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From his column A Minute with Don

minute-with-don-09-14-1Several months ago I was standing in the front yard talking with my neighbor. He and his wife are raising four children. The youngsters are all polite and well mannered, and many Sundays I see them walking together as a family to worship. Their church is in the neighborhood, and the children attend the church-sponsored school. The youngest child is an energetic boy of grade school age. He is creative; a bit of a spark plug for the family.

Imagine my friend’s facial expression and level of anxiety as the voice of his son echoed from the garage, “Dad, where do we keep the glue and duct tape?” The father’s predictable response was, “What happened?” I admit, I was more than a little curious myself. The lad’s reply, “Everything will be fine if I can get some glue and duct tape,” didn’t have the intended calming effect. Needless to say, our conversation ceased as dad hurried to attend to the as yet unknown calamity unfolding nearby.

As amusing as such a situation is (to those not directly involved), it reminded me of what God must hear in some of my prayers. And, if you’re honest, probably what He hears in some of yours. Not wanting to bother Him with the details, we determine there is a problem, design a solution, and then send Him our shopping list to fix what has happened. If He can just provide the needed ingredients for our recipe, we can cook up a solution to a problem we’d rather not have Him explore, and all will be well. And, like my neighbor, God isn’t as assured of the success of our childish assessments as we’d like Him to be.

Later I learned that, in fact, there was no disaster. The boy had been working on one of his many "projects" and needed something to connect the parts and pieces. Nothing was broken; nothing needed repair. His dad explained that he’d been able to guide the design in a little different direction, and they’d spent the evening together putting finishing touches on the project. Since the father is involved in the engineering field, I’m sure he is encouraged that the youngest of his sons appears to be following in his footsteps.

And that completed the lesson for me. What the boy thought he needed was expressed by his energetic request for more stuff. In reality what he needed was his father’s presence, wisdom, and attention. I thought back to my own childhood when I made similar requests of my dad. I’d outline a list of things I needed for some project. In his wisdom, he’d calmly inquire about the nature of what I was up to. At times, his response was a wise, “No,” although this usually followed his first question, “What for?” On more occasions than not, he’d suggest alternatives and gently guide me in a better, less dangerous direction. To this day, I’m amazed at how many times he and other fathers in our neighborhood foiled construction projects planned for large trees.

And so it is with our Heavenly Father. Sometimes in the face of energetic, well-intentioned requests, He has to simply say, “No.” Our aspirations are crushed, and we may want to run away. But if we listen carefully, we’ll hear Him say, “What for?” And if we take the time for spiritual dialog with Him, we'll find what we really need: His presence, wisdom, and attention.

As we journey the seasons of life, it is tempting to believe grown-up problems are a lot more sophisticated and serious than were our childhood projects. From a human perspective, they probably are. But we never outgrow the need for fatherly help. We become well-practiced in assessing situations, designing solutions, and telling God what we need to complete our projects, but what we most need is time with the Great Engineer.

I’ve looked over my prayer requests and have to admit they look more like a cosmic “honey-do” list than I’d like. There is no end to the problems we encounter, and the ingredients for solutions are many. Sometimes my prayer time sounds like I'm placing an order at McDonalds. My listening is attuned to hearing the disembodied voice tell me which window I can visit to receive my order. And I’m not quite sure, but I think I heard “Would you like fries with that?” But in the depths of my heart I know what I’m really hearing is a voice saying, “The Manager would like to speak with you.”

I hope in the busy-ness of doing good things, godly things, you’ve not joined me in this unintentional move towards spiritual efficiency. But based on some of the prayer requests I hear and read, I don’t think I’m alone. Maybe you’ll join me today in admitting we don’t need glue or duct tape. What we really need is to find answers in the presence of our loving Heavenly Father.

Don Walter is director of Pensions and Benefits USA for the Church of the Nazarene.

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