I saw a friend ask this question on my Facebook feed recently.
We all desire. Victory, deliverance, breakthrough, blessing, healing, hearts’ desires. It’s a tricky high-wire, for no matter what some say, the Christian life is not all about these things. George Herbert wrote,
To be in both worlds full
Is more than God was, who was hungry here.
Is a servant is greater than his master? The Bible doesn’t stutter: not every prayer will be granted in this life. And that is both curse and privilege. We simply must start there. If you can’t accept that word, your life will be a shattering staccato of foiled expectations.
I’ve also learned not to put limits on God’s generosity. He is scandalously generous. Sometimes the church, in frustration with the masses grasping for “prosperity” and deaf to all else, races to the other extreme and throws cold water on blessing of any kind. You’ve probably absorbed this yourself. Just observe your reaction if I write the phrase “bold prayer”. You instantly pull up and worry: Is this right? Respectful? Scriptural? It’s understandable hesitation.
But God does answer prayer. The Bible speaks of many such times, holds them out rather excitedly. God reveals himself through “yes” as well as “no”.
So…where is this generosity? Our experiences don’t match up to that awesome power – yet. “This is reality,” we want to say. “God doesn’t do that stuff anymore.”
I certainly want to believe. What is reality if God is your God?
But regardless of how many stories we hear about provisions and breakthroughs, something in our hearts has a hard time with faith. Some of us are fed up with hope; others are just down-to-earth by nature. We feel stuck between reality and faith, between hope and surrender. “If I’m going to undertake a long season of prayer,” we say, “then I want to know I’m grounded in reality.”
You could have been friends with Abraham.
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:18-21)
Abraham is facing facts. He makes no bones about the fact that he will soon be nothing but. Most nonagenarians aren’t walking around buying maternity clothes.
But they were playing by God’s rules, and the promise was fulfilled.
So what separates that situation from ours?
The exact nature of God’s promise.
God is real. His power is real. What we’ve got to figure out is exactly what God promised us in the first place. We get disappointed because we expect things God never promised. Once you’ve identified the exact promise, though, we can stand on this: if God has promised to do something in your life, he will do it. It’s that simple.
We skip this step entirely. Otherwise, we’d probably have an easier time praying. It’s like asking for help looking for your lost shoe and the person goes, “Where did you see it last?” WELL, IF I KNEW THAT…
We also assume God isn’t telling us what promises to expect. We assume he’s leaving us to trust without any idea how to pray. We shrug and say, “I guess this is walking by faith, not by sight”.
Maybe. Sometimes God withholds the plan so that we trust his.
But – God also flat-out gave Abraham the plan. He told a lot of people. He told his apostles some incredible things, some fulfilled that very year, even how one of them would die. It was enough of an “info dump” to really shake up our beliefs about God’s generosity. WikiLeaks has nothing on Jesus. Read through the Bible and observe how many times God gave his plan away, or at least the end goal. Sometimes it took centuries; sometimes empires rose and fell before the fulfillment; some are still en route. But they are all trustworthy.
There’s a balance here. Sometimes he withholds the plan so we must trust his heart; sometimes he reveals the plan so we can practice faith. It depends on your individual needs, which God knows. For all our assumptions about how close God holds his cards, there are times it suits his glory to lay them all out.
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)
Have you asked him what to expect in your situation?
Why would God always ask us to put in months and years of wrenching prayer without knowing the goal? It doesn’t make sense. We do it mainly because we assume that we have no choice, that God isn’t really speaking to us, that our prayers don’t factor in anyway, all that un-Biblical stuff. Then, after a few letdowns, we get discouraged. “Ugh, hope sucks. Just accept reality.”
Maybe God isn’t the problem. Maybe our expectations are.
I make no guarantees on what cards God will show. Just this month I was pestering God for details and he gobsmacked me, from multiple angles, with the Abraham story. You don’t need the plan. Wait and trust me. It was frustrating, and that’s how I know it was God. He’s chipping away at my idols. And yes, needing every detail of the plan can be an idol.
But there have been other times where he did tell me the destination. What a relief to be hitting my knees actually knowing what God wants!
That’s how to be realistic in prayer: know what God wants. Ask him. We know we don’t get everything. But we have a generous God. We know that whatever path he chooses is the optimal path. And any promises that we hear, that pass the Scripture tests, and that ideally get confirmation from other believers, are promises we can trust.