The Answer to my Un-Prayer

By Holly Tolson on December 29, 2016

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death
“’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

-John Newton

 

This hymn. I hate it and I love it. I don’t remember praying it, at least not audibly. I know that down in the recesses of my heart I groaned it, I longed for it, I prayed it without really knowing it. For grace and faith, this is why I left my home and job to serve as a Serge Apprentice. Yes, to share Jesus with the people of London, but in serving here, to know Him myself in a new and deeper way.

When I signed up to become a international, cross-cultural worker there were “pains” I could anticipate: leaving my family, my church, my friends; a pay cut; loss of “status” (I’m a 37-year-old Apprentice!). There were also some I did not/could not anticipate: loss of identity; being frequently un-comfortable; exposure of my broken cisterns that I desperately am trying to draw life-giving water from; being asked to serve out of weakness while being surrounded by people who could seemingly do what I’m doing in their own strength. These things feel like death. They hurt. And I find myself asking God, “Why are you doing this? Look at what I gave up for you! Isn’t that enough?”

And yet He continues to pursue me in the midst of my pain and rebellion, in my fight to retain my control. He feels silent but He’s there working, loving. Loving.

This year has been a painful but beautiful reminder that we have a good Father. A Good Father. He loves us so much that He won’t let us feast on things that won’t satisfy. He loves us enough to cause us pain to fill us up with Him. He won’t let us be settled with a fake joy.

In May, I spent a week at Serge’s organization-wide conference listening to stories of how God is bringing about His Kingdom all over the world. More than 400 people sang the song quoted above in worship of their King with tears streaming down their faces. These people know the truth of these words. They have felt the sting of loss, but also the joy of redemption, restoration, hope. There was mourning and joy. So much joy. They had experienced God’s answer to this prayer.

This song offers a prayer we may be too afraid to pray for ourselves but Jesus intercedes for us. God never removes something from our lives that He doesn’t fill with Himself. That is true kindness, beauty, joy. It seems counterintuitive—but it’s true. So, come and die. Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Throughout this year I thought when I prayed for bread, God was giving me stones. Yet, He was teaching me that I was praying for stones and He was giving me bread. Bread that really satisfies. So I repeat the mantra that seemed to echo that conference week among the praises of His people: “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13) I praise God that he answered my “un-prayer” and is teaching me to find my all in Him.

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Holly Tolson

About Holly Tolson

Holly is a graduate of Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary. She holds a M.A. in Educational Ministries. She has been serving as an Apprentice at a multi-cultural congregation in Shepherd's Bush, London.