My Formula for Getting What I Wanted from God


One morning, right in the middle of my Bible Study Fellowship class I had a frightening thought: a possibility I’d never considered.

As a firstborn rule follower mom, I was living my life with a reasonable, logical assumption about the Christian life. Every day my list was

  1. Do my best.
  2. Follow the rules—especially the Bible’s rules
  3. Pray
  4. Wait for God to bless my work and efforts

I knew too that even if I didn’t do things perfectly, God would still give me what I wanted…because He knows my heart, that I mean well, and want the best.

As I told you recently, I have made plenty of mistakes when it comes to prayer. Looking for a formula to follow was one of my biggest errors. In my errored but hopeful thinking, finding a verse with a promise equaled a guarantee. I wanted that comfort of some slight measure of control.

I understood that God wasn’t obligated to answer my requests. I’d learned that in the early days of being a Christian, you know when the first minuscule prayers went unanswered. But, I still assumed those times were the exception. I thought, Maybe those prayers were small and unimportant. In my humanity, I’m regularly ranking things.

After all, the Bible was full of “rules,” or more correctly “principles” because that’s less harsh. Not so legalistic sounding. Just the Sermon on the Mount alone has plenty of lists I should follow. So why not prayer?

God was about to reorder my assumptions.

But first He asked me a heart question as I sat in class and read these words for the first time in my life:

“Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls.”

(Habakkuk 3:17)

My heart skipped a beat. These words described complete economic devastation. Absolute loss. There were no grocery stores. You can’t grow your food or raise you flocks?  You starved.

That’s when this question popped into my head: “What if none of your children grow up to follow Me?” He asked. It shook me to my core. That would be utter devastation. Nothing mattered more to me than my children’s salvation. I wanted them in heaven with me. I wanted them to be guided by His hand so they wouldn’t experience pain. I wanted them to follow God so they made good choices and didn’t suffer from terrible ones.

“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18).

With a deep sigh I said, Yes Lord. If all my children turn from you, if everything fails as Habakkuk said, I will choose to believe in you. I will still follow you.

Before class was over I had underlined every word of those verses and put a star by them in the margin.

Habakkuk, the prophet of God, penned this description of a coming disaster for his people. He ended it with his own resolve to cling to the truth no matter how bleak the circumstances. No matter what is the heart, the root, the essence of prayer.

Because God wants to know if we are praying only for ourselves or because we want to know Him and have a relationship with Him.

God wants to know if we love Him. He asked Peter three times after the resurrection, “Do you love me, Peter?”

He told the disciples and His followers that they must love Him more than father and mother, sister and brother, farms and land. And God continues to ask that of me. And He is asking you, too.  Who do you love more?

I’d been praying for years as though God was a vending machine who would give me what I asked if I put in the right combination of spiritual coins: the right prayer posture, the right words, the right intensity, or whatever I’d heard most recently in a book or sermon. But that spring day He reminded me what matters in prayer. It’s all about a relationship. Not results.

God is God and I am not. He is not impressed by my sincerity or my efforts, and I do like measuring effort and work.

Jesus finished His instructional prayer, which we call the Lord’s prayer, to His disciples by reminding them to say at the end, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Why? To remind them and for us to remember every time we pray that God is in control and it is His will that is best. Always.

That pivotal prayer moment was when my oldest was 15 and my youngest 5. In the years since God has corrected my thinking hundreds more times, maybe thousands.  I “should” remember these lessons, right? Don’t you want to learn your lessons, check it off the list and move on?

God is gently reminding me, even today, that I am broken and He doesn’t love me any less when I forget or start trying to make prayer work on my own understanding or my own efforts.“Shoulds” are no more beneficial to a relationship with my Father in Heaven than are rules or formulas. It’s my heart that matters to Him.

As we explore prayer together this year my desire is to avoid giving any lists but instead to ask you to take what you’ve just read to God and ask Him to show you want He has for you in my story. Invite Him to show you if you are depending on self effort, formulas, performance.

Here’s a suggested prayer if you need help finding words:

My Abba Father,

Too often I rattle on

about my worries and concerns,

as if You exist to serve me.

Forgive me.

Help me remember

Your desire is for my heart

to belong wholly to You.

“I am no longer my own but Yours.

I freely and wholeheartedly yield

all things to Your pleasure…”*


Let’s keep our hearts open, uncluttered, and full of complete trust…like a child. May you say to Him, the great I AM, “Yet will I trust You” (Job 13:15). “I will wait for you continually, for You alone have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).




More from the Blog

14 thoughts on “My Formula for Getting What I Wanted from God”

  1. Thank you for these words. I am having this same experience…do you want ME or do you want the stuff you think I can/should do for you?

    1. Laura,
      Great question you asked! That is the gist of it. God wants us while we want to perform for Him!


  2. Thank you it’s your obedience that’s given me encouragement. I find joy in Jesus but pray that I too will give Him joy. Your article is profound and will probably minister to me for a long time.

  3. Oh, you just don’t know what I’ve been going through and today I have been so discouraged after family friction over politics. This is exactly what I needed! Thank you.

  4. Thank you for encouraging us, Barbara. Indeed what God, our Father longs for is a deep relationship with us, His children!!

  5. These verses from Habakkuk 3:17-19 have been my mantra for almost 12 years as my husband and I help our son deal with health issues that no one seems to know how to help.

    You helped me remember that God doesn’t exist to serve me. Thank you for knocking me between the eyes (lovingly!) I needed to hear that as I have my pity-parties.

    In this day and age, we don’t like to wait…for anything! Let alone for our lives to be “normal”. It is in the waiting times that He gently remolds us into a vessel He wants to use for a different purpose than we were before. May I be worthy of His calling when He is finished molding.

    Thank you Barbara.

  6. How timely this blog is! My women’s group which started last night is focusing on prayer and this is going to be shared with them to help us all understand what prayer is really all about. This reminds me that we are to praise God in all things not just the things that make us happy but all things. And we’re to give thanks in all things. I remember praying for my husband 3 years ago when he went through bypass surgery and had a really rough day. I came home and threw myself on the bed crying because I didn’t know after 56 years of marriage if I would have him again but I came to the place where I told God no matter what happened he was still going to be my God and I was still going to praise him. The next morning on the way to the hospital to see my husband I began to sing praises to the Lord worshipping him all the way there and when I got there my husband was smiling and had turned a corner and his recovery! Praise God it turned out well that time but I know they’ll be another time I’ll have to do the same thing and it may not turn out the way I want but he will still be my God and I will still be his child. Thank you so much for your words of wisdom and for being so transparent for all of us.

  7. I am currently crying as I type because I am struggling to see the answers to prayers that I have but seeing God answer a friend’s requests (the same ones that I have). I was literally just wondering if I have the wrong formula for prayer… if my heart wasn’t clean enough… if I am doing something wrong…

    I understand that prayer is a relationship. God isn’t a genie. I am just struggling to hang on.

    Thanks for sharing. Hopefully I won’t give up completely on prayer or on God. I pray that I would continue to trust Him.

    1. Dear Savannah,
      My heart aches for your pain. Our beloved Abba Father hurts at your pain too. He loves you so much that He is counting your tears. Your sisters in Christ are already lifting you up in prayer. When I went through a dark time, and had no earthly comfort, I listened to the song, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, over and over. I sang it to Him until I could believe it: “look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” My prayer for you is that you know you are not alone, that He (and others) care for and see your pain, and that you can focus on the love and hope of Jesus. Sending a virtual hug, my sister.

  8. Thank you for sharing and expressing your thoughts on prayer. I could relate to it and agree that it is our relationship/knowing God that is so important. You stated it so eloquently, and I was blessed by it.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top