I love checked-off lists. They make me feel productive and in control. I make them for every part of my life. I’m one of those people who writes things on my to-do list after it’s done just so I can cross it off. And you better believe that I leave my completed lists in plain view for God and others to see how efficient I am. I give myself secret pats-on-the-back and high-fives.
I’ve been around Christians long enough to know that I must also have a list for my prayers. So I do. (check) Mine is lengthy. I’ve been praying for many of the entries on this list for months, some even years. A few for a decade. It’s been a long time since I’ve crossed anything off because of a yes-answer. Many have been no-answered. What eats at me the most are the ones that remain seemingly ignored.
They stare at me, day after day, unchanged. They taunt me and rob me of hope. I’m starting to hate my tear-stained, crumpled, worn-out prayer list.
Sometimes, when I’m depressed, I pour over every single unchecked item and I focus on the role I’ve played in each of them. In these times, I say, “Yes, I deserve this, these circumstances.”
I’m heavy with despair.
Other times, when I’m tired, I barely skim the list. “Blah, blah, blah, Lord. Nothing new. Same as yesterday.”
I’m dead inside, without hope.One night, anger took over. My unmarked prayer list became pictures and they flashed on the screen of my mind, like an action-movie trailer. The hopeless images of my life became a menacing strobe-light matching the angry beat of my heart. I kept hitting the replay button. Nothing changes. Nothing moves. Nothing gets done. I brooded, blamed, and bathed in darkness. From my furious heart came a whisper-yell, “Don’t you see these things? Don’t you care?”
I’m stiff-necked and in pain.I exhaled to try to release the anger and closed my eyes for a moment. Closing my eyes made me lose my balance and before I knew it, I was stooping low. With this new posture came new vision, and I could see Him with me. At a loss about what to do next, I invited him to watch my mind’s screen with me. We sat in the quiet. Then in my low heart, I heard His voice.
“I have seen and I do see. I see more details in these pictures than you do, and I care more than you can know. Peace, daughter.”
A balm for my pain.
“It’s true that your list is still the same as before, but I am always at work on things that you can’t see; I’m making them new. Change can happen and it is. Hope is in Me.”
A breath of life for my dead soul.
“But don’t forget, even though you deserve much worse than those things, I’ve taken care of any punishment that you deserve. Because of what I’ve done, your life is not about punishment or deserving.”
My punishment traded for His work. My despair traded for His Joy.
Before I could digest this manna
, these truths weighed on me. Lower still.
He turned off my mind’s screen, held my paper list, and beckoned me higher to look at it with Him. It looked different in His hands. What first caught my attention was that there were items at the top of the list that were crossed off. I didn’t remember them being there before, but they were big. And they were not in my writing:
- Take the punishment for her sins
- Give her life forever
- Reveal my love for her
My knees buckled again, but He raised me up to see the writing better. I rubbed the sleep-crust from the eyes of my heart. I looked again and I understood. We were looking at HIS list for ME, written over mine. My prayer list had faded into the background of His writing. I moved closer and He pointed to the other smaller items He had written there for me. These were not crossed off:
- Help her learn patience
- Teach her to trust me
- Open her eyes to the evidence of my love for her
- Train her to be grateful
The list went on, much longer than mine, but I looked away. It overwhelmed me for a moment. None of these things I can do by myself. But in His Presence, I remembered that it is His list. His work. My heart beat peace, peace, peace. “Thank God,” I whispered to myself.
Hearing my whisper, he smiled. His expression was full of promise and encouragement. What great plans He has for me! My own smile surprised me. Where had my anger gone?
“What should I do with my list, then?” I asked Him, enjoying this sudden thrill of being willing to do whatever He asked of me. I knew that feeling wouldn’t last long, but I felt lighter, alive, and free. I anticipated that he would tell me to erase it, ignore it, give it to him forever and never think about those things again. I’ve been wanting to do that for a while. It will feel so good.
“Your list is very good. Keep it and add to it,” He said. “But invite me in to talk about it with you. When you face your list in my Presence it helps me with Mine.”
I let that sink in. My prayer list is merely a watermark for His. He uses the things on my list: the disappointments, the hopelessness, the sickness, …all of it …to mold me into the person He’s going to live with forever. My list may remain unchecked, but my efficient-self rests. He’s moving, changing, working… on the list that’s lasting.
The thrill is gone, but the joy is forever. It is well with my list soul.
…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.