Growing up without much money, I’ve had many opportunities to witness how much God gives. Even though my father was still in law school at the time, my parents were able to buy the home I grew up in without a mortgage. The seller, an older woman who was no longer able to live in a home with stairs, wanted to help a younger couple purchase their first home. She had come to know and think highly of my parents. They were courteous neighbors, immigrants living far away from their relatives, and now they had a child — me. And so she sold the house to my parents directly. They simply paid her in installments over the course of many years — no bank, no lien, no mortgage.
There are many other areas of my life that I can look to and see God’s amazing provision — and more than just provision of funds, but also experiences and relationships. My brother, sister, and I all attended elite private schools. We not only received exceptional educations, but we were also exposed to people and opportunities that would otherwise have been much harder for us to reach from Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
But of all the experiences that have helped me to see God’s provision and faithfulness, none has left an impression upon my mind (and prayer life) like the Super Soaker story.
My brother and sister are seven and eight years younger than me, respectively. When I was in middle school, my mother started forcing us to do something called “family altar.” This was a weekly family devotional time she had with my siblings and me during the school year, and almost daily when we were on vacation. During “family altar,” we would sing a few worship songs, read a passage from the Bible, and pray together. It didn’t last more than fifteen or twenty minutes, but it felt like an eternity to me. It wasn’t that I hated any particular part of it, I just resented that it was mandatory — well not so much mandatory as, “you don’t have to, but you’d better.”
One summer in particular, my mother decided we should each start the vacation with a specific prayer request, and then wait, watch, and see how God answered our prayer. She wanted us to learn how to petition God as a child would a generous and loving parent — how to lay the desires of our heart in His omnipotent hands and prayerfully wait for His answer.
I don’t remember what my sister’s or mother’s request was. I don’t even remember my own. The only one I do remember is my brother’s. All I am sure of is that my sister, mother, and I all asked for something we considered spiritually mature — perhaps even selfless. I imagine we prayed for more faith, or for something for the family (like a car), maybe for dad to pass the bar exam. I may have prayed for help in school — I was doing pretty poorly in Latin back then. My sister, always the most generous of we three siblings, probably prayed for a friend or one of our pets. My brother’s request, however, had nothing to do with spirituality or generosity. It was honest, direct, and self-serving. He wanted a Super Soaker 3000 — the Goliath of the water gun world. My sister and I looked at him with surprise and disgust. How could he be so selfish? Even my mother looked disappointed, but she wrote his request down with the others.
I remember walking away from that family altar meeting feeling sorry for my brother. Not only did I think his request was juvenile and selfish, but I was certain he wasn’t going to get what he wanted. Super Soakers were very popular then, but they were also expensive. There was no way he was getting one from our parents. And what’s more, I didn’t think God would reward him for being so “selfish.”
Our summer went on as most summers did. And we continued to share our prayer requests and consider if and how God was answering them.
Then one summer’s day, my brother attended the birthday party of a schoolmate. And as is common at such a party, he received a party favor. What was uncommon, however, was what he (and the twenty to thirty other boys in attendance) received as a party favor — a Super Soaker 3000. My brother’s “selfish” prayer request had been answered. I couldn’t believe it.
As I said before, I don’t even remember what I asked God for that summer. But I’ll never forget my brother’s request (and God’s answer). The rest of us thought his prayer was greedy and unspiritual, but God saw fit to respond with a yes.
When my brother came home with his new toy (and a huge grin on his face), I learned a few things about God, prayer, and faith. And even as I think back on this story now (many prayer requests of my own later — some answered to my liking, others not), I relearn many of those lessons.
You might as well ask God for what you really want. First of all, God already knows what you want, He’s omniscient, remember? So prayer isn’t really about giving God new information on the needs and wants of your life. Prayer is for us. It’s a way for us to acknowledge where everything we want and need ultimately comes from. It is also a means of connecting with God — of strengthening our relationship with Him by actively engaging Him with the desires of our heart. God knows what we need, what we want, and what we should want. Trying to hide our true desires from Him is futile and counterproductive.
It can be scary for me at times to open up to God and trust Him with what I really want. When that happens, it’s because on some level, I’m not trusting in His goodness. Or, deep down I suspect that what I want is bad for me, and He’ll say no. So I don’t ask God for it, and instead I go about trying to get it for myself. What I end up with is usually just frustration upon frustration — like running through waist-high water, or taking the biggest peach in the bowl and then discovering it’s sour. But every time I have laid my desires before God’s feet, even for things I thought to be trivial or selfish in His eyes (like when I really wanted my first car), He has given me more than I asked for, or a better version of what I wanted, or withheld it entirely and then shown me how it could have brought me harm. I have never regretted sharing my desires with God.
Seeing my brother get his Super Soaker also taught me that God truly meets us wherever we are. My brother was seven or eight, and so his prayer had the maturity of a seven or eight-year-old. Many of us are spiritual children, and so our prayers are spiritually immature, but that does not deter God. He finds us on whatever level we’re on. God used a toy to teach my young brother to expect an answer to his prayers. And even though my sister, mother, and I all gave him grief for his “greedy” prayer, God gave my brother what he wanted. And my brother wasn’t the only one that learned something from getting that Super Soaker; I walked away with a new appreciation for how no request is too immature, small, or trivial to garner the attention of God.
Even now I’m sometimes tempted to censor my prayers and only ask God for what I think He wants me to ask for. It is a habit from childhood that I’m still unlearning. Because my parents didn’t have much money, and because I was hyper-sensitive to their financial hardships, I trained myself to only ask my parents for something if I really, really wanted it, and if I thought they could afford to give it to me. Sadly, I often bring that mentality to my prayer life with God. But He’s God. So, first of all, there is nothing He can’t give me. He literally has all the power in the world. And He doesn’t only care about the big things or the things I really, really want. He cares about the little things, the minutia, the nooks and crannies of my daily life. He delights in our delight — so much so that He gives us things before we even know we want them. Many a time God has answered a prayer that was still so deep within my heart I hadn’t yet given it a voice.
This lesson came to me most clearly when I was planning my wedding. Since my then-fiancée and I were on a tight budget, I expected a very simple, understated wedding. I was going to buy an inexpensive, simple white dress. My husband (who was supposed to have his driver’s license by then) would drive us around in my then thirteen-year-old Honda. The reception would perhaps have to be a potluck, or just drinks and dessert. And so on. Well, every step of the way, God surprised me with more. Instead of a simple white dress, He gave me an elaborate gown. Instead of my faithful Honda, we were driven around in a limo. And instead of a potluck or just desserts, we had a reception. And the reason I know it was God, is because we didn’t have all these things because we spent a lot of money. We never exceeded our modest budget — a budget that even our more frugal friends and family thought would be impossible to maintain for a New York City wedding. But early on in the process, I asked God to be my wedding planner, and He did it all.
The gown was deeply discounted, and then a close family friend paid for the alterations. The limousine was offered to us for a minimal fee — actually, it was offered to us free of charge, but we didn’t feel right not paying anything for it. We found an affordably priced reception hall that was all-inclusive and connected us to an inexpensive DJ. And in so many other ways (like our luxurious Mediterranean cruise honeymoon), God showered favor upon us throughout our wedding planning process. Each step of the way, each time I started looking for ways to shrink it down and expect less, it was as though God was whispering into my ear, “You are my beloved child. I delight in your delight. Here, have this.”
These are the lessons I’m continually relearning at various stages in my life. I should ask God for what I really want. He will meet me where I am, and reveal Himself to me in a way that I can understand on my level. God delights in our delight. It is His desire to please us. He is a loving and generous father; He will hold no good thing back from us.
There is no desire too small or silly for God. I was reminded of this not too long ago. My husband’s basketball team (and those of us who had gone to cheer them on) went out together for dinner at a restaurant in Chinatown. The bill came, and the eight of us at the table were trying to figure out the math when another team entered the restaurant and sat down at the table next to us. My husband greeted the other team’s coach and jokingly handed him the bill. The coach looked at the bill, and with a giant grin said, “This is it? Sure, I’ll take care of it.”
We all thought he was kidding, but then he called over one of the waiters and asked to have our bill added to his. As we looked at him in disbelief, he quoted scripture. “Ask and you shall receive.” I walked out of that restaurant humbled, thoughtful, and happy. God had done it again. He had met me right where I was (literally, figuratively, and spiritually) to reveal Himself anew as my loving and giving father. He used my husband’s joke of a request to teach me something serious. Because in thinking and writing about my experience at the restaurant, I had to go back to my Bible (actually, biblegateway.com) to cite the verse our dinner benefactor had quoted. And for the first time I can remember, I noticed the rest of the sentence. It speaks of more than just asking and getting; it goes further. “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24 NKJV). It’s in the Bible. Not only does God answer our prayers, He does so to bring us joy. He doesn’t just want us to ask; He wants to give. Our delight is His delight. What a beautiful thing.
This piece originally appeared on Write Away.