This isn’t going where you think.
You probably had one of two reactions upon reading the title of this post.
The first was a groan. I don’t want to, Brandon. Not again. I’m tired of bringing these things before God and being met with silence and inaction week after week, month after month. I can’t keep doing that.
The other was a sharp intake of breath. That’s dangerous, Brandon. Don’t write that. We’ve got too much bad theology out there to risk this sort of thing. Talk about holiness and surrender instead.
Actually, you probably had a bit of both reactions.
Indeed, I cannot guarantee that praying for your heart’s desire will get you what you want. I know Psalm 37:4 seems to say it will. But we must guard our hearts. One look around the world should reveal that God isn’t exactly handing out heart’s desires like candy; there must be something more to that verse.
What if that’s not why we pray for our heart’s desire? What if there are other reasons?
Have you ever heard one of those sermons about how God wants access to every locked room in your life? This is one of them – the room labeled “unmet’s heart’s desires”.
God does care about our happiness. He does. Stop spreading this image of a detached, above-it-all, faintly annoyed God. It’s distancing people from him. It’s blasphemy, as is any opinion that doesn’t match up with the Word. God does care about our happiness.
The catch is, we cannot truly be happy until we are holy. God could grant us our heart’s desires all day long, like a tired parent giving that six-inch sucker to their nagging kid, and the unsanctified heart would only get sick. We need him in our hearts, in greater measure than anything else, to truly unlock the joy of whatever he gives us.
This knowledge allowed me to press forward with prayer for heart’s desires, both with more boldness and more surrender.
There are three reasons we can, and should, risk fervent prayer.
1. Because your heart’s desires are unlikely to change without prayer.
Say for a moment that your desires are selfish, or perhaps good but not within God’s will. What God often does in this case is change your prayers over a period of time, molding them them into different lines. He might give you different wisdom or guidance on exactly how to pray. He might maintain the same desire but add other things to it – like surrender, or just a fervency for him and his presence. (In fact, I believe he will always do this.)
But it doesn’t happen if you just hang up the phone upon hearing a “no”, if you just walk away from God in frustration, in impatience, or in assumptions – “this desire must be selfish”. Don’t assume. Ask. God might have more to say.
Praying for our heart’s desire need not be a walk along a theological or emotional precipice. If we include surrender in our prayers, we will walk away with great spiritual development no matter what the answer is. I know that might not be what you want to hear; you might want to hear “Yes, God is going to give you your answer.” You’re looking at the wrong blogger for that. But I can guarantee you that your faith muscles will be exercised, that you will emerge from your season of prayer with greater ability to balance surrender and hope, wisdom and revelation, perseverance and letting go. This is an enormous treasure in and of itself, and also a powerful weapon for later prayers that God does plan to answer.
2. Because God might actually give it to you.
Oh, yes – there is this part.
The amount of unanswered prayer out there, and the idolatry and self-centeredness of some people in prayer, have sent some other people to the other extreme: “It’s not about our desires. It’s about his glory. Just pray for that.” And it’s true. Yet I really struggled with what to do over my own desires.
God broke through my overthinking psychosis with this:
Sometimes it glorifies me to answer prayers.
This was a relief. Jesus answered many prayers, ranging from the trivial (wine at the wedding in Cana) to the badly needed (healing and deliverances). He didn’t have to do any of those things. He could have denied those people and been perfectly righteous to do so; he could have asked each of them to “take up their cross”, find joy in disappointment, encourage others through their witness in the midst of trial, all the things our modern theology of suffering tells us to do. But he didn’t. He simply…healed. And it was all for his glory.
What do you do with that knowledge?
3. Because it exposes the lies you believe about God.
A few years ago, I blurted this rather impetuous statement to God on a prayer walk: “It feels like I’ve had to scratch and claw for every good thing I’ve gotten in life.”
Classic first world problems. People in Africa have had to scratch and claw. And the greatest thing that could possibly be given – salvation in Christ, without which nothing else matters – is already mine.
But the feeling in my heart was still real, and God validated it. He had a purpose in allowing it to surface. What he said in response was,
You think I’m stingy.
Sigh. “Yes, God. I do think that.”
That was, and is, a lie. It needed to be exposed before it could be dealt with in my heart. And this is why I believe in prayer as a strong centrifuge for our hearts. Few things will separate the layers of our hearts, force us to confront the lies we believe about God, like praying for one’s desires.
Do you believe he’s stingy?
Do you believe he’s a vending machine who will “give in” if pressed hard enough?
Do you believe he’s irritated with your requests?
Do you believe your earthly happiness is his main concern?
Do you believe you’re undeserving of any blessings?
A cold, safe prayer life will not help with any of this. A wounded distance from God only allows our lies to stay hidden. It might feel like a highwire to trot out some of our old hopes again, or simply to maintain our current pursuit of them. But there is tremendous spiritual benefit to be found even if they are not answered. Do not undervalue that. Indeed, learning to appreciate those benefits is one of the benefits itself!
Pray for your heart’s desire. You are speaking to a generous, powerful, and thoughtful God. The worst he can do is say no. (Real prayer will strengthen you to handle that, too.) But no matter what, I don’t believe there is any way to come out of persevering, surrendered prayer without a mammoth pile of spiritual benefit. He will reward us for prayer, either through the answer, or what we learn of God along the way.