describe the process we glean from modern revelation about studying it out and seeking direction?
Mike: Well I think sometimes I want God to, occasionally I pose this question to my students: Would you want God to tell you everything you want to do, or would you rather think it through, come up with some solutions, and get His approval? And a lot of times, I get the answer, “Lord, tell me everything. I have this problem, this dilemma; I have a problem with my child, with my life, with my marriage. Please just tell me what to do. Solve it for me.” But God is a father, and most parents don’t do it that way with their children. I don’t do it that way with my children. I think he says, “Study it out, think it through, we’ll counsel together.”
Again, I love George McDonald saying God’s not going to do anything, usually, independent of finding out what His children want and what they’re thinking. And when the combined thinking will bring about an answer, so I go to all the different possibilities, and study them out.
When Paul was preaching in Turkey, He was following a natural pattern across Turkey. From east to west and south to north, and there comes a point where the next logical point is to go to Ephesus, and the Lord says, “No, not there.” So then he’s going up to the North, to Bethinis, to the Bethinians, and the Lord says, “No, not there.” Finally He says go to Greece–which is not a logical pattern of going. I think if I were Paul, I’d say, “Lord, why don’t you just tell me where it is you want me to go? What with this ‘no, not this way, no not here, no not there?’” Sometimes I think He does that with us, and He says, “No, this is not the answer, or this isn’t the answer.”
He lets us wrestle it through until we can come up with an answer. And then He tries to help us know that the answer is appropriate by how we feel. This starts to become metaphorical in scripture and you have to pick one that works for you. Sometimes it’s motion metaphors: you’ll feel a swelling, an expanding. There’s motion in your heart, in your soul–they’ll expand, enlarge. Sometimes it’s a heat metaphor; you’ll feel a burning in your bosom, in your heart. Often, without metaphorical language, the Lord says you’ll feel peace, joy; it’ll inspire you to be just, to be merciful, to be a better person. So I look at these things and I say, “Which description fits?”
Karen: We can fall into extremes in anticipating prayer and answers to prayer. On one end of the spectrum, there are those who tend to trust only in intellect and thus feel little need to call upon Lord, and on the other end of spectrum those who just canonize any thought that comes to them without appropriate reasoning or thinking through their request and possible solutions. After we’ve exercised our reason and thought ability, it’s true, the first intimations may often be right but without any due diligence, it could just be a whim. There’s a balance between agency and inspiration. If God made all our decisions for us, no purpose to our lives, no growth. Study it out in your mind and heart.
Mike: And sometimes if you don’t get an answer, I think the Lord says you do the best you can. Or he will honor it. He’ll say, “You need to learn. I probably wouldn’t have solved the problem the way you’re going to do it, but I’ll honor your solution because I’m trying to teach you to be like me.” C.S. Lewis said “I’m trying to turn you into Gods.” You have to do some independent thinking.
Karen: Don’t worry, He’ll answer! Do not worry about His ability to communicate. He is God, and you come to earth equipped to hear His voice; His voice is Spirit and communicates with our Spirit. It’s our native language.
If you’re a worried listener, know that you can know God is speaking to you just as you know when your friend, niece, or co-worker is speaking to you. You’ll be able to distinguish those voices and recognize your Heavenly Father’s voice as He speaks to you through His Spirit. It’s actually the duty of a member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost, to teach us and guide us into all truth as is stated in John 16:13: The Spirit of truth will guide you into all truth.
I love the fact the Spirit of God will provide answers “according to [our] own language and unto [our] own understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3).
Answers often come when we’re up and about—out of blue, or piggy-backed onto serving others–Gideon, threshing wheat, Moses tending sheep, Zach in the temple, Peter and Andrew, fishing—about their work.
I love the story of Nathaniel who was under the fig tree, pondering and thinking; about what, we don’t know–things personal, private things in his heart and mind–whatever it was, Jesus knew it and no one else did. And when He saw Nathaniel, He said, “Before you were under the fig tree, I knew you” (John 1:48). He knows what your tree-house moments are–those times when you sit back, wonder, ask, think, dream, worry, and He’ll speak into those moments and you’ll know it’s Him because no one else in the world knows those private thoughts and can respond in quite the same way.
Then, as you study the Word, you’ll see Him pick up the conversation you were having in your mind with Him or yourself, and He’ll teach you what matters most and what steps you need to take next in your life.
A word, a song, a person who shows up at the right time and says the right thing, a radio program you tune into at the right nanosecond, a sentence in a book that seems to jump out at you as if highlighted for you and that fits the context of your spiritual emotional state that’s beyond coincidence, a scripture that strikes you through to center, a thought that comes across the screen of your heart and mind, something that connects some dots for you in a way you could not have yourself, any of these ways. It can come THROUGH and you KNOW it was Him.
Let me give you one personal example: I was cleaning the kitchen and mopping up the floor, thinking to myself after a very long, productive week, that I wanted to go and sit and listen to the Lord, at His feet, have some quiet time reading scriptures. I put away the mop and went upstairs. Now, I usually sweep the floor and then wipe it up by hand, but on this day, I actually dust-mopped first. Once on my bed, I hastily flipped open a Christian book within arm’s reach and soaked in these tailored words: ”Sometimes we just need to put the mop down, get out of the kitchen, and listen at the Savior’s feet.” I stopped, re-reading the passage that was just seated in my soul. Now, how could I ever have found those twenty words myself, replicating my own self-talk just about two minutes prior in the kitchen? I couldn’t have. The Lord orchestrated that moment for me. I felt His love, His presence, His awareness of the details of my life–even mopping the kitchen floor.
That’s what He’ll do for you. He’ll show up by showing you, as you try to follow Him through faith in Jesus Christ, that He knows your thoughts, longings, desires, whereabouts.
Mike, one last reason we’ll cover as to why we may not recognize God’s answers are because the delivered good and the expected good are different. Can you share the principle of the BREAD AND STONE and share your story of being asked to serve in the Church as a teacher of young men?
Mike: Sure, yeah, I’d be happy to. Bread or stones—that’s the concept I refer to as bread or stones. Jesus tells a little parable about prayer; the friend at midnight who needs the loaves, and he keeps knocking. After telling that parable, He asks what father among you who has a son who asks for bread would give him a stone, or asks for fish and give him a serpent, or asks for an egg would give him a scorpion? If we as mortals know how to give good things to our children, so will our Father in Heaven give good things to His children when they ask.
That’s the Savior’s little teaching about His father.
So I have to remind myself often, that God doesn’t give stones He gives bread, He doesn’t give serpents He only gives fish, He doesn’t give scorpions He only give eggs. A stone is something useless when I want bread, a scorpion or a serpent is something harmful—He doesn’t do harmful things, He gives bread and fish and eggs. But sometimes the desired good, what I call the desired good (and we’re told to tell Him our desires) isn’t the needed good. He introduces the Lord’s prayer by saying your Father in Heaven knows what you need before you even ask. Now, in a perfect world, what I need and what I desire are going to be the same thing. But sometimes what I need and what and I desire are going to be different things. It’s what C.S. Lewis called the expected good and the given good; what I call bread or stones, or desired good or needed good.
If I’m not careful, and if it’s not the desired good or the expected good, if it’s not the kind of bread I want or the flavor of fish or the egg fried the way I wanted it, I might turn the bread into stone I might turn the fish into the serpent—because it’s not what I expected, it’s not what I desired, it’s not what I wanted. And those are the times we need to remind ourselves that God only gives bread, He doesn’t give stones or serpents. All things given are good things; but I may not recognize that, I might think my prayers have been unanswered because I didn’t get the one I wanted.
Just a simple fun one, you asked for an experience from my own life: In our Sunday school, we’re asked to do different callings, and I love to teach the adults the more doctrinal classes—I’ve taught it all my life, I’ve taught college students, I’ve taught adults. And the old teacher in Sunday school who had been teaching the Gospel Doctrine for the adults was asked to do something else, so there was a vacancy there. My wife and I had just moved into this parish, this church unit, and I thought for sure the bishop (the leader of the congregation) would call me to teach the adult class. That’s what I wanted! That’s my favorite calling. And he asked me to come in, to give us a call, and he said, “I’d like to ask you to teach.” And I’m thinking, “Yes, that’s good, I’m going to teach the adults, it’s going to be wonderful.” And he said,”We’d like to have you teach the twelve-year old boys—the deacons.” And I heard my voice saying, “Well that’d be fine Bishop, I’d be happy to do that.” But in my mind I’m thinking, “Where’s the inspiration in this calling? You know, I don’t even speak twelve-year old language! I teach college kids! What am I going to do with the twelve-year olds?” Now I could have made that a very negative experience; I could have hated every Sunday, I could have gone into that thinking, “This leader doesn’t know what he’s doing, I could have been over there with the adults—these twelve-year olds boys, I can’t control them! I can’t talk on their level. What am I doing?” I could have made it miserable, and for all of us. But I really learned to love those boys. They wanted to know the stories! You could tell them the stories in the scriptures, out of the scriptures. I had a wonderful time with the boys.
I think the Lord helped me, especially the very first Sunday I went in there to—in my mind to meet the enemy! And the thought came into my head, “Teach them well. One of them may one day be your son-in-law.” I had two daughters, one age twelve, and one age ten. Now as life turned out, one of them didn’t become my son-in-law, but somewhere out there in the Church was a man teaching a twelve-year old who would be my son-in-law. And how did I want him to teach him? I wanted him to teach him the very best that he could. And so I tried the best I could, and I loved that. You can ask me to teach the twelve-year old boys anytime because it was such a positive experience!
Karen: And you learned that was bread.
Mike: I got bread, I didn’t get a stone. I didn’t get twelve-year old stones I got twelve-year old bread. That’s just a tiny story. Bigger things happen all the time.
That’s beautiful! I love that story. I think it illustrates too, Mike, that we need to pray to have our eyes opened to really see the gifts God is giving us as He is giving them to us, to recognize it–just as Elijah, praying for the servant “Open their eyes!” I pray that we’ll all open our eyes to that. Thank you for sharing that.
You have a concept from an OT testament story that I’d like you to share here, about the arc and it being pitched. Will you share that with us?
Mike: I once was talking to a friend about the fourth watch and she said, about her own situation, “I’m in the ninth watch! I’ve been around a couple of times.” Sometimes if feels like that, and then I think another concept comes into it that I call pitched within-without. It’s the description of the ark that Noah gives; they pitched it, it was waterproof was the idea—pitched within and without. There are times in my life when the fourth watch, I’m just sure I’m past it, and He’s not come. Then instead of assuming He not there, He doesn’t love me, He doesn’t care, He’s not hearing, I’m not worthy, I think the assumption then has to be my ark, the ship my life is floating in, that I’m maneuvering the waves with, is pitched within-without. I’m not going to sink, and He knows I’m not going sink. No matter how mountainous the waves come, no matter how troubled the waters are. He’s prepared me before the rain comes for the floods, by having my ark, my boat, my life pitched within and without. I’m going to be alright. I’ll get through it, He’s prepared me for it. Isaiah 65 has a beautiful way he says it, “Before they call, I will answer; and while they yet speak, I will hear.” Well, how can he answer before we call? Because He knows the kinds of experiences life will hand us, and He prepares us before they ever come. So I say, “Lord, I’m past the fourth watch.” And I think sometimes He says, “Yes, I know you are, but your ship is pitched within without and you’re not going to sink. You’re going to be okay.”
Karen: I have to say that in the midst of any fire, I have never wanted for an answer, even if a powerful word from Him about my situation that is not the ultimate answer. Let me illustrate:
When the waves were billowing in my own life and I wanted re-assurance that I would stand through the storm, I opened to this verse: “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever” (Psalm 52:8). The olive tree has significance, first of all culturally, as a second-gen Italian, but it spoke here to me of its strength. Its trunk is huge and its branches extend deep and wide, and the fact that it lived in the house of God symbolized that it was sturdy and anchored, in His presence.
He will get you across to the other side whether He stills the storm or not in the 1st or 2nd watch, if you remain trusting Him. One thing He promises to still the tempests of fears in our hearts. He is the author of peace. That peace is unassailable. It is not circumstance or storm-dependent. It comes as a gift from Jesus Christ, who is very near or who is in fact in the boat with you. If you’ve jumped-ship, please contact us or visit some of our other casts and come back to Him. He is on the hillside waiting, or speaking to you through this cast which we’ve enjoyed with our special guest, Michael Wilcox.
The Savior promises to be with us and to get us to the other side–the other side of the storm, and the other side, meaning to His presence if we continue to follow Him and offer our cooperation and avail ourselves of His grace and don’t jump out of the boat–or stay out of the boat. If you’re out, today is the day you can get back in. He is in the boat with you.
When you pass through the waters
Deep the waves may be and cold
But Jehovah is our refuge
And His promise is our hold;
For the Lord Himself has said it;
He, the faithful God and true:
When you come to the waters
You’ll not go down but through
God is mighty to save, both to start and complete His work in us and our journey to the other side, of the waters and ultimately, to the other side, into His presence forever. May you be blessed to feel His grace and power whatever watch you are in today, and may you know your sincere prayers have reached his ears and that there is a hope and a future for you.
I mean, just look at these examples:
While Job’s family, home, crops and health demolished…God was preparing to give him double of what was killed, stolen, lost and damaged (Job 42:10).
The time Joseph was a slave and prisoner…God was planning for him to be second in command over Egypt (Genesis 31:2; 41:46).
When Ruth was a homeless, barren widow…God was creating a home in Boaz’s heart for her to be a wife, and mother, and great, great, great-grandmother to His Son (Ruth 4:10).
When Esther was an orphaned girl fearing her people would die…God made a way for His daughter to shake a kingdom and save His people (Esther 2:1-4, Esther 7).
God turned each into a hopeful future. He can reverse, revive, restore, renovate, renew, re-model any circumstance and get any ship across to the other side who desires to follow Him, and in the process, He is working out a magnificent design for you. He has a hope and future for you.
And to end, a quote from Michael Wilcox: “If we stay [in the boat] on the path, every truly enjoyable and fine thing life and eternity can offer—every desire of our heart that truly brings happiness– will be ours on that path,” [on the seas of life, on the boat back home].
Thanks to our special guest Mike Wilcox and to Bev and Tom Dickson for allowing us their studio space and to all who’ve helped make this cast possible.
Please subscribe to iTunes, and visit us at ibelievepodcast.com where you will also find links to continue your journey along with links to Michael’s and our other resources.
Wits End Corner:
Are you standing at Wits’ End Corner,
[Friend] with troubled brow?
Are you thinking of what is before you,
And of all you are bearing now?
Does all the world seem against you,
And you in the battle alone?
Remember at Wits’ End Corner,
Is just where God’s power is shown.
Are you standing at Wits End Corner
Blinded with wearying pain,
Feeling you cannot endure it,
You cannot bear the strain
Bruised through the constant suffering,
Dizzy and dazed, and numb?
Remember—at Wits’ End Corner?
Is where Jesus loves to come.
Are you standing at Wits End Corner?
Your work before you spread,
All lying begun, unfinished,
And pressing on heart and head,
Longing for strength to do it,
Stretching out trembling hands?
Remember at Wits End Corner
The Burden-Bearer stands
Are you standing at Wits End Corner
Then you’re just in the very spot
To learn the wondrous resources
Of Him who fails you not:
No doubt to a brighter pathway
Your footsteps will soon be moved,
But only at Wits’ End Corner
Is the “God who is able” proved.
Thank you for listening to I Believe: Expressions of Faith with host Karen Trifiletti. For the video of this podcast visit our website. Like us on facebook at facebook.com/IBelievePodcast, follow us on Twitter, Google+, or give us a call at 185-KNOWGOD-1 with your sincere questions. Karen would love to hear from you.
Living out a great season of my life, thanks to Jesus Christ, and two wonderful daughters, a great life's work. Loving this opportunity to share faith online... I'm a single Mom, convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, second-gen Italian, from the East coast originally. Love the fine arts, dance, frozen yogurt, temples, scriptures, writing, jazz, helping others reach their potential, king salmon, ....and not in that order. God is good. I feel it deeply when people have a misconception of Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ, His Son, that lessens or cheapens Them and blinds one's ability to feel His presence or to trust in an ultimately good eternal end to life's circumstances.