I knew this would happen.
After a two-month period bringing vital answers to prayer, I’m basking in the relief and renewed hope. You’d think I would be spurred on to a season of thanksgiving and even greater prayer.
But no…the reverse happens. Instead, I’m tempted to “take five” from prayer. Well, that was great, Lord. I’ll stop for a while now. After all, he’s good. He knows I’m grateful. Surely my “stockpile” of previous prayers will bounce around heaven and do some good for a while. Or something like that.
It’s really nothing more than Thanks God See You Next Crisis Syndrome, and I’m a case study. God help me.
“Love of ease, spiritual indolence, religious slothfulness, all operate against this type of petitioning. Our praying, however, needs to be pressed and pursued with an energy that never tires, a persistence which will not be denied, and a courage which never fails.” – E.M. Bounds
My dereliction of duty is exposed when part of me looks for the first opportunity to simply relax and walk away from the front lines of prayer. My soul seems primed for complacency. Only God’s grace can explain why he still answers our prayers knowing our readiness to go AWOL at the drop of a helmet.
Indeed, some say this is why God doesn’t answer prayer. Put simply, we can’t handle the answer. Just as success can be more dangerous than failure, so answers to prayer can lead to apostasy as well as apostlehood.
Want more money? The Bible repeatedly suggests that the rich struggle to keep their eyes on him (Psalm 62:10, Matthew 19:24). Want healing? Jesus tells us that only one healed guy out of ten will even remember to thank him (Luke 17). Want deliverance? The story of Israel’s exodus reveals a people with the attention span of a caterpillar when it comes to God’s miracles. They’re so forgetful that not even a pillar of fire – far more dramatic and tangible than any signs we see today – can fortify their faith against the next assault.
I know this from my own life. This year is proof, but sadly, it’s not the only proof. A few years ago, God blessed me with a girlfriend. She was excellent and I enjoyed our time together, short as it was. But looking back on it afterwards, I didn’t like the way the spiritual disciplines in my life got put on hold during my relationship. My Bible reading ground to a halt. I wasn’t praying much anymore. This had nothing to do with her; it was my doing. Something in my soul, something wounded and frightened, had been salved by the companionship and was now going “everything’s okay”.
It was an idolatry. It revealed where I was really looking for stability and satisfaction, and when filled, my motivation to seek God waned. It was proof positive that breakthrough does not cement faith.
I absolutely believe that God absolutely must answer no to our prayers at times, because we lack the character to receive a yes and still stick close to God. I can’t say whether God ended my relationship for that reason. That answer is above my pay grade. But I wouldn’t blame him if he did. Nothing is more important than our walk with him, and he has the right to do whatever he must in order to preserve it.
The good news is this: this deadly complacency doesn’t have to be terminal. We can do something about it. God has the perfect prescription.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)
Giving thanks. A way to constantly set before ourselves the past faithfulness of God, so that we may count on his future faithfulness.
Some of my friends have developed an amazing mechanism for doing this, one which places us alongside the ancient heroes of the faith and their material ways of marking God’s power. Building altars. Finding some physical object that will serve, not just as a marker to others, but a reminder to ourselves, of what God has done in our lives.
Last Christmas Eve, I walked into my church’s service and somehow missed getting a candle. Everyone else in the church had one. I felt like an idiot. (Common feeling.) Then my pastor tapped me on my shoulder and handed me one. He was thinking ahead, looking out for those who had come in late and not gotten a candle.
That candle, melted wax and all, still rests on my car’s dashboard. It sounds silly, but it really does remind me that God thinks ahead, that he anticipates my mistakes and prepares me for grace. A small altar to his goodness, which I get to celebrate any time someone asks me why there’s a small, slumped candle in my car. It grounds me in humility.
You can bet I’ll be finding bigger altars for the bigger answers.
When prayer comes and you find the urge to slump into prayer indolence, lean into the wind instead. Pray even harder. Don’t be bought off from even higher aims in prayer. This is what I will do in my next relationship – fighting complacency, leaning into God with an even greater intentionality. Ironic that we should have to fight harder for God in the midst of blessing, but I can testify that’s how it sometimes is. I will not let it happen again.
Ask God to give you the strength for even greater passion and hope in prayer. That’s a prayer he will not refuse.
I guarantee neither that God will start answering all your prayers if you prove more thankful, nor that he will wait to answer any prayers until you are. He refuses to be boxed in that way. But I do think it wise to remove even potential obstacles to receiving answers. Whatever else happens, we will find ourselves walking closer to God.