Prayer

In THIS Day

John 11: 21-27

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give You whatever You ask Him.”

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her.

Martha replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she answered, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

Prayer is a funny thing—and it tends to confuse a lot of people. There’s this obvious dichotomy between praying for what we think we want, while knowing that God’s will is perfect, and that His vision is infinite. So I’ve found that I often pray like Martha—with a future focus. Now, sometimes I think Martha gets a bad rap, because of her OCD and all, and because of her tendency to try to boss Jesus around. But think about it. After Lazarus dies, Martha has no trouble at all believing that he will be resurrected with the saints at the last day. At this point, there’s no precedent for that. Jesus hasn’t even died yet, let alone risen from the dead—and yet she believes. She’s like Noah, believing for rain! But she doesn’t ask Jesus outright for what she really wants—her brother back. Somehow that’s too audacious to even want, much less ask for. But Jesus clearly wants her to ask, and He wants to give her what she desires most—in more ways than one.

I confess that I often find myself in her shoes—praying that God would redeem my circumstances in the end, that He would somehow reconcile my unfulfilled desires, and that He would ultimately use it all for His glory…someday. I guess that’s why my thought life often leads me to an imaginary distant future wherein He brings it all to pass. And because I know that His infinite wisdom and perfect will are so much greater than mine, I hesitate to tell Him what I really want now. But it’s in bearing my heart to Him that He gives me more of the Holy Spirit, which is after all Whom I truly desire.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with my dad a couple of years ago. I had already developed a deep desire to donate a kidney to someone in need, but I had recently begun to question whether I would be medically able to do it. I told my dad that, If I couldn’t do it, I would intensely grieve the lost opportunity. “Really?” He asked. “But you would know that it wasn’t God’s will.”

“I know,” I said. “And I believe that, I really do. But I would still be sad.” Telling him that let him know my heart, to draw closer to me, to counsel and comfort me. If I can share that honestly with my earthly and imperfect father, then why in the world shouldn’t I be able to honestly share my heart—however finite and imperfect it may be—with my perfect and all-powerful Heavenly Father?

Of course we can, and we should. Jesus Himself gives us this permission when He prays in the garden that the cup might somehow pass from Him. We can pray likewise if we pray with God’s promises in mind. One promise brings me particular comfort when I pray for what I think I want. It comes from Luke 11: 5-8.

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose one of you goes to his friend at midnight and says,
‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine has come to me on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’

And the one inside answers, ‘Do not bother me. My door is already shut and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’

I tell you, even though he will not get up to provide for him because of his friendship, yet because of the man’s persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

I don’t think I ever noticed before how this story ends—He will surely give you what you “need.” I think I’ve always thought of this passage as somehow saying that by my persistence, like that of a nagging child, I could wear down God’s resistance, causing Him to give me what I am asking for—even if He knows that it will bring with it a wasting disease (Psalm 106:13-15). But no—this passage promises that no matter what I pray for, no matter what I want, God will give me what I NEED.

Selah.

Thank you, God! Thank you that you can be trusted with every desire—trusted to do what is good, what is right. Thank you for the freedom to ask, not just for resurrection and redemption at the last day, but for resurrection, redemption, and abundance—in THIS day!

Amen.

P.S. Thanks to @jpokluda for the reminder, the challenge, and the permission to pray big!

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For This Child I Prayed

Psalm 37:4

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

1 Samuel 1:27

“For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him.”

When we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our hearts. But He doesn’t always do that in the ways we expect. Often, He changes our dreams and desires to conform to His, and we realize that our previous dreams were just a foreshadowing of what God was planning all along. Along the way, He may reveal to us many more possibilities than we ever imagined.

I remember hearing a story some time ago about a mother of two who never felt like her family was “complete,” but who hadn’t had the opportunity to build it further, either through birth or adoption. As her kids grew older, and as she grew older herself, she wondered and prayed about why God would give her this passion, if not to fulfill it. Years later, in a tragic series of events, her family ended up adopting her niece. Only then did she realize that SHE was the reason, and the missing puzzle piece that completed her family.

I often wonder and pray, just as she did—why the desire, without the fulfillment? In my imagination, that fulfilment used to look like adoption. I mean, obviously. My mom was adopted, and I’ve seen so many families and adopted children whose lives have been forever blessed through this beautiful gift. And of course, that is still a dream of mine. If I were overseas somewhere, and I had no one to answer to, and a child just fell into my lap, I would bring them home—no question.

But then, I don’t know what God has in mind. And as I seek His will, I can imagine more and more possibilities each day. Maybe I am meant to mentor and disciple young women—my friends’ kids, my kids’ friends, nieces, students, kids at church or at the early childhood development center where I volunteer, and so on.

Most recently, I’ve been thinking of the many high school kids in our city who experience homelessness. In Waco ISD alone, there were 335 homeless students in 2017-2018—many of whom were unaccompanied. These kids are significantly less likely to graduate from high school, and significantly more likely to experience negative long-term outcomes. In a few short years (or in 12 long years rather) we will have three empty beds in our house. Who knows what God has planned for them?

And maybe as I delight myself in Him, He will continue to re-shape the desires of my heart, and open up new possibilities. One thing I have to believe, I choose to believe, is that one day, I will look into a pair of eyes and know immediately, that it was for THIS child I had prayed.

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Mike

Mike McGregor

Psalm 23:4

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

Where to begin…I guess the best place would be December 10, when I noticed a Facebook post from my friend Victoria in the wee hours of the morning, saying that her stepdad, Mike, had had a massive heart attack the previous afternoon. Her plea was for prayer, and it was clear that she and her family were praying nonstop, and believing for HUGE miracles. I know they prayed without ceasing, and they recruited so many others into this prayer effort, including myself. I found myself logging on to Facebook specifically to check for any updates. Those updates were very specific, as were the prayer requests. I believe that, throughout this trial, Victoria and her family have embodied 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, 2 Samuel 12:15-23, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13. Let me elaborate.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, the Bible tells us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in ALL circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In each of Victoria’s posts, she shared praises and prayer requests. She petitioned for an around-the-clock covering of Mike in prayer. And people responded—family, friends, and strangers. It was beautiful to see just how bathed in prayer he was.

In 2 Samuel 12:15-23, David has learned from Nathaniel that his first child with Bathsheba—the one conceived in sin—would die. Nonetheless, David “pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground.” After seven days of this, the child did die. And then, “David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” When asked about his strange behavior, David responded, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’” At one point, Victoria shared that the doctors were only giving Mike a 5% chance of living. Her response? “Our God is bigger than 5%!”

Later came the update that: “Our precious Mike is fully healed. He is celebrating his victory in Heaven….Our God is GOOD. He is very good. And while this doesn’t feel good, HE is good. And He did not leave 1 prayer unanswered, down to the very last minute.” Amen. Such faith, such strength in Jesus, such a testimony of what it means to mourn, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

This blog is called, Fathoming Heaven: Living a Life Inspired by Ecclesiastes 3:11, and Victoria and her family are living that out right now. God has set eternity in the hearts of Mike and his family. And that makes a victory of what otherwise would be a tragedy. We pray for comfort, peace, and JOY for Victoria and her family, even in the midst of this great sorrow. God be with you (Psalm 23:4). Amen.

Where 2 or 3…Sleep

Matthew 18:20

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Not long ago, our pastor preached on Matthew 18:20, a passage he argued is often taken out of its intended context of reconciliation and misplaced into the context of prayer. It’s encouraging to be reminded of the truth that our prayers are not dependent on the faithfulness of flawed fellow humans. Because how often have we brought our burdens to our community of believers, requesting their prayers, only to have those requests fall on deaf ears, or get lost in the shuffle of daily life or the litany of other requests that occupy their time and attention? But God hears and responds to our prayer, no matter who joins us in them. This is evident throughout scripture, actually. For instance:

  • Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
  • Romans 8:26-27: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

Still, if you’re anything like me, you may be tempted to respond with an air of resentment…misplaced, though, because let’s be honest—unless you’re that lady from War Room, you’ve probably dropped the ball on a prayer request or two yourself. I know I have.

So how should we respond when we are disappointed and when our prayer warriors let us down? Fortunately, Jesus Himself offers us some guidance on that. In the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46), Jesus shared His burden with Peter, James, and John, saying, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Then He asked them to keep watch and pray. And did they? No. Instead, they fell asleep. Even John—the beloved disciple and the one who may arguably have loved Jesus the most. And not just once or twice did this happen, but three times! But Jesus recognized that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Scripture also tells us that the disciples’ “eyes were heavy” and that Jesus left them sleeping and continued to pray. Finally, after they’d slept through the entire ordeal, Judas showed up to turn Jesus over to the authorities. And Jesus woke them up and said, “Rise! Let us go!”

I see Jesus doing four things in this passage:

  1. He asks his friends to pray—and more than once. He doesn’t give up on them, just because they’ve let him down.
  2. He understands their weakness and weariness. He recognizes that their failure is not a result of them not wanting to pray or not caring. He sees that their eyes are heavy.
  3. He continues to pray, even in isolation. He knows that the Father hears and answers prayers—whether we are joined in those prayers by our fellow believers or not.
  4. He doesn’t give up on the disciples. Even though He does eventually allow them to slumber, he wakes them up when it’s time to go, and summons them to join Him.

My hope is that you and I will take our cues from Jesus when faced with our own disappointments, and that we will remember, as God does, that we are all but dust (Psalm 103:14).

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Look Out!

Psalm 5:3

“In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.”

Have you ever gotten to the point in a situation where you thought, “Well, it’s out of my hands now—all that’s left to do is pray.” The tone always seems a little bit fatalistic, doesn’t it? And then, there may be other times when you pray, but you pray for small things, easy things…things you’re most likely to get or to be able to ensure on your own. But you pray, too, just in case. Or perhaps you pray big things, but not really believing that they will happen, or even that they could happen. It’s just too big, too much, to impossible. Except it’s not.

Luke 1:37 states very simply that “nothing will be impossible with God,” and the other Gospels echo this statement. In Jeremiah 32:27, God Himself says, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” And of course, the answer is NO! But I (and perhaps you) keep living and praying as though God is not all-powerful. But around the first of this year, I began occasionally and “coincidentally” coming across Psalm 5:3, in which the psalmist declares, “In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” The more times I read it, the more I really started to hear what it was saying…expectantly. So I looked a little deeper, past my NIV, and read some different translations of this word that had caught my attention, and I learned what a great word it is, in the Hebrew and in other translations, as well.

The word is translated as “eagerly watch,” in the New American Standard Bible. The King James Version translates it, “look up.” The International Standard Version states, “I will watch for your answer.” But my favorite I think is Young’s Literal Translation, according to which the psalmist states, “At morning I set in array for Thee, and I look out.” This says to me that when you set your requests before God, you’d better get out of the way and be ready for Him to do a mighty work.

I have definitely been guilty of praying little prayers, doubt-filled prayers, last-ditch prayers, lip service prayers, double-minded prayers…you get the picture. But I for one don’t want to do that anymore. So from now on, come hell or high water, when I fold my hands in prayer, I will see this reminder on my wrist to pray big, to pray expectantly, to pray believing…and when I open my eyes, I’ll be ready for Him to answer—and I’ll look out.

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Election Day 2016!

Dear God,

Election Day! It’s finally here and I am thankful that nothing about this mess comes as a surprise to you. None of it rattles or scares you. None of it changes you. You are God, you are sovereign. You will not fall off your throne or wave a flag of defeat. You will remain the same YOU—the same GOD—you have always been.

And you, even now, are working all things together for good for those who love you and are called according to your purpose (Romans 8:28). Even now, you are using people who hate and persecute you to accomplish those very purposes—here and across the globe.

And tomorrow, you will welcome us back to you, just as you always have. “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love” (Psalm 145:8).

May your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Amen!

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Who I Am–Part VI

Matthew 6:7-8

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans,
for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them,
for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

A while back, about a decade ago now, I spent some time in northern California, making some great friends, great memories, and great self-discoveries. I will always remember those times, and look back on them fondly. Indeed, I’m long overdue for a visit back—but that’s another story. For now, I want to tell you one story in particular that relates to tattoo #6.

At a friend’s, I noticed a stone sitting on a coffee table with a symbol chiseled into it. I liked the design a lot, and wondered if it would work as a tattoo. But when I asked what it meant, my friend replied, “Om.” Om—as in, a mystic syllable, considered the most sacred mantra [appearing] at the beginning and end of most Sanskrit recitations, prayers, and texts. Hindu culture considers it to be the root of the universe and everything that exists and it continues to hold everything together.

“Oh,” I replied in obvious disappointment, “I guess I can’t get a tattoo of it then.” I mean, its meaning certainly wasn’t in keeping with my Christian faith, right? But my friends described it in a few different ways, trying to clarify or maybe qualify its essence. And finally, one described it this way: “It’s kind of like prayer without words.”

That stopped me in my tracks. “Oooh, I like that!” I thought about it for a few months; I pictured it in my mind. I thought about that last meaning, prayer without words. We know, as Christians, that the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that we can’t even comprehend when we say the wrong things, or when we have no earthly idea what or how to pray at all. There are times like that. In those moments, it seems like the idea of prayer without words would bring peace and comfort.

Besides, I reasoned, it will be a reminder to pray for people of other nations, cultures, and religious beliefs. I’m loathe to admit, though, that its placement on my lower back is not always conducive to my seeing it and remembering to make those prayers and petitions. I need to work on that.

It seems like we hear and see “Om” all over the place now…at the natural food co-op, on the window outside the yoga or massage parlor, in the movies, everywhere. Perhaps now it will serve as a reminder to you of the importance of praying continuously, and of praying even without words. Or perhaps you’re like me and you need the reminder to pray for those who are not like you—no matter the source of those differences. God most certainly sees and loves us all, and will honor our efforts to better love Him and our fellow man.

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Dear Prospective Birth Mother

Dear Prospective Birth Mother,

For years, I’ve dreamed of one day adopting a baby. I’ve spent time praying for him or her—and that God would bring us just the right child and that we would be uniquely qualified, gifted, and equipped to care for him or her. I’ve prayed that we might be instrumental in helping them become everything that God has created them to be.

But for a while now, I’ve been thinking of and praying for you. No doubt you are in the midst of making some of the most difficult decisions that you’ve ever had to make—that you ever will have to make. The decision to entrust the life and care of your baby—your own flesh and blood—to a couple of virtual strangers must be both terrifying and heart-wrenching. At the same time as you experience those fears, questions, and uncertainties, though, you are probably overwhelmed with hope, dreaming of the many wonderful opportunities that your child may have as a result of this bravest of choices.

Of course, the other burden that falls on you, a responsibility that no mother should have to bear, is CHOOSING which couple of strangers will be the best fit for your child. That is a choice that I can’t even fathom—and again, you show immeasurable courage by undertaking that responsibility. A couple of women come to mind whose stories you may find encouraging. In Exodus 2:1-10, we find the story of Moses’ mother—who placed her baby boy in a basket in a river, in hopes that he would be adopted by one of Pharaoh’s daughters. As a result of this act, Moses was used mightily by God—as an instrument of His emancipation. In another story, in 1 Samuel 2, Hannah—a woman who had long struggled with infertility, pleaded with God for a child, vowing to in turn return that child to the service of the Lord. And that is just what she did; she entrusted him to Eli the priest. Again, her son became a powerful instrument for God’s purposes.

Neither mother knew their children’s adoptive parents well. But they did know God—and they trusted in His faithfulness to care for their beloved children. And through challenges and trials that those mothers would never have wished upon their sons, God carried them safely home and into eternal rest.

Still, your decision weighs heavily upon you. It’s unsettling, to be sure. So let me leave you with a couple of verses that I believe God has given me to share with you:

  • “If anyone lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5; NIV)
  • “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26:3; NLT)
  • “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11)

I hope these verses bring you hope and peace. Know that you remain in my thoughts and prayers, and that you have my deepest respect and admiration. Be strong in spirit, but humble before the Lord—and He will surely guide you, now and for all of your days.

With Love,

Brooklynn

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How Then Shall We Pray…When God Says, “No”?

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Job 1:20-21(NASB)

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head,
and he fell to the ground and worshipped….
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

One year ago today, Amanda went home to heaven. I never met her, but from pictures and stories, it’s clear that this spunky little redhead was full of life and faith, and a maturity beyond her almost eleven years. Certainly, prayers for healing abounded during the 18 months prior to her passing. And while we know that she is happy, healthy, and cancer-free now, there remains a sense in which the answer to those prayers was, “No.” We know, of course, that God’s sovereignty is over all, and that His will and purpose are at times accomplished through loss. But that doesn’t negate the pain we feel. So, in times like these, we have to ask, How then shall we pray…when God says no? Thankfully, we can turn to the Bible for direction in this pursuit.

We’re told in Job 1: 20-21 that “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshipped….The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Another translation quotes Job as saying, “may the name of the Lord be praised.” Now, this was just after Job had lost everything—his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, servants, sons, and daughters. I find it interesting that Job’s first response in the face of loss was to worship and to praise God. And he wasn’t the only one.

2 Samuel 12:13-23 recounts the death of David’s son after his affair with Bathsheba. David was warned in advance that this would happen, but for seven days, David fasted and prayed that his son would not die. But upon hearing of the child’s death, he “got up from the floor, washed himself, put lotions on, and changed his clothes. Then he went into the Lord’s house to worship.” Here, not only do we see David worshipping in the face of loss and tragedy, but we see an acceptance of God’s sovereignty and His decision. It feels almost as if his prayer changed. For a week, he prayed nonstop that God would allow his son to live. But then, when he didn’t, David got up, got dressed, worshipped, and ate. I can imagine him praying that God would use this loss for His glory, and that he would bring comfort in the midst of pain.

Finally, Luke 22:42 tells us that Jesus himself received disaffirming answers to his prayers. In the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” And yet, he also acknowledged the sovereignty of God the Father, saying, “not my will, but yours be done.” As we know, God did not take the cup from him. Instead, he was tortured and killed. But before he breathed his last, his prayers changed as well. In the face of his own death, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

We, too, are faced with losses and disappointments. And we would do well to follow these godly examples. When God says, “No,” may we have the courage and humility to praise and worship and bless His name anyway. And may we be ready and willing to change our prayers in response to God’s movements.

Spirit Intercede

Romans 8:25-27

“But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;
and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is,
because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

I am not an authority on prayer. In fact, for the most part I pretty well stink as a prayer warrior. One of my biggest problems with prayer—besides the obvious one of disciplining myself to do it regularly—is knowing what to pray for. I might think I know what I want in any given moment, but I am also fully aware that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). I might think I know what would bring God the greatest glory in any given situation, but I also know that God’s ways are higher than my ways, and that His thoughts are higher than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). I also know that “a man’s heart plans his way,” while “the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). So ultimately, then, we are left to pray only for what we THINK God’s will is, or what we believe it might be.

Thank God we have the Spirit to intercede—or translate—for us, through groans we can’t understand. While that’s a comfort to me, I know that it is a source of frustration for others. Some will ask, if the Spirit is interceding anyway, and if we don’t even know how we ought to pray, then why do it at all? Well, it seems to me that there are a number of reasons for us to pray in concert with God and other believers.

  1. God invites us to participate in His processes. Not many perspectives on God recognize how relational He is, how He longs to be in constant communion with us. It’s a privilege that He extends this invitation to talk with Him whenever, however, and about whatever we desire. We shouldn’t take it for granted.
  2. The more time we spend in prayer, the more God can align OUR wills with His. I love Psalm 37:4—“Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” What I love most about this verse is the meaning that sometimes eludes us. Namely, this scripture promises that, as we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will mold our desires to more closely match His desires for us. What a comfort.
  3. We become better in tune with the needs of others around us, and grow in compassion. At times, I’ve set out on a renewed commitment to prayer. And do you know what I have found? The more I pray, the more there is to pray about. I begin watching, listening, caring, and feeling empathy and grace for others. In short, I grow in compassion. It’s kind of like a muscle: if I exercise it more, it gets stronger. And by the same token, if I get out of the habit of regularly exercising compassion through prayer (among other things), it gets weaker. I begin to forget, overlook, focus inward, and dismiss—none of which are good traits to display as a follower of Christ.
  4. We learn faith and trust—in waiting, in receiving “nos” from God, in hearing “later” from Him. I am not I don’t know what’s best for me, or you, or anyone else. But God does. He is the all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful Heavenly Father. And He knows what we need before we even ask Him (Matthew 6:8). So whatever His answer is to our prayers, we can be assured that it is the right answer. And we can have peace in that.

So pray boldly, and then believe boldly in a Holy Spirit who is forever advocating for you and compensating for your weaknesses in the courts of God. And praise the Lord when He answers—no matter what that answer is!