The Hardest Prayer I Ever Prayed

I’m very aware of the tabloid mentality of our generation and the love for scandals, but, sorry, none today, not here. However, what I will tell you is that I was in a valley of depression, Margaret and I were going through a terrible time in our marriage, and absolutely nothing I was doing was of any interest to me. Furthermore, I could not find any alternative that offered hope for anything better.

Classic depression, I’d call that. My first bout with it. I was 39 years old and truly miserable for the first time in my life.

And a pastor. Yep, I was still in the pulpit, still going to the church office every morning, still holding funerals and weddings and counseling people with problems. And me a basket case.

I looked into becoming a college professor, which had been my original career plan until the Lord called me into the ministry while a senior at Birmingham-Southern. Since we had a good college in the town where we were living, I asked a professor what a beginning instructor would earn, someone who had just received his Ph.D., which I had not done, of course. The figure he named was so low, about half of what I was making, that it was like cold water in my face. It pricked my little pretentious balloon in record time.

Margaret and I had gone into, suffered through, and emerged on the other side of a solid year of marriage counseling. We had learned much about ourselves and our different backgrounds and the completely opposite drives that had brought us into this marriage in the first place. She had had an unhappy home life and was latching onto the “prince charming” who would take her away from it. I was a young minister who wanted a wife of low maintenance who would keep the home fires burning while I saved the world. We had not been married a month when we began to see that the reality of our marriage was light years away from what we had anticipated.

And yet, all the while I knew that this marriage was God’s will for me, and that Margaret was the person He had chosen for me. Even in my rebellion, I knew that, and it even made me angrier. Like a spoiled child, I did not want anyone telling me what was best, what was the will of God, and how I should repress my own agenda to find happiness in life.

A rebellious heart is a terrible thing. I was my own worst enemy.

Two years later, when Margaret and I took the Sunday night worship service at our church and gave our testimonies as to how the Lord had changed our hearts and saved our home, I told the congregation how I had continued preaching during this bleak time: “I never said a thing I didn’t believe; I said a great deal I didn’t feel.”

My adult children will read this and probably have only vague memories of any of it, which is good. We both always adored our children, and in fact, that only added to my complete frustration. I wanted what I wanted–which was out of that marriage and in a teaching profession and to continue being the father of Neil and Marty and Carla–and was torn right down the middle. I was holding onto two dead-opposite goals in life.

A perfect recipe for misery.

So I began to pray.

That was one of the hardest things I had ever done, because I knew I was opening myself up to the One who loves family, owns the Church, and heals hearts. I knew precisely what I was doing, but I was kicking and resisting all the way.

In case you wonder, I who often make so much of the prayer “Thy will be done” on these pages, was not willing to pray that prayer. I honestly did not want the will of God because I knew what it was. He wanted me at home, loving my wife, serving Him in my church, and being at peace on the inside.

And so I prayed something else.

I said, “Lord, I cannot say I want your will. But I WANT to want your will. I wish I did.”

That’s it. The hardest prayer I ever prayed.

I prayed it weakly and poorly, like a whispering gasp from a man on life-support. And I prayed it fearfully. I knew the danger of praying such a prayer to such a Father.

It seemed like I was handing the Lord the key to my locked-away heart and giving Him permission to walk in and rearrange the furniture, to make it liveable for Him and me once again. For so long, it had become unliveable due to the anger and resentment, the guilt and self-centeredness I had brought home with me and kept in place.

Gradually, my heart began to change.

Over time, perhaps a couple of weeks, I felt myself beginning to want God’s will, and so was able to pray for that.

Then I received an offer for a career change. The president of one of our Southern Baptist seminaries called and asked me to drive over and interview for a position on his staff as vice-president for development. Everything about that sounded great. I would be able to remain close to the ministry if not actually in it, and our family could go somewhere and start over.

Before we left the seminary that Saturday morning, I told the president I was 95 percent certain I would take the position.

On the drive home, some 5 hours, Margaret and I talked. And talked and talked. And that’s when I realized something.

I wanted to be married to this woman, to be the father of these three children, and to pastor my church. I did not want to go anywhere new or do anything else.

I wanted the life God had already given me.

If we can have more than one rebirth in this life, this was my second.

The next Saturday, I was raking the leaves, pine straw actually, in the front yard with the children. I remember thinking, “This is the greatest life in the world. God is so good to me.”

He had heard the weakest prayer on the planet, prayed by the sorriest child in the family, with the poorest of faith.

I am eternally grateful to our loving Lord for His mercy.

When a man begged Jesus to heal his son, the Lord asked whether he believed. “I do believe,” he answered with a wonderful sense of honesty, “but help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

13 thoughts on “The Hardest Prayer I Ever Prayed

  1. Joe, The Lord used you today to really minister to me. Thanks, buddy!

  2. I can relate to what you went through and how God is working on me as well. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  3. I believe I met you at Ocshner Hospital on Wednesday. You drew me. After speaking with you for the short time that I did, and showing me how to pray, you have changed me in a small way. I thank you for that. After reading this, I now understand a little more about loving the Lord, Living for the Lord, and working in my marriage. Thank you again!,


  4. Dad, I see another “Neil” commented before me. My pride compels me to distinguish. I remember those years when you and Mom were bitter towards each other (I was 16). I even recall wishing the two of you would divorce so we all could move on. I’ve learned many things from you in 45 years – among them: love is an action, not a feeling; we stay in the marriage because we’re committed to the holy union.

    Who knows where we’d have ended up nearly 30 years later, had you and Mom split. Probably not here with my wife Julie and the children and my folks a mile away, thinking to myself “”This is the greatest life in the world. God is so good to me.”

  5. Joe,

    I remember those days vividly, mainly because my parents struggled thru a simular situation about the same time. But they were at the time “unequally yoked”. I looked to you and Margaret and realized that no marriage is without struggles. I remember one of the lessons I learned from watching you both and my parents was when you do struggle always attack the problem and not each other. I have always tried to keep that in mind when tempers flare…it will be 23 years come May, I married my best friend in the world, thick and thin. You tied that knot and you tied it well! Thanks Joe!!

  6. Brings tears to my eyes. I know that prayer… and I know the fear you felt in praying it. Because I am my father’s son — and I was born with a rebellious heart!

  7. Bro. Joe, thank you for sharing such a personal story. We can see Who gave the victory in your testimony.

    For the past few weeks my pastor, Dr. Steve Horn, has been preaching a powerful series of sermons on “Overwhelmed”. You did exactly what his sermon was on yesterday from the garden passage in changing from being overwhelmed to overcoming! What a wonderful example of following our Lord’s teaching you are to us lay people.

    It was very touching reading the postings from your two sons. Thank you for your work so freely shared with others. All of us and especially myself are blessed to know you through your ministry! May God continue to give your wife more good days.

  8. Oh Boy!!!! Loved you before then, at that time and still DO and I do mean every one of the McKeevers.

  9. Dr. McKeever,

    I wanted to let you know that I have a friend who is going through a difficult time in her marriage. Her husband is depressed and doesn

  10. I visit your site daily but for some reason clicked on this link tonight. I have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I was one who you fed weekly while you went about your business in pain. You ministered to me then and really got to me tonight. Your words do stand men on thier feet. Thanks

  11. I’m there right now. I want to want God’s will, but I can’t honestly say I just want it. Thank you for sharing your testimony; perhaps there’s hope for me as well.

  12. It struck me that this is perhaps the prayer that God can work through most–not when we are “on our feet,” rattling off our praises and petitions–well, we are told to pray unceasingly, so there’s some value in that– but when we are as though on our last gasp, nothing left in us. Thank you.

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