Last night, we prayed for Ben’s father.
We actually do most nights. After our nightly routine of reading, teeth brushing, and reflecting on the day, right before Ben dozes off… he asks me to pray for his father.
The one that walked out on him. On us.
If that doesn’t illustrate the heart of this child, I don’t know what else does. But what you need to know is that his prayers are never for him to meet some impending doom, but instead, they are prayer requests that he hopes his father had a good day. That he thought of his son. And that someday he can know who Jesus is.
For some reason though, tonight… the prayers hit differently, and my heart was reminded of the story in the Bible of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
This story, for those unfamiliar, tells of three men, by the names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were abducted from their home, and sold into captivity under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar. Though they eventually rose in ranks to attain high power and acclaim, they were not immune to jealousy and resentment from their peers. So rampant was their bitterness, during one particular celebration, that these men confronted King Nebuchadnezzar to reveal that his three favored advisers did not worship him, the king, as was instructed, but instead, the God of Israel.
Upon learning this, King Nebuchadnezzar, furious with rage, brought the three before him, to question the validity of these claims. So serious was he about being worshiped, in fact, that any who did not bow down in reverence was to be thrown into a fiery pit to burn to death as punishment for their crime.
It’s at this moment, while being questioned by the king, that the men boldly proclaim,
“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
“But even if he does not…”
That line? That’s the one that gets me. But that wasn’t always the case.
For a long time, my prayers looked like a really nice slot machine. Dutifully putting prayers in, much like one would with coins, hoping that after enough “entries”, I would be rewarded with a positive outcome in the form of prayers answered.
A cancer diagnosis in the family proved just how futile this approach really was.
Like it was yesterday, I remember praying for the tumors to shrink. For the chemotherapy to work. For more time. For anything, really. As silly as it may seem, in those moments of desperation, it felt like her cure was dependent on my prayers. In many ways, God’s goodness was intrinsically linked to his ability to produce results. And He, as far as I was concerned, was not following through with His end of the deal that I had imposed upon Him.
Turns out, God doesn’t really work like that. I had prayed for a miracle, as one does. But in looking back, I can see now that a crucial part of the prayer was missing.
“Even if You don’t…”
It took a long time to find the goodness in her leaving this earthly home. For years, I was mainly just the personification of angry with really nice winged eyeliner. But as years passed, God’s grace showed me countless gifts that her passing left, imprinted on my heart. One of them being the prayer of, “Even if You don’t…”
To say that praying for Ben’s father has been difficult would be an understatement. I think anyone who knows our story could understand why. In fact, for many years, I didn’t even bother to pray for him. It was that much of a lost cause, as far as I was concerned. (For the record, it doesn’t feel great to type that, but it was true, and I believe in transparency over the “highlight reel” that is so common on personal blogs, so here we are.)
But a few months ago, while listening to a sermon, I was reminded of this. Of the proclamation made by men, almost certain to meet their death. So sure were they, of God’s goodness, that they knew that even if He didn’t answer their prayers, He was still good. And this became our prayer.
That even if Ben’s father continued to walk in the other direction, that we would trust God had a reason. That even if Ben’s father made active choices that hurt Ben, that God would use this for His glory. That our God is the God that moves mountains and parts seas, raising men from the dead and allowing the blind to see. So that if God was allowing this to be our story, that there is a reason far greater beyond my comprehension. That our God is the God of miracles, and that even if he does not answer our specific prayer, that he will use our story for good. For His good.