Are these people fundamentally different than me? Are they just God's favorites, or what?
For example, I've always felt slightly unsettled about the story of Abraham's servant who was supposed to go find a wife for Abraham's son Isaac (Genesis 24.)
He went to the well at a place called Nahor and decided that the first lady who he asked for water, who also offered to water his camels, was The One. And it all worked out, miraculously, that that very thing happened.
Something I've always wondered is: what if the servant had decided on some other equally random method of choosing a wife for Isaac? Would God have honored that plan, too?
It just seemed so odd, to give such very specific terms and conditions to God, and not only have full confidence that your plan is going to work but also to see it actually go through!
Could I do that? Can I just pick any old random thing, and then if I have enough faith God would make it work for me? It makes God sound like a wish-granting genie there to grant your request no matter how far-fetched or arbitrary it is.
I just didn't get it.
Another time, I was in church listening to a returned missionary give a talk. She told some stories from her mission, including a time when she and her partner missionary weren't having much success in finding people who were interested in the gospel message.
So they decided to ask God for more help in finding someone. They decided that the next time they saw a house with a gray cat in the yard, they would go up and knock on the door.
You heard me. A gray cat.
To me, that sounds even more ridiculous than going to the well and seeing who gives water to your camels, but that's what they did.
A few weeks went by, and one day they did see a yard with a gray cat sitting out front. So they went and knocked on the door, prepared to share their message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
The people who lived in that house were a large family who had been praying and hoping for God's direction in their lives, and anxiously awaiting an answer.
Not only that, but they owned seven gray cats.
To be honest, my first response to hearing that story was to be totally incredulous. How could that possibly work?
Was she really suggesting that I could pray for an arbitrary sign like a cat of a certain color, pose it to God, and He'll comply by providing me with that exact random thing?
What she didn't say, though, is how she and her missionary companion arrived at the conclusion to look for a gray cat in the first place.
I'd been assuming that they'd just pulled that idea out of thin air, but upon thinking about it, it's much more likely to me that they'd been inspired to pray for that very thing.
Wouldn't it make sense that God heard the prayers of that family, and knowing that one of their cats would likely be roaming the yard at the exact moment the missionaries passed, gave them the impulse to start looking for it?
Receiving specific answers to prayers, then, is more than a matter of deciding what I want and posting my order to God.
It all boils down to praying for His will and not my own in the first place.