When my brother-in-law, John, was around six-years-old, he was always getting into trouble for leaving the refrigerator door open. This was back in the 1950s when refrigerator doors didn’t shut themselves and air conditioning in a home was a rarity. Leaving the refrigerator door open caused problems for everyone in the family. The problem was that John loved to play outside, and the west Texas heat caused him to become very thirsty which led to frequent trips inside the house to get water out of the jar in the refrigerator—and leaving the door open. One day, John had a great idea on how to keep himself out of trouble. Taking a three-foot piece of aquarium tubing, he stuck one end into the bottom of the water jar, taped the tubing to the inside wall of the refrigerator, then ran it around the edge of the refrigerator and taped the other end to the outside wall of the refrigerator and closed the door. Now he could suck on the outside piece of tubing and get water from inside the refrigerator without having to open the door. It was clever, and it worked. For several days, he played, drank, and didn’t get into any trouble.
One Saturday though, his father (a practical joker of the first order) watched as John ran in, gulped water through the tubing, and ran back out. As soon as John was outside, his father opened the refrigerator and took the tubing out of the water jar and put it into the orange juice carton and re-closed the door. It wasn’t long before a thirsty little John came running back in for a quick drink. He took a big gulp, his face changed color, and he spewed orange juice all over the kitchen, sputtering and gagging. His father found this incredibly funny (and it was, sort of), but John was fit to be tied. It wasn’t that he didn’t like orange juice, or that it wasn’t good for him, but he expected water and got something else. It was not getting what he expected that caused him to think he had been poisoned.
Most of us are like John and the orange juice when it comes to prayer. We pray for what will give us the same kind of relief that John got from his drink of water. But God doesn’t work that way. The orange juice was a gift from God and a good thing, but it wasn’t what was expected.
We so often pray for relief but expect water when God sends us orange juice. God is not playing practical jokes on us, but rather is the Good Father who knows what we need more than we do. Most of us truly believe that God answers all our prayers (which is true), but most (if not all) of us are not ready to receive the good things God sends if they don’t fit our expectations. Many, many times we are praying for water when what we need is orange juice.
How many of you can honestly say that God has not always provided what you needed? Oh, maybe not in the form you expected, but as you look back, you see that you did indeed get what you truly needed. Sometimes the things that look like the worst possible things that could happen to us are in reality the best possible things that could happen. I have a friend whose son went to prison for several years for drug dealing. That son now says that it was the best thing that could have ever happened to him. He found Christ in prison, turned his life around, led others to Christ, and came out of prison a completely different person than when he went in. I once met a woman during a hospital visit who was paralyzed and in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She told me it was the best thing that ever happened to her. It brought her closer to God and to a new understanding of what was really important in this world, and she was a new and better person as a result. These may be extreme cases, but my point is that when we are earnest in our prayers, God is earnest in reply. Our prayers are like that piece of tubing. They connect us directly to God. If we trust, we take the big gulp—it may not be the water we expected, but it will always be what we needed. Amen.