Some time ago, I was listening to a podcast of a Shane Hipps sermon from Mars Hill in Michigan. He was preaching on this verse:
Luke 11: 9- 13
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Hipps said, “I don’t know about you, but I have found this verse a challenge. I’ve seen many of my prayers seemingly go unanswered. How about you?” He went on to help reconcile the experience of unanswered prayers by digging further into the passage. He read 11-13:
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 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 the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
My understanding of the passage turned upon his next point. “What if I were praying for a Scorpion? Would the good Father give it to me? Or, would He give me a gift he knew would be good for me instead?”
I began to reflect on my efforts to raise up the Transforming Leaders Initiative, a three-year leadership learning journey for pastors in the Lutheran tribe. I invested five years of my life in this project. I traveled the country casting a vision, brought together a team, painstakingly worked with the team to create a curriculum and a peer-learning structure. Just as we were about to launch nationally, the meltdown of 2008 hit. We moved to a regional scenario, cutting the costs in half.
Nothing came easy in this project. As a layman, launching a project to form our pastors into leaders seemed to disturb the equilibrium. This project was only needed because our seminaries were not turning out disciple-making leaders. Defensive reactions came out of the institution, then an attempt to co-opt our effort and move it to the largest seminary. I experienced betrayal from partners and close friends. Many leaders gave us words of support that never materialized into behaviors of support.
Despite the challenges, we recruited a class in Ohio, and launched the learning journey. By the end of the first year, we realized we would never reach sustainability with the project. I hit the wall as a result of stuffing all the stress, frustration and pain that came from the effort, and my health failed.
Through all this I wondered what God was doing. I had poured my heart and soul and thousands of prayers into this venture, and yet it failed. At the end, I left the project and entered my post-denominational phase. As I emerged from the fog, I entered into the community of a new church plant near my home in Atlanta, City Church Eastside.
Since then, incredible doors have opened. I am using my gifts in ways I had only imagined. I am part of a healthy community focused on discipleship and mission. I had come to despair that I would never have a chance to live in the kind of community that the Spirit had shown me in my heard. And, now I found it. Wisdom borne of pain from my journey through the halls of leadership of the Lutheran tribe had prepared me for the next season to emerge in my own calling.
When I heard Hipps preach on this passage, I immediately got the message. With the last project, I had been praying for a scorpion. If the project had succeeded, I would have invested the rest of my life in it. Yet, the impact would have been terribly limited. Success would have drained the life out of me to no great end. Most of the pastors we touched were serving in small, challenging churches that had no heart for discipleship and mission. Passionate spirituality is rare in the Lutheran tribe.
As I have moved into this church plant, I see young people who are on fire for God, seeking spiritual journey and deep community. I am seeing God show up at every turn. I am so thankful that God said “No” when as I spent five years praying for a scorpion. It was extremely painful to experience, but now I find God leading me beside the still waters, restoring my soul. So, I see that the Father gave me a good gift when I was praying for a scorpion. I pray that you might find the good gift the Father is preparing when you see your prayers go unanswered. You may be praying for a scorpion.