How God Is Not a Magic 8-Ball (And How to Know If You’re Treating Him Like One)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do— He reveals to you who He is.” – Oswald Chambers

So I’m sitting at my desk years ago, slowly eroding a mountain of math papers and waiting for God to do something. You know the feeling. I have to change jobs in the next month; I’ve got applications out in the wind. As I wait, a dark knot has taken up residence in my stomach. I know God’s moving. I sense the electricity in the air – the “God space” I sometimes call it with my students, those junctures where he likes to step in. But I don’t know where or when he’ll do so. And I’d really, really like those details, rather than daily silence as the end of the school year looms.

Finally, a call comes in. My applications have been seen. “Are you available to interview next week?”

Sweetest words ever.

Immediately the pit of anxiety lifts. Someone once said, “All happiness is the release of internal pressure”, and right now such quotes seem sage. It occurs to me that I’m happy just to have prospects; they offer a few days’ vacation from anxiety, a few days of effortless peace.

But the interviews go nowhere. The gnawing pit returns.

I’ve known couples who must bear the question of “Will our baby be healthy?” for an unavoidable season. Technology has given us marvels, but absent from them is the ability to fully diagnose an unborn baby. While the couple waits, the knot feels like an unavoidable companion.

Or there’s the myriad of singles who repeatedly drag a parent, mentor, or friend to coffee over the honest question tugging at their heart: “Will God ever bring me a mate?” After talking their latte cold, they walk away with renewed hope from their well-meaning friend that God has someone out there for them. It feels so good. But after a few more months or years pass and nobody shows up, it appears that God wasn’t listening to the chat, and the pit returns. (So they arrange another chat.)

After years of this all-too-familiar cycle, the Holy Spirit popped his own question to me. Through conversations over many years, it ultimately came down to this:

Why do you need to know the outcome to get rid of the knot?

On one hand, this question seems unfair. Of course we long for breakthrough in this life. There’s nothing like good circumstances to sweep away anxiety.

But…I have to admit…as long as my inner peace is hitched to an earthly outcome, I’ll spend my days jerked around by every change in the prognosis. “How is this ministry going to work out?” “Do you plan to heal my father?””Are you going to come through in the way I’m hoping?” “Will everything be okay?”

Talking about your sinking sand. That’s no way to spend 73 years.

Yet that’s exactly how I approach these things. I want to know the whether, when, where, how, and who of every situation. That’s what I come to God for. I want to see the light at the end of the tunnel, not the light of the world. I’m not coming to him for his presence; I’m coming to him for predictions.

In other words, I treat God like a magic 8-ball.

Our longing hearts strain to hear a “Yes, definitely.” “Without a doubt.” “You may rely on it.” We’ll even take the more reserved “Most likely.”

Sometimes we’re content even with “Very doubtful,” or “Don’t count on it.” Because at least then we know. We can let it go, grieve, move on. We don’t have to spend any more time waiting on God…or building our faith.

Maybe that’s why God keeps replying “better not tell you now”.

Oswald Chambers’ words haunt me. Sure, there are times when it suits God’s purposes to give us glimpses into the future. He’s generous and gracious in revealing some of his ways to us, because he calls us friends (John 15:15).

But one thing God will never give us, is freedom from needing him for our daily peace.

“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – James 1:4

If we view the long stretches of waiting as a spiritual training regimen, the repeated flexing of our faith muscles, it becomes obvious why God doesn’t let us skip the workout. We’re getting stronger. It’s why he might “leave us hanging” for a long time – perhaps until the last minute – for a direction or resolution. No quick-acting pills here. As Steven Furtick has put it, God sometimes makes the discernment of his will “a process of hide and seek – he hides the answer so we’ll seek him.”

It seems cruel. But every exercise program feels that way. Will a good trainer let us quit?

It’s not that God doesn’t care about my anxiety. He cares very much. And that’s the point. He wants to salve it himself – not with answers or direction, but with himself. With his presence. By teaching me his character.

He wants me to know the Planner, not the plan.

There’s a difference.

Plans are a crapshoot anyway. If a man in a suit and shades showed up on your doorstep and deadpanned “the government has big plans for you”, you’d slam the door in his face and book for the back door. Terrorists have plans. Does that comfort anyone?

But if the plans are coming from someone whose heart is infinitely good, who knows every cog and quirk and heart involved? That’s something my heart can rest in.

I’m constantly catching myself seeking relief in promised outcomes. I was on my knees praying about some things yesterday, and I simply could not get that pit to go away. I can only imagine the state of my stomach lining by now. It turned into an evening of spiritual warfare; no closure came. But the next morning, as I sat in my office in the quiet following the storm, I heard God ask that simple question:

“Do you trust me?”

My heart said no.

My mouth grabbed it and swung it the other way. “Yes,” I said. Unequivocally, more wholeheartedly than ever, unsullied by my past experiences.

Knot. Gone.

No change in circumstances, no angel sent to give me a prophecy. Just…gone.


We needn’t wait for a yes or no, a date or direction, in order to feel peace. It’s available right now, in knowing that I’m praying to the kindest, most powerful being in the universe.

Pray for that.

7 thoughts on “How God Is Not a Magic 8-Ball (And How to Know If You’re Treating Him Like One)

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