“Can you tell me, what is the difference between praying to Jesus and just praying to God?”

This question came from my atheist-turned-agnostic Jewish friend Naomi.* She’d been so exhausted that she actually called on Jesus to please let her dog settle down so she could get some sleep. And He did. For four nights. “And then,” Naomi said, not exactly bitterly, “He took it back.”

Not only did the nights of obviously God-induced peace and quiet cease, but Naomi’s dog, Sheba,* developed new symptoms. The sleepless nights returned with a vengeance.

“Well, but what do you think about the four nights of sleep that God gave you?” I asked.

Long pause.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what to think.”

More pause. Because I was sure she was thinking something.

“It was great for the four days. Then things got even worse. I don’t know what that means.”

“Let me tell you what I don’t think it means. It doesn’t mean that God is playing with you, giving you something good and then punishing you with something bad.”

“Really? Because that’s how it feels.”

“You called on Jesus and you got an answer. It’s important to do something with that answer.”

“Some people get a really big sign,” Naomi pointed out. “An undeniable sign that leaves it beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

“You don’t think the four-day-Sheba thing is an undeniable sign? If you can’t see that answered prayer for four whole days as a sign, be glad you didn’t get a bigger sign!” I pointed out the signs that God had given Pharaoh. The king of Egypt knew that God was real and knew what God wanted, but hardened his heart, over and over, until God finally hardened it past softening.

“Maybe I have a hard heart,” Naomi reflected. “If I’m honest, I think maybe I’m really angry with God.”

She was right, of course. And it took a lot to admit it. So I asked her to elaborate.

“I think I feel betrayed because of all the bad things that have happened.” (I won’t go into all those bad things, but there are many, many of them.)

“That is really interesting Naomi. You feel betrayed—”

“—by someone I haven’t believed in or had a relationship with.” She knew just where I was going with that one and that it didn’t make sense for her to feel God had betrayed her, given the lack of relationship. But Naomi also knew what she wanted. She went on to say that the God she wanted to believe in was kind whether or not people believed in Him or wanted to know Him.

How would you respond? My answer:

“God is kind, but God is not a purse dog that we can pull out whenever we want comfort. He’s not a genie who only comes out of the bottle to grant our wishes. He’s more than what you want Him to be, but He’s also more wonderful than you can imagine! So . . . what are you going to do with the four-day-Sheba-thing?”

God often answers the prayers of unbelievers. But if His answers are received as nothing more than the granting of a wish, they won’t do much good. It is up to the petitioner not only to appreciate the gift, but to respond to the Giver. That is my prayer for Naomi, and I hope you’ll join me.

Do you know one of the best things about sharing your faith? As that truth pours through you with Holy Spirit power, it renews and refreshes your own trust in God. If I’m honest, I don’t always treat answers to prayer the way I should, even as a believer. When God shows us He’s real by giving what we ask for, it’s a blessing, that’s for sure. But my conversation with Naomi reminded me that answered prayer is also a prompt to trust God, to follow Him even to those difficult places or situations we may wish to avoid.

*not their real names