The elementary school I attended had just enough students to have two classes for each grade. So, you might get Ms. So and So or Ms. So and So, and who you got for your teacher was a big deal. Now, let me preface what I am about to say by noting that I love and respect teachers and, in fact, I was married to one. Nine out of ten teachers are great. It’s that one out of ten that you want to avoid.
I always prayed the night before: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Angels watch me through the night and wake me with the morning light. P.S. Help me to get Ms. So and So.” The night before the start of my fifth grade year, the prayer was, “Help me not to get Ms. Kirby.” I got Ms. Kirby. So much for the expectation of prayer.
A few weeks into the year and Ms. Kirby was having a bad day. I wasn’t sure if it was being caused by our bad behavior or simply that every day was a bad day for her. She didn’t have good days. She was at least 100 years old, and I assumed had never been married. If she had been married then he took the easy way out and died early. So, one day was particularly bad, and she declared that she was “going on the war path.” She promptly hurled a text book, which weighed more than me, across the room. Several times that year she went on the “war path,” and we quickly learned to duck behind our desks.
I told that story to Sheri over the years and, quite frankly, she looked at me with skeptical eyes. “Sure honey whatever you say,” Sheri said with sarcasm. Well, I took her to a high school reunion, and we were sitting at the same table with my best growing up friend, Bob, alias Sly. “Sly tell Sheri about Ms. Kirby,” I said. Sly grew pale. He described her “war path” eruptions and flying text books. Sly said that his parents had to bribe him to get him to go to school to face Ms. Kirby.
I smiled at Sheri. Vindication is sweet.
But to think that Ms. Kirby was an answer to prayer. “Lord,” I prayed, “please don’t let me get Ms. Kirby.”
In one of the gospel accounts, Jesus prayed all night before selecting His disciples. He prayed all night and what did he get? Twelve disciples, who did not exactly have the best resumes: Simon Peter, a man with a big mouth; James and John, guys with bad tempers who threw elbows in church league basketball; Matthew, a hated tax collector; Thomas, a man filled with doubt; Simon the Zealot, a guy with lots of anger who in today’s world would want to blow up things or fly airplanes into buildings, and a guy named Judas, who was good with money but you didn’t turn your back on him. Is that what you get when you pray all night?
We need to be careful not to view prayer as a transaction, where you say the right words and you get the right results. Prayer can’t be judged by whether or not it works. I have never liked the bumper sticker, “Prayer Works.” You can’t judge prayer by results.
To me, the best example is Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before His death. Jesus is really praying hard; the scripture says He fell on His face.
When Jesus prayed in the garden it was not a complex transaction; He just told God what He wanted and what He hoped for and what He dreaded, and then He trusted God to do what was best. And by the way, just as soon as He finished praying in the garden, guess who shows up? It is that same guy, Judas, the betrayer, who was a gift to Jesus after a night in prayer. Jesus was betrayed right after His heart wrenching prayer in the garden, and then He suffered and died.
You see, prayer does not exclude the unpredictable things in life. Prayer is not insurance or some magic formula which eliminates all risks for 2020. “If I just pray then surely I won’t get Ms. Kirby as a teacher.” Prayer includes the unknown and unpredictable. Jesus prayed all night before selecting twelve disciples, one betrayer and eleven potential betrayers.
And I got Ms. Kirby. If you don’t believe me, ask my friend Sly.
~ Pastor Steve