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                          “Listen to my voice in the morning, LORD.                                                     Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.” (Psalm 5:3)

Through buying goods and then reselling them as a traveling salesman, Aaron Montgomery Ward of Chicago removed the middlemen at the general store. He strategically purchased large quantities of merchandise directly from the manufacturer and in turn resold the items at a lower price to his customers with a “satisfaction or your money back” guarantee.  His revolutionary idea led to the concept of a mail order catalog meant for the general public. The very first, published on August 18, 1872, consisted of a one-page sheet boasting 163 items.  In 1883, the company’s catalog, which became popularly known as the “Wish Book”, had grown to 240 pages and 10,000 items. In 1946, a book-lovers society included a Montgomery Ward catalog on its list of the 100 American books that had most affected American life, noting “no idea ever mushroomed so far from so small a beginning, or had so profound an influence on the economics of a continent, as the concept, original to America, of direct selling by mail, for cash.”

Eventually the extensive use of catalogs was complemented with retail outlets where perspective customers could touch and see items first-hand. At its peak, Montgomery Ward was one of the largest retailers in the United States. With increased competition from other large venders and the expansion of indoor malls, the company ceased its catalog in 1985 eventually closing all of its stores by the turn of the century.  Today what was once one of the most popular ways of shopping is remembered each year on August 18th as National Mail Order Catalog Day. One of the downfalls of the growing catalog business was the ability to sometimes meet demand. At times, customers would be notified that their shipment was out of stock, on delay, or perhaps no longer available.  When this occurs, even today – our lack of patience and desire for immediate gratification forces us to simply move on and look elsewhere. Unfortunately, that is true in most aspects of our existence not the least of which is our prayer life. Sometimes we petition God with our concerns, and when it seems like He isn’t going to answer – we become impatient and decide to shop for answers elsewhere.

Jesus said: “For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. You parents–if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:8-11). God always wants what is best for His children, and that is often different than our desire. Then there’s a disconnect when He doesn’t always give us what we want. Some prayers that seem to go unanswered are simply instances in which God has lovingly overruled our wishes. He knows that what we have asked for is not best for us or perhaps others who are involved. It may be that our timing is not His timing, or He has some far greater purpose in mind. When we pray, we are engaging in the most precious and God-given act of communication with the One to whom we are accountable in all our affairs. God may often seem silent to us, but He never sends us away empty-handed.

We live in a consumer society and have become accustomed to getting what we want when we want it. Unlike ordering from a catalog that involves our will only, prayer involves God’s will also. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). Even if prayer has not been answered, we must be faithful to continue to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18). Then we will truly be living in the will of God. With regard to God’s answers to prayer – expect the unexpected. Some of the greatest gifts and deepest joys that God gives us often come wrapped in packages that are nowhere to be found in our wish book. Prayer is a bit different than the mail-order business. God doesn’t give us what we want; He gives us what we truly need.

REFLECTION: How often do you treat your prayer time with God like a ‘wish book’ mail order catalog? How do you react when your order is not filled or you get something different than what you wanted? Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father, “Nevertheless not My will, but Yours” (Luke 22:42). Are you able to follow His example and do the same?


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