When I was a kid I remember reading those “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories. Each story had periodical pauses where you had to choose what to do next. It would say things like, “If you want to try to swim the river turn to page 23″ or “If you head back into the jungle turn to page 25″. Depending on how you wanted to solve a predicament or achieve a specific goal each choice led to a different outcome. You could read the same story 5 or 6 different ways and come up with various endings. You never knew which path led to the best ending. This reminds me of my own life at times.
Prayer remains one of those Christian mysteries that we just can’t seem to figure out. We are often left with questions such as; Can our prayers actually change God’s will? Would things still happen even if we didn’t pray? It’s true that much of how prayer works in the spiritual realm will remain a mystery, but I believe scripture gives us some principles to guide us in our efforts to follow God’s will and make wise decisions.
Prayer should be viewed more as a method of communication and less as a method of problem solving. It is all to easy to view prayer like a Christmas list or a “magic lamp”. We think that if we say the right words or rub it the right way God will automatically grant our wishes. Prayer should never be reduced to such formulaic manipulation. However the words of Jesus seem formulaic when He says, “ask whatever you wish in my name” (Jn. 15:7) and “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matt. 7:7). So why don’t we get everything we pray for? Why hasn’t God-given you all your wishes?
When you ask God for a new car and it doesn’t suddenly appear in your driveway you probably won’t hold that against Him. But, what about when you’ve prayed 8 years for God to heal someone you love? We can’t blame God for ignoring our selfish pettiness but how can we trust Him when He ignores our suffering? There isn’t always an easy answer for this tension. His ways are not our ways. We believe healing is the best fix but what if God views suffering as necessary or, dare I say it, good?
Take all the requests, questions, cries, and doubts you’ve thrown at God and filter them through these possible answers. They might help you to make sense of things.
1 – “No” – sometimes God answers “NO”. Imagine if God handed out everything to everyone who asked. I don’t think that approach to ordering and caring for mankind would work out well. Maybe the things we are asking for would turn out bad for us or even harmful long-term. For the same reasons a wise parent says no to their kids, it’s often wise for God to say no to us.
2 – “Not now” – The right thing at the wrong time doesn’t work out well. It would be ridiculous to give your 2-year-old a .22 caliber rifle for their birthday! You should wait until they have the maturity to handle that kind of gift. On my current diet I’m not allowed to eat gluten or sugar and it would be a bad idea for you to give me chocolate chip cookies! God knows the best timing to answer our prayers.
3 – “Yes” – I can think of many times when God stepped in to my life with healing, provision, protection, and blessings when I asked. Admit it, I know you can also come up with numerous times where God came through for you. God isn’t a cosmic killjoy bent on ruining your life. He is a Father who loves to give good gifts! (Matt. 7:11)
4 – “Something different” – Have you ever had one of those birthdays where you didn’t get what you asked for, you got something better? Is it possible that you don’t really know what you need? We think better grades, cooler friends, a clearer complexion, more money, or perfect health would fix our problems and life would be smooth sailing but God doesn’t always give us what we ask for – He gives us something better. He gives us perseverance, peace, courage, forgiveness, hope, a stronger heart, and more of Himself.
Ultimately your future and prayer come down to two words; By Faith. If God made all things and had His Son Jesus died to save you and set you free from death then maybe He is trustworthy after all. So, no matter what page of the story God takes us to we can trust that the ending will be good. Even when the path towards the end is scary and difficult it can be comforting to know the author of life is the true author of your story. Don’t use prayer to get things from God enjoy prayer as a way to commune with the author of your story along the journey!