Praying for a Sign


Have you seen Jesus? So often we are looking for a sign that our prayer was answered, that our request was satisfied. We want it in an instant and to our specifications. And if we are honest, we want it to be on a 70-inch flat screen, equipped with surround sound.

We want God’s answer to be obvious and in some cases, made public by all the major news outlets and, most importantly, worthy to be coveted by others. If we have asked for something good, then we pray for a sign and for it to be undeniably associated with us. We say that we don’t like to point fingers but look what God did for me!

So, we close our eyes but sneak a peek. Looking for fairy dust and pumpkins, we want magic not parables, hands waving a wand not tests from God. We don’t want to read the story; we just want to get to the end of the book. We desire the pronouncement of this blessing: “Happily ever after.”

What we really want is the fairytale of faith and while life with God is good, there is a clock that strikes midnight. St. John of the Cross called it “the dark night of the soul” and the preacher said in Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven” (3:1, NRSV). Sometimes, our prayers are not always answered in the way that we had hoped and not in a manner we would describe as timely.

But, this does not prevent us from asking God again and hoping that our will would be done. Recorded in Matthew 16 in verses one through four, we, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, want to test God as a part of some kind of customer service survey. It only takes a few minutes of our time. Knowingly and unknowingly, we say to God, “Prove it to me.” And the one and only piece of evidence that we will accept is a sign.

Before you start to beat yourself up, this is not a new expectation as it was the disposition of the children of Israel. Their fickleness is recorded by the psalmist, who wrote, “He rebuked the Red Sea and it became dry; he led them through the deep as through a desert. So he saved them from the hand of the foe and delivered them from the hand of the enemy. The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left. Then they believed his words; they sang his praise. But, they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel” (Psalm 106:9-13, NRSV). Just one verse later, it is recorded that they had forgotten the sign and, apparently, the song lyrics to the number one hit dedicated to God.

We are separated only by centuries. We want God to perform on demand and to our satisfaction. Jesus called this generation who asked for a sign “evil and adulterous” (Matt 16:4). No, this is not cute baby Jesus or “away in a manger” Jesus. He does not mince words or try to be diplomatic but instead, calls it like he sees it.

Jesus proves that there is a difference between looking at the sky and looking at heaven. Their hang up for a sign from heaven prevents them from seeing the Son of heaven. This scripture reminds me of how easily we can confuse the two or make them synonymous.

And for those of us who are still completing the survey, Jesus does not suggest that he cannot give them or us a sign. He only has one: “no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah” (16:4). It is a metaphor representing his death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus did not come to perform magic. He did not carry a top hat or bunny but a cross. So, if you or I are still looking for a sign, an answer to our prayers, I have but one question, “Have you seen Jesus?”

smcneillReverend Starlette McNeill* is an associate pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland. A graduate of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, she writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at She is also a wife, mother, and columnist with Baptist News Global, Baptist Women in Ministry, and Ethics Daily. She is a contributing author to the book Faith Forward: Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity. Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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