In the last couple months, I’ve been on my knees in prayer for a lot of things, both for myself and others. Nothing will reveal your view of God – your real view – quite like committed prayer. It exposes what you really believe about his heart.
My pastor spoke very honestly about deep prayer this weekend. “It’s not light duty,” he said, and it’s so true. It’s costly; intercessory prayer requires time and focus.
When we are urged by God to enter into committed prayer, there is something in us that…hesitates.
It’s more than laziness (although sometimes it is that). We don’t want to get let down. We don’t want to invest emotionally in a prayer, ask fervently of God for months or years on end, only to have God say no. I certainly don’t. Like all of us, I have a number of requests in God’s inbox right now that carry the potential to really dishearten me if they’re denied (and if I don’t guard my heart).
Sure, we have our “Theology of No” to help explain things. Maybe it wasn’t God’s will; maybe he has something better. Often, he does. But that doesn’t make the disappointment any less real in the moment, doesn’t make our toilings feel any less wasted while we wait to see the better. The wait could be years.
And when this happens, there is the temptation to sigh, or throw up our hands, and stop praying – “let God do whatever he wants”. It sounds holy on the surface. We might even justify it with more theology. “God knows best anyway.” “God knows what we need before we ask, so we don’t need to ask.” And this is all true.
But sometimes – the fruit is what we give up on committed prayer.
So I’m asking myself – is this good theology just a cover up for my fear of a no? An excuse for prayers that slowly become timid and cold?
If the fruit is surrendering the gift of prayer, then I say that’s exactly what it is. Playing it safe. God wants us to be part of the vigorous process of prayer; he insists on it. He had Elijah pray eight times for rain; Jesus taught his disciples to pray and not give up. Anything that goes against the grain of his commands – well, we know what to do with that.
So I am convinced that one of our greatest enemies in prayer is fear of a no.
And what is the antidote to fear?
Courage. Made possible by Jesus’ total removal of all fear in our lives, and its replacement with his love (1 John 4:18).
What would the kingdom of God look like if every believer prayed with complete confidence, our hearts secure in the knowledge of his love? I’d love to pray boldly, fearlessly, and confidently, with nothing held back. That honors God. But then…I have to put my heart out there. I have to risk. And I have to allow for the possibility that God will say no; I certainly can’t demand he say yes just to spare me pain. His decisions are truly best.
I’m not sure I want to go through all that again. Healing, reconciliation, the salvation of friends – I’ve been disappointed so many times, and more of the same doesn’t sound appealing. If it’s going to be a no – and there seem to be so many no’s – then I’d almost rather just be zoned out, un-invested, while it happens.
But if I shy away from true, determined prayer, how does that honor God?
So I feel a little stuck. We must pray hard and risk; we must surrender and let go. What dizzying heights God asks us to walk! How do I face a no with a clear, uplifted heart?
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:1-3)
That’s a lot of uplifting being offered.
If my prayers are answered with no – for whatever reason – then I have the confidence of knowing that God will be there. If I hit rock bottom, God will be there at the bottom. He is the rock. He shrinks the no from a swirling awfulness to what it should be – sorrow in the night, joy in the morning.
We needn’t fear God’s answer to my prayer. His love enables us to pray with humility, boldness, surrender, and confidence, all in the same moment. A mind-boggling paradox, it seems. But knowing God, how can we do anything else? He’ll either catch your heart when he says no, or catch your praises when he says yes. He will either bind you up, or lift you up.
Don’t fear a no.