Today’s Advent Reading:
USCCB — December 20th
“OMG, I got into Harvard!!!” As this text slid into the corner of my desktop screen, I gasped. It was from an old friend, and she had just received her letter of admission into Harvard’s class of 2022. I quickly dropped my calculator and rushed to compose a reply. The news was a welcome distraction from my chemistry practice exam. As I replied, I thought it was timely that just as the current freshman class neared the end of its first semester, news about the next admissions cycle had arrived.
This season of college returns made me think back to when I applied to Harvard. At the time, I felt like the odds were against my getting in. I applied from a small Christian high school that had never gotten anyone into Harvard, alongside classmates who were fantastic candidates, and in a region known for its competitive high schools. After submitting my application, it was hard not to feel despair over my slim chances. One night, after venting these worries to my mom, she turned to me and suggested I do something new: that I pray boldly.
She explained that praying boldly is different from the average day-to-day supplication. It means presenting a special, specific request to God—one that honors Him—with confidence in His ability to answer. It means foregoing phrases like, “God, if it’s in your will…” which, while well-intended, can serve as a veneer of humility that really covers over deeper doubts about the imminence of His response. Bold prayers take such phrases of submission as presupposed, while throwing off all uncertainty that God would grant something good.
It is this kind of prayer that Isaiah describes in today’s passage, Isaiah 7:10-14. In these verses, King Ahaz is distraught because the Syrians are about to attack Jerusalem. God sends Isaiah to deliver a message of peace to Israel, telling them to “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” Ahaz responds with reservations, not wanting to “put the Lord to the test.”
To be honest, I was like Ahaz—dubious of bold prayer, which my mom had been exercising in her own spiritual life. I thought that it seemed demanding. Typically, I would preface all of my requests with verbal statements of humility, and discipline my emotions just in case God didn’t answer my request. But that night, I prayed boldly about my application to Harvard. “Lord, throw open the doors to Harvard. Please grant me admission. I know that you have power over the outcome and I ask this of you.” That was it. From that moment on, I had to believe that God would respond with a bold answer. Whether the answer was “yes,” “no,” or “not yet,” it was from Him because I had fully given the situation into His hands.
When I opened my letter of admission and read “Congratulations!” for the first time, I was stunned. That moment was significant because it resolved the arduous journey of athletic recruiting and waiting that had characterized my last two years of high school. However, the most significant part of that moment was seeing God’s very bold answer to my bold request. My acceptance was His victory and not my own.
The outcome of Israel’s situation with Syria was not victory, and in their defeat we see that asking with boldness does not guarantee we will always get what we want. Praying boldly is not transactional—God is not a machine that gives us gifts when we ask for them the right way. It is not a formula that, when followed, ensures good fortune. However, God does desire to give us good things, and so the true purpose of bold prayer is to point us to God’s good character, not just the benefits, that we might be drawn into deeper relationship with Him. Indeed, this nearness is made possible by the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in verse 14: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Christ’s life on earth epitomized God’s proximity to humanity, and through His life, death, and resurrection we can live in close communion with His spirit. Because Isaiah speaks in specific terms—mentioning Christ’s virgin birth and identity as Immanuel—we can be sure that Christ’s coming was indeed miraculous and that He is the promised Messiah.
After seeing God’s victory over my college applications, I have learned that God wants us to be less like Ahaz and more like Isaiah, seeking greater intimacy with Him through our bold requests. Though Ahaz fears the Lord and understands his humble position, he fails to see that God is infinitely powerful, good, and willing to give His people clear victories and signs of His presence. In faith, I can ask the Lord for specific requests and delight in His specific responses, knowing that they are part of His perfect will. The result is a magnified understanding of God’s love and a deeper relationship with Him.
This Advent, I hope to remember all of God’s miraculous answers to my bold prayers. I hope to cling to Isaiah’s example and continue seeking signs from the Lord while rejoicing over His ultimate response: Immanuel, God with us.
Ana Yee ’21 is a freshman in Hollis Hall.