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Be Careful What You Pray For

Updated on August 20, 2014

You Just Might Get It!

My favorite saying is, "Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it." There is a history behind this saying, and it came out of situations in my own family. At various times, a person in the family would pray for something, and the answer turned out to be totally surprising.

I will also talk about the basis of prayer, and how it should be used. I will show you why some of the popular notions about prayer that are sometimes taught in churches claiming to be Christian are erroneous, and can lead to dire consequences.

While we certainly can and should pray for material blessings, especially blessings for which we have a real need and not just a "want", material blessings are not usually suited to be the focus of prayer. Prayer should be directed toward talking to God, glorifying, thanking, and praising Him, and asking for spiritual blessings.

The photo of the old computer printer is licensed by JuergenG under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0, GNU Free Documentation License.

The Printer

One day, I went to the warehouse store. I only failed to drive my car on one occasion: this one. I took the truck instead. I don't remember why. The truck was a pickup with a camper top. When I got there, I also called home to see if anyone needed anything. I can only recall doing that maybe three times a year. When our son answered, he said he had read there was a printer available for free, and he wanted it. It was first come, first serve. So I called my husband, and he agreed to meet me at the place, which just happened to be on that side of town. We got there, and the printer was still available, so we loaded it into the truck. Just as we finished loading it, another car drove up. They also wanted the printer, but of course, we got it.

The photo above shows a similar printer from that era. These were huge metal cabinets that stood on the floor. They used 17" wide paper with sprocket holes on each edge. This was during the era when a hard disk drive consisted of a stack of platters in a cabinet the size of a washing machine. By the time our son prayed for the printer, these big ones were very obsolete.

So I drove the truck home, and our son came out, and he took a look, and his eyes just about bugged out of his head! I don't think he was expecting a printer that large. So I said, "Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it!" He laughed, because he HAD prayed!

Later, he was able to trade the printer to another company, which used it for parts to repair a similar printer, and gave him something he wanted more instead.

Favorite Books with Much Information

Available from Amazon

Before you can pray to God, you have to know Who He is. These books will introduce a person to the Christian faith, and give a firm foundation to know it is true.

More Than a Carpenter

by Josh D. McDowell, Sean McDowell

Josh McDowell set out to disprove the Christian faith, and discovered he couldn't. He became a Christian and has written eloquently about the evidence for the Bible, and an explanation of how one becomes a Christian. A must-read.

The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity

by Lee Strobel

Strobel's area of expertise as a journalist was legal, including court cases. He uses these skills to ask questions of experts in various fields of inquiry regarding the Christian faith. As with McDowell and Montgomery (see below), he started out as a skeptic, and ended up being a Christian. If I talk to someone who debunks the Christian faith, I just tell them to go ahead and try to disprove it. I know if he is an honest person, he will find he cannot do so.

Part Two of Strobel's evidence for the Christian faith.

The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ

by Lee Strobel

Answers skeptics who attack the facts about Jesus and His life on earth.

The Case for Easter: A Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection

by Lee Strobel

The Resurrection is the most important evidence for the Christian faith, according to the Apostle Paul. Find out why.

The Piano

Er, I mean the organ

One Monday, I was out driving one of our sons someplace. We were alone together. He said he wanted to take piano lessons.

A bit of history is in order. Several years earlier, we had had a 100 year flood (maybe more like 1000). We have an old upright that needs refinishing, and I had it in the barn, and I had the top off because I wanted to work on it. That left the inner workings exposed. What I didn't know was that there was a leak in the roof right above the piano, and water got in there and unglued the felts off all the hammers in the middle octave. So it was unusable.

So I said, we don't have a working piano, and no money to buy one, so we should pray for a piano. Neither of us said a word to anybody about this.

The following Friday, I was talking to my mother-in-law, and she said, "Hildegard wants you to call her." So on Sunday, I called Hildegard, and she said, "The Lord told me to give you my organ." Of course, she didn't own a piano, just an organ.

So I went out and found our son, and I said, "Remember how we prayed for a piano? Will an organ do?" I rounded up a few of the guys, and they went over and got it.

That was the beginning of years of developing multiple music skills. It was truly wonderful to watch.

The photo is of an organ which is similar to what she gave us. As you can see, it's an old Hammond drawbar organ. It has short keyboards, and the pedalboard is only one octave. I learned to play some fairly challenging works on it in spite of this limitation, editing to fit the keys I had as I played.

Later on, when I was able to get an AGO (American Guild of Organists specifications) console, I donated the organ (and another like it) to a woman who used the parts to repair church organs. Hildegard would have liked that.

What is Prayer?

First, what it is not.

A lot of people seem to be confused about what prayer is. They use prayer improperly in many ways. So I want to spend a few sentences explaining what I believe about prayer, and what concepts we used when praying.

Prayer is not a demand for some frivolous material thing supplied by a sugar daddy. Lots of people think that's what prayer is all about. In fact, entire "Christian" movements have been built around this false idea of prayer. Church growth leaders teach this. Paul (aka David) Yonggi Cho is the senior pastor of the largest congregation in the world, over a million members, located in Seoul, Korea. He wrote several books which I have read. The idea that I remember most clearly was when he was describing how he prayed for a bicycle. He said we should be very specific concerning what we ask God to give us. If we want a bicycle, we should even tell Him what color the bicycle is supposed to be. (Obviously, from my account of the organ, that would certainly not be compatible with what we believe.) Attempting to use advertising, entertainment, and business models, some people seek to grow the church by attracting people through human effort. But the responsibility for attracting people to Christ is the Holy Spirit's responsibility, and we need to get out of the way.

Many people teach what I like to call "prosperity heresy". This is the idea that God wants us to be prosperous and healthy in this life. The Christian faith is not about generating prosperity and health. It is about worshiping God here and now, and about spending eternity with Him. Our lives are incredibly short. A life can be snuffed out in a split second without warning. People who concentrate on prosperity in the here and now are totally missing the message. Jesus said we should take up our cross and follow Him. That implies we will experience suffering.

In some ways, being too prosperous is much more of a burden. Along with it come temptations that are hard to resist.

Now, what prayer IS

Prayer is our method of talking to God. There are several different kinds of prayer.

Praise and thanksgiving. We are to praise God with our prayers. As I grow older, I take that more and more literally, and I even thank God for every animal I don't hit that runs in front of my car when I am driving. I thank God that on the rare occasion when I do hit an animal, it wasn't a child. Lately, I haven't hit very many animals, less than one a year. Before, I used to hit quite a few more. I never want to hit an animal. But they are unpredictable and can run out of the bushes without warning, right in front of you, and you simply cannot avoid them. It grieves me. But I try to think about it in a way that pleases God because I am grateful for all He has done for me. I also started thanking God for green lights. All of that may sound silly, but I take it very seriously.

Praying for others. Whether it be because you see a person doesn't know God and you want God to make Himself known to that person, or because you want to pray for someone's health, or for their hardship for other reasons, prayer is the way of asking God to intervene and help.

Praying for one's own needs. When we pray, we trust that God will supply our basic needs. We are free to ask for those things, and for things that we might be able to do without, but that might help us live a more peaceable life. We pray for protection, but in the event we are persecuted, we pray for God's strengthening, knowing that if they take our life, we will go to heaven.

In my opinion, praying frivolously for more than we need and for material blessings while our neighbor is hurting, is not God's will.

When you pray for earthly blessings, always leave the answer up to God. We say, "If it be thy will." If you pray for spiritual blessings, especially for someone else, and these are prayers in keeping with the teachings of the Bible, we can assume these things are within God's will. When we don't know what to pray, the Holy Spirit will pray for us. He will also help us to choose when to pray and what to pray for.

Debate: Do you pray?

Do you pray? If you do, do you pray in the Christian manner, or in another tradition? Please describe how you pray.

Do you pray?


Fasting is considered biblical. It is reserved for extreme cases where the need is very great. It is also reserved for people who are medically able to do it. At one time, I could fast for the day and eat only at night, but now I cannot fast at all.

Fasting is a calling. If you are called to fast, you do so. If not, you utilize other forms of prayer to entreat God to supply an answer.

God always answers prayer. Sometimes He says Yes, sometimes He says No, and sometimes He says, Wait.

You know what amazes me most? How we can all interact with each other, the billions of us, and God can still orchestrate each and every life for the good of THAT person, in spite of everything and the seeming impossibility. Isn't that amazing!

History and Christianity

by John Warwick Montgomery

A Special Favorite of Mine

I particularly like this book because the person who wrote it is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. He has ten earned degrees, including eight on the doctoral level. He speaks fluent French, and he is skilled as a French chef and a connoisseur of wines. He was one of those people who was dragged kicking and screaming to the Christian faith. He had been an atheist, and he decided to investigate. That's always dangerous, if you want to disprove the Christian faith, because you run the risk of discovering that the Christian faith is true!

John Warwick Montgomery has a wonderful sense of humor, which occasionally peeks through in his writings. For example, when he is talking about proof, he says that if someone tells you there is a purple elephant in your back yard eating a green ice cream cone (or a green elephant, I don't remember for sure), you will want to go see for yourself.

What makes it even nicer is that Dr. Montgomery is now a Lutheran theologian, from my synod! I got to meet him in Phoenix some years back, when Francis Schaeffer, Franky Schaeffer V, Dr. Mildred Jefferson, and the man who later became the surgeon-general of the United States, Dr. Everett Koop, were touring the country showing their film series, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, which deals with the issue of abortion in the United States. After one of the sessions, a mutual friend of ours took us to a French restaurant, and as we were sitting around deciding what to have, I made the comment that if I were going to order from a menu in a foreign language, it would have to be Russian rather than French, whereupon Dr. Montgomery said he really admired me because I could read an inflected language (which except for verbs, French is not). That really blessed me. After we ate, the chef at the restaurant came out, and Dr. Montgomery and he had a conversation in French, which meant it was my turn to be impressed. :)

Much to my disappointment, this book is out of print. I hope it will be reprinted in the future. But there are still copies floating around, so it should be possible to get it easily enough.

Contains much the same information as More Than a Carpenter, and with a touch of humor.

Hokey Stuff

Don't try this at home

Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Here I want to consider various things that I might have tried, and have since concluded they're either not scriptural, or they're not wise, or something of the sort. I will be adding a few topics, but I would like to consider one issue at the moment.

I got the idea someplace that we could get direction from God by asking a question and then letting the Bible fall open and reading what was on the page for an answer. I did this for awhile, and then I had an experience that caused me to stop it entirely and permanently.

On this occasion, I was invited to the wedding of one of my nieces, and I decided to go, and I don't remember what, if any, questions I asked and then let the Bible fall open, but there were some. I wanted to talk to her sister anyway, about some concerns I had spiritually. It seemed like from the get-go things got in the way. Things like the washing machine breaking when I needed to wash clothes to take on the trip, etc. Finally, on the day I intended to leave, I packed the kids up in the car and drove out, and I got past El Paso, and then I had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. It was pitch black outside. No moonlight, no light from neighboring towns (because there weren't any.) I pulled off the freeway and sat there. For about three hours, we did things like singing hymns, and then I prayed that God would send someone I could trust, to fix the tire. The tire was on the highway side, and I didn't have a flashlight, so I felt it was too dangerous to try to do it myself. Not ten minutes later, an 18 wheeler drove up behind me, and the truck drive got out and he changed my tire. So that was definitely an answer to prayer, and a prayer properly prayed. We went on to Van Horn, and I found a room for the night, and in the morning, I asked whether we should go on to the wedding, or go home. I guess that was one obstacle too many. When I let the Bible fall open, it seemed as if I was being told to go home. So I went home. I learned later that the relative I wanted to talk to had been sick as a dog with a high fever, and we wouldn't have gotten the chance to talk anyway.

In retrospect, what I was doing was no better than people who derive private interpretations from a Bible passage in support of some modern notion of eschatology, and should not be practiced for the same reason. The passages in the Bible have a specific application, and they're not intended to be answers to random questions. While I believe strongly that God rarely, if ever, speaks directly to a person, especially since we cannot know WHO is doing the speaking, and it consists of NO evidence we can share with anyone else, being a strictly private experience, I do believe God speaks to us through the Bible. But not in that way.

So if you come across this suggestion anywhere, just ignore it. It won't give you a private line to God for answers, and it could be spiritually very dangerous.

Sometimes we just need to use a little common sense!

Tell us about it. Or tell us why you don't pray, or anything else you want to say about this topic.


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