By Denae Jones –
There is a story told of a man who was listening as the news warned of a pending flood. He walked out onto his porch and saw all of his neighbors packing their cars and leaving town. One neighbor stopped and offered him a ride. The man thanked him, but said he had been praying and had faith that God would save him if the flood got worse.
Several hours later, water was lapping around the top step of his porch. Another neighbor approached his home in a boat, and warned him that soon he would be unable to get out at all. Would he please come along? The man said, “No thank you.” Yes, the water was getting high, but God would save him if it got too bad.
When the water got up to the upstairs window, safety boats saw the man looking out and begged him to get into the boat, but the man declined. He said he was continuing to pray, and that God would save him. The boat left to save others.
By that evening, the man had climbed onto his roof, as the house was entirely full of water. A helicopter flew overhead and threw down a rope, and a loud voice came over a speaker that this was his last chance. He would surely die if he did not grab onto the rope so that he could be rescued. The man yelled that he had faith that God would save him and refused to leave. Some laughed at the man’s reply, as they watched the helicopter fly away and leave him stranded.
Minutes later, the man was swept away and drowned. When he got to heaven, he was angry. He said, “God, what happened? You always tell us to have faith and believe, and I did! I prayed unceasingly. I had faith that you would save me. People laughed at me because of you. I trusted you! Why did you let me die?” God answered, “I know that you are faithful and I heard your prayers. I wanted you to be saved, so I sent you a neighbor, two boats and a helicopter. Couldn’t you recognize that I was answering your prayers though them?”
The man in the story might sound foolish, but how often do we act just like him? How often do we think we are being faithful by offering prayer, but don’t take time to listen or recognize God’s answer? When I first heard that story, I wondered if maybe God was answering the prayers of the rescuers too? Maybe they prayed for their eyes to be open to find stranded neighbors who needed their help. The difference between them and the man who drowned was that after they prayed, they listened. They looked around to see how God wanted to use them and then acted on it. The other man just sat around and waited for a miracle to come to him.
Can God answer our prayers and make miracles happen without using other people? Of course He can. But he isn’t a magician. His job is not to entertain us or give us everything we ask for. He is our Father. He wants to teach us so we can grow. As a parent, I’ve learned that doing everything for my kids and giving them everything they ask for is not good parenting. They not only show no appreciation, but they don’t learn how to help themselves or look out for anyone else. However, if I simply guide them and push them in the right direction, a bigger, more beautiful story unfolds. They might be annoyed from constantly hearing my voice whispering in their ear, but they learn to use their own discernment and distinguish between right and wrong. Hopefully, they learn to look up in prayer, and then to listen to God whispering in their ear. I hope they learn to look around to see how God can use them.
The Lord said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. (1 Kings 11-13)
Maybe the man who drowned in the story was waiting for God to show up in a big way. Maybe, like Elijah, he was looking for some big and powerful sign that God was there. But in doing that, he didn’t recognize the hands of God when they showed up through other people. Maybe we can try to make our prayers more genuine and look for the answer in more subtle ways. Maybe sometimes we are the answer to someone else’s prayer.