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. 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 appear. And with the end of school year closing in, I’d really, really like those details.

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. 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 anyone?” After talking their latte cold, they walk away with renewed hope. It feels so good. But after a few more months pass and nobody shows up, the pit returns. And they arrange another chat.

“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?”

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?


It’s a good question, and it reveals what I’m coming to God for. I want to know the whether, when, where, how, and who of every situation. 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”.

Because as long as my inner peace is hitched to an earthly outcome, I’ll spend my days emotionally jerked around by every change in the prognosis.

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

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.

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. That’s why we need to know the character of the planner more than the plan.

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.

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

  1. Love this! Reading Job this year helped me stop asking-or telling God-to bring my daughter and her husband (thus my grandsons) into His salvation. I may never see it, but then my grandma didn’t see me “arrive” and I KNOW it was her prayers that were answered the day I accepted Jesus!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This line: ” 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.” stepped on the toes of this preacher in this time I am facing! Thanks for writing this “just for me”! (LOL, just kidding, but it was timely for me!)

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I know you wrote this a few years ago, but I have a sincere question. How do you explain Isaiah 7:11, Gideon asking the fleece question Judges 6:36-40, and David’s crisis in 1st Samuel 30:6-8, his asking God for direction in 2nd Samuel 2, or Hannah praying to God for a child ? How do these examples of asking God for an answer relate to your thoughts given here? How do you explain away the Urim and Thummin? It sounds exactly like a magic 8Ball. Even Joseph was given 2 prophetic dreams and in his trials God physically manifested His presence so that even Potiphar knew God was with Him.

    I’m praying for a specific thing and I need an answer yes or no. If God says No then I can stop begging Him and asking Him. My ex-wife moved and cut off all communication between my handicapped son and I over 5 years ago. I have not seen or spoken to him in over 5 years. You can’t even imagine the heartache or hopelessness. The deep despair and grief. The terrible nightmares that my son is alone in an abandoned house or calling out to me but I can’t find him. Some nights I refuse to fall asleep because the dreams are that bad. I have been asking God to help but no answer. I need an answer to a specific request. To help me fight for my son.

    You say it builds our Faith not knowing but I reject that because the cost to my heart is not worth the increase of Faith. It seems God has double standards for His chosen ones. David didn’t pray for over 5 years trying to find his wife and children. The Holy Spirit didn’t say to David “why do you need to know if I will help you rescue your family?” Or to Gideon “why must you ask me for proof?” Or to the King “ask Me any sign no matter how difficult.”

    God told David he would be King and he had to have faith God would make it happen. Noah was told to build an Ark and he had to have faith to build it. Moses had to have faith that God will rescue His people. Joseph was given 2 dreams and he had to have faith it would happen. All these men, and many, many, many more, knew the goal. They had to have faith God would bring it about., but they didn’t wander aimlessly wondering what God’s purpose or plan was. No He told them specifically. Your assertion is we have to have Faith without knowing the goal. We have to have blind faith not even knowing the destination and I reject that.

    God is not building my faith. He is tearing me down and destroying me. Day by day my hope is fading. God has given me nothing to hope for or cling to. And don’t tell me cling to Him because I know Him. I see His heart by His actions and decisions in my life. I know God loved David because of His actions. He gave David victory over the bear, the lion, and Goliath. He kept him safe from Saul and the enemies of Israel. He didn’t make David face death for committing adultery. He gave David glory and honor. After David’s sin with Bathsheba. God listed all the great things He had done for David and then said “if that wasn’t enough I would have given you much more”. I can hear the grief in God’s voice. But you know He’s never asked me that! He’s never said that to me. God plays favorites. I’ve only received much less from God than I had hoped.

    God says He has a plan. A plan to prosper us and give us a hope and a future. That is not the plan or life He has given me. It been cruel beyond measure. I see God’s character by His actions. I know He loved David by His actions. I know He doesn’t love me the same way, by His actions. I have no hope because of God. I need an answer and I don’t feel condemned for asking it. I have not experienced this infinitely good God you speak of. Now you might point to the cross, a common default rebuttal, but David didn’t get that reply.

    I am ready to give up. I’m 60 years old and lost my job of 7 years back in September because of Covid. My life has not turned out as I had hoped because God’s plan was so far less than my hopes, and dreams, and plans. God’s plan for my life is cruel and unjust. I can’t go on anymore. I wish I had known, at the age of 17, the evil He had prepared for me. I would have taken my own life so I would not have to face the horror.

    People have said your trials are building for you a treasure in Heaven. Do you think I value that more than my son? All the treasures in Heaven can’t make up for my sorrow, grief, despair, and heartache. And they’re a poor substitute for my son. I don’t even know if he’s doing well considering this Covid. He’s very vulnerable.

    God has demonstrated that He is not trustworthy…to me He is not. I look back over the ashes of 60 years of life and I can see His character. He has written it in my life experience and it’s not good.

    Liked by 1 person

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