In Which an Empty Ketchup Bottle Leads to a Spiritual Epiphany

This weekend as I brunched at a favorite local restaurant, I wasn't expecting a spiritual epiphany. 

When our food arrived, I was in the full throes of storytelling (because when am I not). Still rambling, I picked up the plastic ketchup bottle and gave a squeeze. With a woosh and a splurt, it belched a fine spray of pink mist. I shook it. Empty. 

I absently set the bottle aside with my left hand while, still mid-story, I flung my right hand dramatically outward, palm up. At which point an observant member of the staff walked by and thwacked a fresh bottle directly into my outstretched palm. Still talking, I shook the ketchup and flipped open the lid before the reality of what had just happened struck me and I started to laugh.

The timing couldn't have been more perfect if the entire scene had been scripted. 

Still awash in the pleasant glow of food and fellowship when the meal ended, I left the restaurant without my Styrofoam box of leftovers. Not only was I unaware that I had forgotten it, but I was actually a bit alarmed when our server chased me down in the parking lot to hand-deliver it to me. 

As I drove off the lot, I couldn't help but think that apart from confirming everyone's suspicions of my general dippiness, the entire brunch debacle also could serve as an object lesson on prayer.

Scriptures assure us that our Father knows our needs before we ask. In many cases before we've even reached for the empty ketchup bottle, he's already sent a replacement, perfectly timed to thwack into our outstretched palm before we even process the need. 

He also meets needs that we would pray for if we knew they were coming, but don't. I didn't know I would forget my leftovers and therefore didn't ask my server to be sure I took the box home. Nobody asked her to chase me down in the parking lot. Nobody had to. It was an act of grace based on her character and her understanding of my needs. 

All this indicates why we shouldn't consider prayer as simply a time to dictate possible solutions to God. First, we often don't know what we need soon enough to pray for it. Second, even when we are aware of our needs, our "solutions" are often self-serving and short-sighted. We are not, after all, omnipotent.

And yet we're allowed to pray. Despite our shortcomings and our lack of foresight, our Heavenly Father encourages us to communicate with him. 

It's clear that prayer is pivotal to spiritual development, but not because prayer allows us to manipulate outcomes. Prayer is pivotal to spiritual development because through it, we have fellowship with our Creator. As we grow to know and love him, we learn to match our will to his, especially when we conclude each petition as Jesus did in Gethsemane: by honestly expressing our feelings before acknowledging our utter dependence on his sovereign will. As Tim Keller expressed it, we pray with the understanding that God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.

What a wonderful assurance! Because let's face it: we don't always know when the ketchup will be empty, nor do we foresee every time we will leave our leftovers cooling on the table while we skip blithely out to the parking lot.

But he does.

And he will take care of us.

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Photo Credit:

By Suzette - from Arnhem, Netherlands (Christmas day - Brunch) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Thanks for your sharing, Ruth. The next time I use a ketchup bottle, I'll think about prayer. Cheers

    1. Yes, me too! We talked about this again at lunch today!


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