She Asked for Five Pennies, I Gave Her A Nickel
I recently had a fun exchange with my four-year-old daughter, Karis. We were driving to church when suddenly she asked for "five monies." When I asked why she wanted these monies, she replied that it was for her class — they were taking an offering and she wanted to participate (actually she said she needed to and Mom had already told her she could, which was true but I didn't know that at the time and if you're a parent of a toddler you trust nothing they say because, well, they are a toddler). Naturally, I sought to clarify terms, so I asked, "do you mean you want five pennies?" To which she responded, "Yes! I need five pennies."
Thinking this was an innocent request, I found a nice little nickel in our spare change compartment and handed it to her, thinking that would settle it.
It did not.
My little girl would go on to point out that she did not ask for a nickel, she asked for five pennies! I tried to explain to my dear four-year-old that what I had handed her was a single coin worth five pennies, hoping the light bulb would turn on and she would be satisfied. But if you know anything about my daughter you would know that this was a pipe dream. After an eventual back and forth, and her being rebuked for yelling at me, she settled on holding onto the nickel, and as far as I'm concerned it served its purpose.
As I reflected on this little exchange, it got me thinking about how we view God's dealings with us. My mind took me to the life of Paul. Let me show you why:
The apostle Paul was keenly aware that his life would not be easy. Near the end of his journey in the book of Acts, Paul was making plans to head back to Jerusalem, which was viewed by many as a death sentence (Acts 20:38; 21:10-13). It was there, at the church of Ephesus, that he gathered the elders together to assure them that he knew very few things concerning his future, really he was confident of only one:
"And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me." (Acts 20:22-23)
Paul didn't know what would ultimately happen to him, but he knew this for sure: he was going to suffer. He knew this because God had shown him already, the Spirit within him had made it clear. I don't imagine this was exciting news. Of all the times we have desired to hear God speak or make things plain to us, I don't think we would be too keen on receiving this kind of assurance.
As we know from Scripture, Paul would endure several different forms of persecution and hardship (2 Corinthians 11:23-28), more than most of us will ever experience. But this was partly due to his great role in spreading the gospel. This is why we never read of Paul complaining or throwing a pity party for himself. Contrary to how we would view suffering today, Paul taught it was a gift, privilege, and a necessary part of the Christian life — but that's for another topic. At some point in time, Paul would experience great spiritual revelations, so much so that to keep him from becoming arrogant, he was given a "thorn in the flesh."
This thorn was most likely some physical ailment or limitation, scholars have theorized possibly poor eyesight, malaria fever, or severe migraine headaches. What it was is a bit of a nonfactor, what's important is that we know it was enough to lead Paul to ask God to remove it at least three distinct times (2 Corinthians 12:8). God responded each time the same,
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)
I don't like to think God answered Paul's prayer with a "no." I think he simply answered it differently than he would have liked or preferred. In my mind, Paul asked for five pennies; God answered with a nickel. As we read we learn he would go on to accept God's answer, and instead of arguing he would choose to "boast all the more gladly of [his] weaknesses." In an ironic twist, Paul would not boast about his great heavenly revelations (the purpose of being given the thorn), he would boast in his painful weaknesses.
My thought is simply this: God knows what we need even before we ask him (Matthew 6:8). And if we ask anything according to his will, we can know that he has heard it and will answer it (1 John 5:14-15). But God's ways and thoughts are not ours; they are infinitely higher (Isaiah 55:8). This means our position in waiting for answered prayer should be marked by both expectancy and humility. Be hopeful in prayer, believe God knowing what you need, and being your heavenly father who loves you, will take care of you.
But be careful to surrender your requests to his wisdom and knowledge. He isn't like an earthly parent doing what they think is best, he knows what's best. Plus, he's playing the long game. He sees how the parts (days, months, years) fit together, so let him decide what is timely and necessary. As pastor and author A.W. Tozer said,
“When God promises to hear your prayers, it does not mean He makes an unconditional promise to answer them the way you want them answered.”
In other words, if you ask for five pennies, he might give you a nickel —
and that's perfectly fine.