When I was fourteen years old, there was really nothing that mattered more to me than a chance to play baseball. It was my first year that I was actually playing well. I batted fourth on my team and, on this particular afternoon, I was thinking about how I was going to be the starting pitcher that night. As I walked to class, I saw huge, black clouds out the large window that lined the junior high building’s hallway. I knew the forecast had been an eighty percent chance of rain. I was frustrated, so I prayed, asking God to hold off the rain.
The black clouds stayed in the sky all afternoon with no rain falling. We went to the game that night under ominous skies but nary a sprinkle. We played under the lights–a muggy night of baseball. As I stood on the mound in the final inning, I was drenched with sweat and the wind started to blow. I took off my hat, enjoyed the breeze that was bringing in the storm, and thanked God for the gift of that night of baseball. We drove home under a torrential downpour, but the game was completed.
I have several such stories throughout my life of praying about the weather, sometimes for frivolous reasons like this junior high story, and other times for more important ones, and God answering that prayer.
My wife and I grew up in Houston, and we ministered there for many years. We have countless friends and loved ones in the area. My dad, brothers, sister, and their families live in the south part of Houston, where the rainfall of Hurricane Harvey was most extreme.
So it was with a pretty good track record that I began to pray this week against Harvey. I prayed against the floodwaters rising on the streets near where my family lived, but mostly I prayed for the storm to just move on, to stop dumping foot after foot of rain on the saturated city.
There’s something pure about praying about the weather, because it is completely out of your control. I like to challenge people who may not catch the wonder of Jesus calming the storm to try going out and speaking to the storm yourself. Yelling at a storm is futility for us, and yet a storm obeys the voice of God.
Proverbs 8:28 says, “He gave the sea its boundary, so the waters would not overstep his command.”
So why the flood? Why did he not rebuke the storm? Why did the waters overstep their boundaries? Did God lose command over the waters? Did he not care about our earnest pleas for relief?
It’s hard to reconcile these two stories, but taken together I think God is teaching me some things about prayer.
I’ve often wondered why God answered that prayer when I was fourteen. I didn’t need to play that game. It was a selfish request to indulge a love for baseball that bordered on idolatry, to indulge the vanity of continuing a season where I felt like I was proving something about myself by getting hits and striking people out. But it was unmistakable and uncanny how the rain held off and then came pouring down. Why did God answer this prayer?
I think he was teaching me two things that are essential to prayer. One is that God is able. Praying against an eighty percent chance of rain with black clouds swirling in the sky seems ridiculous. But God can hold back the rain, and he did. The second thing we must believe when we pray is that God is willing. I think God answered that prayer just because he delighted in me. He wanted to see me have fun and then recognize that he was the source of that blessing. Sometimes a daddy just likes to say “yes.”
So what about the present situation in Houston? This situation teaches another essential element of prayer: you just have to trust God. Believe God is willing; believe he is able, and when the answer doesn’t come as you hoped, trust him.
There are bigger things at play with a natural disaster of this magnitude than my individual relationship with God. Such destruction is part of our fallen world, that must stand until the day of the new heaven and the new earth, which is delayed for the sake of those who are yet to believe. God is still in control, and he is bringing good out of the destruction.
The world is watching as one of the most diverse cities in America come together to help one another. The world will continue to watch as people descend in a spirit of love to lend relief and help rebuild, and it is here that the church will shine.
And the prayers are not completely unanswered. It appears my family has weathered the storm safely and without major loss of property. And while any death toll is tragic, right now far fewer lives have been lost due to Harvey than in the evacuation efforts ahead of Hurricane Rita in 2005.
As a pastor, praying about the weather is a sort of training ground for learning about prayer. Despite what we may believe, pastors cannot succeed without the Lord’s intervention. Our words alone cannot open people’s hearts to the gospel or our people’s hearts to their neighbors any more than they can command the wind and rain. But the good news is God is able. He is willing. He delights to say “yes,” and even when he doesn’t, we can trust him.