By Matt W Sandford
Have you even pulled back from your circumstances in life and wondered to yourself how many times that God didn’t answer your prayers? I have. It was a depressing endeavor. There were the times I begged God to not allow some loss in my life or that I be spared some embarrassment over something I had done. There have been the requests for certain gains or circumstances to work out favorably for me. There’s been the prayers for blessings or healings for others (see, they weren’t all selfish). There’s been the times when I sought out God’s clear direction, or for his approval of a direction that I believed was important and maybe even necessary. And there have been the times of asking for God to just show up or reveal himself to me, to comfort me or speak to me.
When I have taken stock of the success rate of my prayers I have for the most part come up wanting. Often my prayers don’t seem to work. When I dwell on this conclusion I usually feel frustrated and disappointed. I either get angry at God or confused or both, and conclude that something is wrong. That much feels right. Something isn’t right with this situation, I’ll say. And it’s either on my end or your end, God. And since even when I’m being a snotty, sarcastic, whiner I still believe God is perfect, I pretty much always land back on my end.
The problem with that is that I mostly use this conclusion to simply feel badly about myself, meaning that I use my own thinking process to lead me to deduce that I am at fault. Therefore, once again a quality question is sabotaged by my negative tendencies and my outlook on life and on myself. But the question is really bigger than the perspective that it’s simply – “my fault”. “My fault” doesn’t tell us much, really. In what way is it “my fault”? And so this, my friends, is where I would like us to begin the search for a more clear and comprehensive answer to this beneficial question.
I have slowly come to grasp how prayer is mostly a reflection of our thoughts, perceptions, feelings and beliefs that we bring to God. But how much of all that is swirling around in us are we aware of? And if we are not aware of it, are we able to take responsibility for it? Or, instead might we project some aspects, notions and perceptions onto God in the process. Because in prayer we come to God in relationship, and it might to a degree look a lot like the way we relate with others.
It’s hard isn’t it; to figure out how to relate and talk to God? On the one hand, he is so huge and totally foreign to us, but on the other, he knows us intimately and is sensitive and compassionate and patient with us. He tells us that he’ll provide for us and tells us that he wants us to ask him for things (Matthew 7:7-12, John 15:7) But when nothing happens I conclude that I was wrong in some way. But what if there was nothing wrong? Where did I get the idea that if my prayers are not fulfilled in the way I asked that it means anything is wrong anywhere?
This notion seems to derive from my human relationships, specifically from love relationships. Much of my life I have looked to those I love and asked for things from them. If they responded favorably and provided what I asked I felt loved by them. But if they refused to provide what I knew they could provide, I felt hurt and perceived a lack of love. I either perceived that this was a form of punishment, or that they were being careless or neglectful. As a child there were surely times when a parent had explained to me that they were not granting my request because they loved me and were looking out for me. I probably received that message about as well from them as a child as I do today from God.
So, what if the core thing going on in me is that I don’t want to be turned down – meaning that I am pouty? Well, it certainly is unpleasant to have to look at it like that. But if I can bear it, I can find true relief and solace. Because, now everything has changed. I do not have to feel the burden or guilt of fault! I was not so much wrong as I was immature. And if so, then it means that God has not in any way been neglectful or unkind or inattentive or miserly in his listening or his gift giving. On the contrary, he then has been mindful of my real needs and has been a very wise parent. It means his interest is in addressing my immaturities while always providing for my needs.
He is after all, like any good parent. Do good parents need to be asked by their children to help them do something that is beyond their skill level, like tie their shoes or learn how to ride their bike or for a toddler to go potty? No, the parent is thinking of these things and offering often before the child knows to ask (Matthew 6:8). Can I rest in God’s parental security for my daily needs? My frustrations reveal how much I may have been trusting him in the first place.
But prayer “works” not when I get what I asked for but when I end up learning more about myself and about God and I learn to trust him more and I grow up.
Hmm, maybe my prayers have been working more that I thought they were?!
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