Careful What You Pray For

The other night as I lay in bed drifting off to sleep, I prayed for God to give me patience and peace – two things I had lacked in my interactions with other people that day. It seemed like a good thing to pray for: the development of a couple of the fruits of the Spirit in my life.

The next morning, as I was getting ready to go to work, I began getting frustrated at every little thing that was going wrong. I couldn’t find any pants to wear. My shirts all had buttons missing. I stood at my closet (“suffering” from first world problems, to be sure) getting annoyed for longer than I needed to or should have. Then I didn’t have time to eat breakfast. More importantly, I didn’t have time to make coffee. Then I got in my truck and noticed the low fuel light was on. Great. Then I started my morning job of delivering papers around campus and got stuck behind a makeshift snowplow going about 5 miles an hour. Then a couple of the buildings that were supposed to be unlocked weren’t.

I was in a foul mood after all of this, until finally it dawned on me. It was as if in one moment of clarity, God said, “Well, you prayed for peace and patience.”

I sure did. And God was giving me ample opportunity to develop both that morning. I couldn’t help but take a deep breath and smile at that point.

I realized something right then: I didn’t really want patience or peace. All I wanted was an easy life. I didn’t really want to be able to deal with misbehaving kids in calm, loving and grace-filled ways — I just wanted them to stop misbehaving. I didn’t really want to be patient when things didn’t progress as quickly as I would have liked – I just wanted thing to happen on my schedule. I didn’t really want to be peaceful in the midst of chaotic visits to restaurants with friends and their kids – I just wanted silence. False peace.

I was processing all of that this morning, and God took my thoughts to a well-known Jesus story. I think it is interesting what happens when we find Jesus sleeping (sleeping!) on a boat with his disciples in the middle of a raging storm. The disciples wake him up in a frantic panic, and he says two things: “Peace. Be still.”

What I find interesting about that story is the order in which Jesus says them. First, to his disciples, he says, “Peace!” (Some translations have it as, “Quiet!”) Then, he turns to the waves and says, “Be still.”

Not “Be still!” and then “Peace.” The peace comes first, while the waves are still crashing around the boat. While the kids are still being kids and misbehaving. While the snowplow is still making you late. While things aren’t happening according to how you planned them. That’s where peace and patience are developed and displayed.

And then, the waves are commanded to be still.

As I think back over yesterday morning, I have to smile now when I see what God was up to. I wonder, if I would have known how that morning was going to go, would I have prayed for patience and peace the night before? I hope so. And I pray that I have more chances to develop that fruit in my life now.