I used to sit in our coat closet and dream about Bible Bee.
As a twelve-year old with the dream still locked in my heart, I sat in the stuffy darkness and let my imagination run free. I dreamed of walking across stage to receive the winning trophy. It was a beautiful, golden hope.
Now, six years later, I’m on the other side of that dream. During my Bible Bee years, I walked across stage twice to receive trophies. But I never won. I never came in first, even though I desperately wanted to and asked God if I could.
Yet God dreamed a far brighter dream for me than I could conjure up myself. He answered my prayers in ways I didn’t expect.
God Answers Imperfect Prayers
In 2014, I placed 5th in the Junior age division. After finishing 5th, I imagined myself as a Bible Bee champion, returning to finals year after year. Becoming well-known and honored.
Yet the question lingered in the back of my mind: what if I never compete on stage again?
My worst fears became my reality. The next two years, I slaved away at Nationals studying, only to fail to advance to semifinals both times.
Even though the exact details have faded, I remember those two years: two dark seasons of fear and loss and pain. The disappointment stung deeply. I remember crying in bed during the winter of 2015, telling God, “I really want to win Bible Bee.”
Before first place was a far off dream. Now it became my goal. I wrestled with that desire throughout the rest of my Bible Bee journey. During the subsequent years, I only shared it with my family and a close friend. I was afraid of being judged. Instead I wanted to surprise everyone: “If you ask God for something, see what he’ll do!”
In 2017, I signed up again for Bible Bee. After completing Locals, I advanced to Nationals. That summer, we heard a sermon on grace. The pastor talked about Samson’s prayer in Judges 16:28: “Remember me, O God.”
Samson’s deeply flawed prayer was rooted in motives of anger and vengeance. But God showed him grace by answering it anyway. He used Samson’s prayer for a Philistine defeat.
After hearing that sermon in the summer, I read through it again in the fall. And I decided to make Samson’s prayer my own prayer. I knew I didn’t have the right motives, and I felt incapable of producing them. But I asked God to remember me anyway.
And he did.
At the 2017 Nationals, I advanced to semifinals. There was so much joy in standing on stage–knowing that God had answered me after two dark years. Even though I later got eliminated, I experienced so much gladness in his good gift.
But semifinals still wasn’t first place.
Fast forward to last year, 2018. My last year to compete. My last chance to win.
To keep a right perspective while competing is tricky. In six years, I never mastered it. But I prayed again. I asked God, “Could you give me the right attitude so I can win?” He’s the one who changes hearts, so if he wanted me to win, I figured he could give me the attitude of humility I needed.
Even though I didn’t walk away with first place, I think God still answered that prayer.
He answered it with sickness.
I got three colds last fall. The last cold especially inhibited study. My ears plugged up, I spent sleepless nights coughing, and I couldn’t recite my verses. I sat in our blue recliner and cried and waited.
While I waited, God healed me enough to study again. We traveled down to the National competition in San Antonio, Texas.
Nationals consists of three competition rounds: Preliminaries, semifinals, and finals. The first preliminary written test started at 7:00 on Tuesday morning.
The night before the test, I came down with a stomach bug. Instead of sleeping, I spent the night vomiting into the hotel toilet. I came close to not even taking the test at all.
In God’s kindness, he gave me brokenness when I couldn’t manufacture it on my own. And while I can’t say my attitude completely changed, the sickness pushed me to rely on him instead of on myself.In God’s kindness, he gave me brokenness when I couldn’t manufacture it on my own. Click To Tweet
Even with the nausea, I recovered enough to complete the preliminary rounds. I advanced to semifinals. Then I advanced to finals. I survived on Gatorade and oyster crackers and the prayers of God’s people. Especially on the prayers of God’s people.
God Answers the Prayers of the Body
During those three days of competition, many, many people prayed for me. My grandparents contacted their friends. My mom’s Bible study group prayed for me, cheering me on through text messages. My sister wrestled with God on my behalf. Other friends and fellow contestants linked arms to lift me up before the throne of grace.
These people fought for me so I could keep running. And because they prayed, God listened.
I finished my Bible Bee journey with third place.
So, friends, pray those imperfect prayers and ask God to change them and work through them. In his grace, he works through our desires and imperfections to proclaim his beautiful story. The Spirit intercedes in our weakness.
And pray for others. Let others pray for you. You never know how God will use your prayers for healing, joy, and victory. As Charles Spurgeon says, “Prayer moves the arm that moves the world.”
Bible Bee gave me greater gifts than winning. It gave me the chance to study and memorize the Bible. It gave me the chance to see joy come in the morning. It gave me a vivid picture of what happens when I pray, when God’s people pray.It gave me a vivid picture of what happens when I pray, when God’s people pray. Click To Tweet
And it showed me how our gracious God answers prayer.
“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?” (Matthew 7:9-10)