The two most powerful – and most dangerous – prayers you can pray as a Christian are ‘Use me.’ and ‘Your will, Lord, not mine.’ These two declarations are like lighting the fuse on a 4th of July fireworks display; you’re not quite sure what the exact timing of the explosion will be, but it has the potential to be both fatal to self and glorious in execution.

Growing up I always found myself drawn to the words of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s song, ‘Use Me’:

I remember a story in the Bible days
You took a man called Moses with a rod in his hand
You told Moses, “Take the rod in your hand,
stretch it forth and walk on dry land”
If You can use anything Lord, You can use me
I remember a story, I remember it well
He took a shepherd boy, David, with a sling in his hand
He took the rock with the sling in his hand
Flung the rock and the giant fell dead
And I know if You can use anything, You can use me
If you can use anything Lord, You can use me
If You can use anything Lord, You can use me
Take my hands Lord and my feet
Touch my heart Lord, speak through me
If You can use anything Lord, You can use me

In many ways, this song became my anthem. The idea that God would take murderous shepherds, young boys, sticks and stones, and use them to do amazing things blew my mind. I wanted to live the kind of life those people I read about in the Bible did – where single words brought healing and deliverance, and a ‘yes’ to God meant the impossible could become possible. And I knew in order to do that, I had to be willing for God to use me. And so that became my anthem.

But it’s not enough to pray that one prayer. No, see, ‘use me’ is simply the base in what has the potential to be a miraculous and life-changing equation. On its own, in our minds, it is simply a well-meaning sentiment. It’s like when someone tells you ‘I’m here if you need me,’ but doesn’t really ever make themselves available to you or offer anything in assistance. No, for God to use us, there is a necessity for an additional act – an act of surrender. The catalyst for God doing the miraculous in and through you is the prayer, ‘Your will, and not mine.’

Remember the story of Joseph, Boy Wonder? He had 11 brothers and was his father’s favorite. Being my own father’s favorite child (I have this in writing), I know just how arrogant and full of it Joseph probably got with his brothers. The Bible tells us that he would always tell tales and get his brothers into trouble, and he was a bit of a show off (who walks a distance in a colorful coat in the sweltering heat just to visit their brothers? *side eye*). Well one day Joseph had a dream. And that dream was from God. But Joseph let the dream get ahead of him and went off telling his whole family how God was going to make him master over all of them. And in focusing solely on the dream, Joseph missed both the purpose of the dream, and the plan to bring it to pass.

And he ended up face-flat in a ditch because of it.

Let’s put ourselves in Joseph’s shoes for a second. You have a dream of leadership. And suddenly you’re being sold off into slavery in a foreign country. I can’t imagine the thoughts that went through Joseph’s head as he made the long journey in chains to Egypt. Or as he served Potiphar, when back home he owned servants. Or when he was thrown into prison, accused for a crime he didn’t even commit, and forgotten by those he had helped. This was not the dream – it wasn’t even close to it. I wonder how Joseph reconciled his current circumstances with the expectations created by his dreams. Because if he had sat in that prison whining about how he was supposed to be a king, he would have never become regent over Egypt. And there can only be one answer as to how he did it: he had to have relinquished the dreams and relied solely on God. And God was faithful to be with him and promote him, and prepare him for not just the dream, but the purpose.

I remember the day God asked me to give up on all the expectations and dreams I had for myself. It was 2 years into my first job – what seemed to be a dead-end job – and I had no idea what I was doing or why, and I thought I knew where I was supposed to be (working in international development), so I spent my days trying to knock down those doors, unsuccessfully. And God spent His days watching me trying to have my own way instead of His. Because here’s the thing that happens when you pray the ‘Use Me’ prayer: God makes it His intention to use you. And anything that will not allow Him to use you in the way He desires, will become either inaccessible to you, or miserable for you. You will never find your way into, or satisfaction from things, people and places that are not meant for you.

Then, one day as I was banging my head against yet another unopened door, He stopped me and said, ‘I need you to give me all the dreams and expectations you’ve built up for yourself over the years. And not just the ones concerning your career. I want you to give up the salary expectations you think you deserve because of your pedigree, give up your Ivy League privilege, give up your expectations of when and who you’re going to get married to, give up your expectations on where you’ll be living, what you’ll be doing, and who you’ll be doing it with.’

And I stared back at Him like He was insane. I’d spent years building and planning this dream of a life. I’d invested in it. In my opinion, I deserved it, and He was supposed to be the God who answered all my prayers and gave me the desires of my heart. So why was He suddenly asking me to scrap all the plans?

What I didn’t realize was that the way this relationship between God and I was supposed to work was that the desires of my heart were supposed to match His. That I was supposed to be changed from the inside out, such that I would begin to desire the very things He desired for me, instead of desiring what I believed the world expected from me. And it was in that alignment – where I became a woman after God’s own heart – that God would begin to fulfill our desires for me. I wasn’t supposed to allow the dream to get ahead of the dreamer, or the One who might have given it. I was supposed to give the dreams He’d given me back to Him, and trust Him to align them for His purpose and glory.

So as hard as it was, I gave up a lot of expectations in that season. I died to self. I handed over my dreams and my will to God, and asked that He take over. ‘Your will, not mine.’ I prayed. And in that season I grew so much. I learnt that having enough wasn’t about how many zeros were on your paycheck, it was about stewardship. I learnt that my identity could no longer be found in what I did – because let’s face it, I felt that I was performing so far below my potential and if I found my identity in my title, I’d live in constant depression (which I did for a good chunk of time preceding this.) My identity could only be found intrinsically, in WHOSE I was. I came to the understanding that purpose was so much more important than ‘person’, and I could not compromise what I’d been called to in order to make someone else happy. I learnt that being single was not the end of the world, and that every season served a purpose.

And you know what? As I began to relinquish those dreams I had created for myself, God began to give me new ones – and not so far out of line with the ones He had already given me, they just looked different. It was almost as if, like Joseph, I had misinterpreted my dreams and missed the purpose in them. Joseph thought his dreams meant he was supposed to be king over his family when what they really meant – the purpose in them – was that God would put him in a position of leadership for him to be able to serve them and make provision for them. I wanted to work in international development because I loved to travel and wanted to feel like I was making a difference in lives. Today I have a job where I get to travel and make a difference in lives. I get to work with amazing people, in amazing cities, and I am passionate about what I do – I have found a passion inside me that I didn’t even know existed! In fact, He took many of my dreams, and reshaped them for His glory into something more beautiful than I could ever have imagined for myself. He showed me the desires of my heart that were in line with His all along, and He delivered on them. He truly did exceedingly and abundantly beyond anything I could ever have asked or imagined for myself.

And He’s still doing it.

The way I see it, for you to be here, God had to have ‘dreamt’ you up. And that means He had good purposes and plans for you far before you had them for yourself. And because He sees the beginning from the end, He knows how to get you to an expected end – but you have to be willing to step out of the way and let Him take the lead. Don’t get me wrong; dreaming in itself is not bad. But we must constantly be in the habit of handing those dreams over to God and trusting Him with the process of both refining them and bringing them to pass. And eventually you’ll find that you will get to the point in your walk where you will begin to only desire those dreams that God dreamed for you because they consistently turn out to be so much better than what you expected for yourself.

‘Use Me.’ ‘Not my will, but Yours.’ These two prayers will put you in some of the most self-endangering positions in your life – you will swallow your pride, often choke on it, and die to yourself a million times over. But lucky for you, the more you die to self – this idea of self that is often misconstrued by the world – the more you become your REAL self. The more you give God the reign to show you who you truly are by lieu of your relationship with Him, and who He created you to be.

Don’t be afraid to pray these prayers, and don’t be afraid to dream big – God loves big dreams. Just remember to give those dreams to Him. Trust that He is both able to shape them into something more beautiful and to bring them to pass.