I woke-up Thursday morning feeling a little deflated. There were a few things weighing on my mind. Nothing major, just a few nuisances spinning around my mind. Munching on a bowl of Weetabix and wearily trying to get my head round the closing chapters of the book of Jeremiah (perhaps best kept for evening reading!), I hesitantly began asking God to encourage me during the day.
I say hesitantly for two reasons. One, I am worried God will not answer and I’ll get discouraged because He did not answer my prayer for encouragement. Discouraged all over again. Two, I feel bad for it. I feel as though my prayers should focus on asking God to help me be kind, compassionate, forgiving, loving and the like, and the needs of others.
As I see it, asking God to bless me sometimes feels a bit like asking the person who invited me for dinner for a second helping of dessert before they offer it or even mention it’s on the cards. Unless you know each other really, really well, it doesn’t feel the acceptable (or British!) thing to do.
As I began to offer up this petition, I was quickly reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:9-11:
‘Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 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!’
This passage in mind, I let the hesitancy drift from my prayer and, taking on a more confident tone, asked God to use something or someone to encourage me at some point during the day.
12.45pm later that day, during my lunch break, I headed to a favourite coffee shop of mine, Baila Coffee & Vinyl. They are based in Old Town. I could quite easily spend a whole day there. The coffee is delightful, the food delicious, the setting vintage and homely, and the staff ever so friendly. Settled into spot, with latte on table and book in hand, I was a happy chappy.
A short while later, the interaction between a lady and a girl to my left caught my attention. Whilst not overhearing their discussion, I could visibly pick-up a sincere and warm connection between two people of different generations and seemingly unrelated. They were both present in the moment and clearly between them was a strong bond. The lady was genuinely keen to know about the girl, and the girl was enthusiastic and open with her responses. It was a beautiful exchange which reminded me of the gift of just being with each other.
Whilst this kind of interaction is by no means unique, there was something with these two that struck a chord in me.
Initially this provided a pleasant backdrop for me, like a good piece of background music whilst having dinner with friends. But then I heard a few words which suggested they were Christians. It is not often I bump into other Christians whilst out and about, but when I do I try to build conversation. It can be an opportunity to share and encourage one other, build a friendship even, which has certainly been my experience in the past.
As I inwardly debated whether to interrupt them, an idea dawned. During Lent I have been taking part in 40acts, which is an initiative that encourages people to be generous during the 40 days of Lent by inviting participants to do a particular action each day. A couple of weeks ago, one of the acts was ‘Listen To Your Generous Gut’. Reminded of this, I decided to give them £5 to pay for their coffee. It was nothing huge, but I really wanted to do it to show how much their friendship encouraged me.
It took me a few minutes to pluck-up the courage to interrupt, but eventually and somewhat nervously I did. I explained that I was a Christian and would like to pay for their coffee because of the way their relationship encouraged me. They were both taken aback, with the lady explaining that she often does random acts of generosity for others, such as giving out flowers and buying coffee, so felt greatly blessed to be on the receiving end on this occasion. In fact, her kindness led to this article being written in the local paper.
She added that, like myself, she was also doing 40acts, and told me about the moment she gave chocolate to two people in town she did not know, both of whom cried at the generosity shown to them. It also transpired that she knows the pastors of my church from many years back, whilst the girl’s father works for the same company as me (a name I did recognise). For a few minutes it was heartening to be part of their own exchange, briefly sharing with each other a little about our lives.
As I left them and walked back to work, I suddenly recalled my prayer earlier that day. I prayed that God would encourage me and God did exactly that – and more! I was so encouraged by the friendship I witnessed, the conversation that followed, and the encouragement the gift was to my new friends.
Later that evening, a friend got in touch via Facebook and opened with the words, ‘Hi Tim, just felt to pop by and encourage you today…’ The words that followed were kind and timely. By the end of the day, I was overwhelmed and humbled by the extent to which God had taken a small prayer and answered it so thoughtfully and attentively.
I forget that, like any good father, God loves to give good gifts to His children. God is holy and gets angry at times, but that is within the context of His goodness, which also includes being loving, kind and compassionate. God gives to us when we don’t ask, just look at the gift of Jesus, but I think God is ready to give us so much more, but too often we do not ask or just aren’t looking hard enough.
I know that all prayers we offer do not see such a clear response. I guess that is why I began my prayer earlier that day with a hint of hesitancy. But this small story is a reminder that God longs to give us good gifts. God may not always give us what we ask for, or at least not immediately or the way we expect, but that’s OK because God knows that some things may not be good for us.
Either way, God does not turn away a humble and expectant request from one of His children, and asking for the things we need and would like – perhaps a little like that second helping of dessert before it is offered – gives God the opportunity to respond thoughtfully and attentively. That is what God so longs for because He knows us really, really well.
As our hearts ride the peaks and troughs of life, God knows the word, the coffee, the song, the smile, the conversation, the view, the chocolate, the surprise visit, the letter – or whatever the moment may be – that causes us to dance. God says to us, ‘Don’t be polite and hesitant. If you want seconds, don’t wait for me to offer, just ask. I’m all ears and there is plenty leftover’.
And like any good dessert, the gift will never disappoint and may even exceed all expectations.