Adventures in Overthinking Prayer

thinking(This ended up becoming a series. Here’s Part 2 and Part 3.)

I have no guarantee that God will grant my prayers.

Disruptive statement, no?

This is not me fishing for reassurance in your comments, by the way. I’m trying to speak honestly about a stark reality. Except for a handful of explicit promises in Scripture (salvation, peace, heaven, etc.), there’s no guarantee that God will grant any prayer of mine. Like the missions opportunity I’m currently examining, or the kidney healing for a friend.

First, to be perfectly frank, my very audience before him is an undeserved gift.

Second, it’s hard to know whether certain prayers – for myself or others – are optimal for the person being prayed for. That can be a huge hangup to prayer confidence. Why invest months or years of heartfelt prayer in something when you don’t yet know God wants it?

Third, I know my theology of suffering too well. Christianity is a call to come and die. If you think it’s about getting your dreams actualized, you’ve got another thing coming. Even Jesus didn’t get all his prayers answered – and there was glory in that (Matt. 26:39). Dare we think that a servant is greater than that Master?

Finally, Scripture gives us every reason to think that God might deny our prayers for our spiritual benefit (2 Cor. 12:9). I wholeheartedly believe that he leaves to each of us at least one lingering heartache, a thorn, a cross to carry all of our days without resolution (do you not have yours?) so we’ll remember that this isn’t our home. Denied prayers transform us; they provide opportunities to allow God to become our all; they lift our gaze to heaven. There is no greater treasure. So why would God grant a lesser one by answering my prayer?

You might begin to suspect that I have an overthinking problem.

For a long time, my dilemma has been this: all those thoughts are Biblical. They’re all true. I fight hard to include them in my thoughts, precisely because I know how much I dread their implications, dread a “no”, the ache that accompanies the moment when you see God truly shutting and locking a door – no more widow persisting, no more importunate blind men, no more Elijah calling for rain…no more. That prayer is over. Dead. Finito. Seriously. With possibly years, decades ahead of me – maybe even a trumpet sound – before I understand why.

Fear of that hard, holy moment cannot be my reason to ignore the Biblical reality and purpose of unanswered prayer. I have to face it. So I work overtime to keep difficult truth in my prayer life.

And yet…

I eventually noticed these truths morphing into something else.

There was a confusion, a hesitation and embarrassment and mumbling in my prayers, and something speaking into my heart with a distinct tone. “God isn’t concerned with your desires,” it said with a detached flatness. “What you want is never what God wants, not even someone’s salvation, so just stop wanting things. It’s immature.” Or something like that.

There’s a kernel of truth in all that, but…can you hear the harshness? The accusation, even vague masochism?

I struggled between this rock and hard place for quite a while. Was this really God talking? Or just me overdoing it in the “explain away past disappointments” category and teaching myself to expect nothing in the future? I knew that given how God turns suffering for his glory, and his glory is all that matters, it’s dangerous to say that there are any prayers God must answer. In each Biblical miracle God performed, he could have said no and been just as righteous, just as exalted, just as beyond our reproach. 

So how to bring my honest prayers before God while reconciling them to his glory?

One day, during a bout of late-night prayer in the midst of a darkened street near my home, God hit me with this.

Sometimes it glorifies me to be generous.

A peace settled. Yes. That’s what was missing: an understanding of his generosity, his kindness, and his concern for our hearts. I can roll with that.

It still isn’t a guarantee that he’ll answer prayer the way I wish. But it’s a far cry from the cold, brittle “you’ll get nothing and like it” theology encrusting my mind. I’d been guarding my heart against disappointment, playing it safe, stuffing a “no” into God’s mouth before he even got a chance to answer.

Generosity changes everything.

I’m still only a kindergartener in the school of prayer. Caution remains a rule. But even though Jesus could have denied every request for his glory and our good, he still granted so many. God can be glorified through blessing and a burden, through a “yes” and a “no”.

Perhaps I will simply lay out my requests and…let him decide.

56 thoughts on “Adventures in Overthinking Prayer

  1. Brandon, I really enjoyed reading this post. You’ve said so well what so many of us think and feel, but may be hesitant to say anything because we don’t want to look bad.

    Your statement “there’s no guarantee that God will grant any prayer of mine” is very true for all of us, though I’m not sure where the idea that the Christian life is “about getting your dreams actualized.”

    (I have to say for me though, and this is just for me, it had to do with wrongly hearing “God has a wonderful plan for your life” from The Four Spiritual Laws…not that these are necessarily wrong words, just that I heard them wrongly. You know the whole, “It’s all about me!” thing!)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing this with us.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s funny that when G-d gives a “no” ir “wait” it’s viewed by much of the Church as a non-answer. I appreciate how you point out the Bible basis for this. I’m in a risky spot sometimes because I’m praying representationally like Nehemiah, but through history. We need to acknowledge sin before we are released. (At least in many cases)
    Just keep going. Stay on the path He has you on. People w/ a different call may never get it. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “Denied prayers transform us…” I agree. I can remember feeling dejected when my prayers have seemingly been denied only later thank to God that He denied me. I have to constantly remember that He knows better than I do.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. This is from gotquestions.org. This is what I believe the scriptures tell us about prayer. Thank you Brandon!

    Jesus is not saying that believers always get what they ask for—wrong motives, for example, will hinder answers to prayer (James 4:3). However, the more time a Christian spends in communion with God, the more he or she will know what to ask for in accordance with God’s will. Prayer, in and of itself, does not produce sanctification (an increasing holiness in a believer’s life), but it does show a dependence on God for needs that can be met no other way. God is always pleased with such displays of faith. It is only faith in what God can do, and what Christ has done, that brings about true sanctification, not an artificial self-righteousness (Hebrews 11:6).

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I think God answers all prayers, it not always the way we want them to be answered. He always has our best interests in mind and knows what we really need. Therefore we can pray with confidence. Don’t forget this Is the way we communicate with him.

    Liked by 2 people

    • LOL, great point. I do think there are some things God grants us to learn, like there are certain things he reveals about himself that we can absolutely lean on. But there will always be mystery.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Brandon, thank you again for sharing her heart and reflecting what we all go through. One thing that the Holy Spirit has done in my own life as He continues to intercede for us is based on the Psalmist words. “Delight your self in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” My understanding is that when He is my first desire; delighting myself in Him, the Holy Spirit leads me to desire what He desires, all of which is greater than my own thinking, more than I could ask for or imagine. Have a blessing week as you continue in communion with Him.:) ~ Fran

    Liked by 6 people

  7. Great post that got me thinking. Do I ask amiss? Am I righteous? This does not guarantee positive responses on all I ask, but I believe I have prayers that line up with God’s will without question. My prayers for the lost that I know. This is definitely within God’s will and I’m of a belief that will get answered yes every time, if I am persistent.
    Success in responding to God’s instruction, the one that seems impossible. If God told me, than that prayer is a guarantee!
    To bad there’s not a guarantee on that beach home though.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Agreed – anything God promises is guaranteed. But that opens up another can of worms – namely, have I heard God right? Could it be that my desires and his will are actually lined up? Or am I just hearing what I want to hear? That’s another note of caution that must always be sounded.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yep, but the sheep know his voice. He doesn’t always speak, and sometimes because it seems right to us we think it’s Him. I’m talking about that clear voice where we know it’s God.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Amen Brandon, “let him decide”. We can boldly approach his throne and then let our requests be made known unto him. Then, like you say, we let him decide because he knows best. We know that there is nothing impossible with God, and we know that he loves us, so we won’t let the enemy defeat us in thinking that God doesn’t answer. Both yeses and nos work for our good. I have had some nos that I have seen how it worked for my good. Then, I couldn’t see why, later, so grateful it was a no.

    So, “Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy , and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

    Encouraging post.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. As we read the Scriptures Brandon with God’s Wisdom and Empowering of The Spirit which we ask for and receive, than any doubts that we have concerning Prayer will no longer cause us to worry, I’m sorry to hear Prayer has caused you concern in the past, I’m sure the Scriptures below will give you even more assurance in our God of the impossible .

    He tells us of course if we Pray with the wrong motivation as you said too, they will not be answered, He does not promote greed, selfishness or revenge.

    James 4:3 Ye ask and receive not because ye ask amiss that ye may consume [it] upon your lusts.(KJV)

    This is why we are to Pray with the empowering of The Holy Spirit, not our Carnal Flesh, which we are to put to death as Romans 8 confirms and other Scriptures, and we do this as we Aim to be Perfected in Love just as Paul did, yes he battled with his Carnal flesh Romans 7 & 2 Corinthians.12:9 but he was victorious in the end.

    Ephesians 6:18 Praying always with all Prayer and supplication in the Spirit and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all Saints.

    Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should Pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

    What are we to do….

    1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

    Philippians 4:6-8 Be careful for nothing but in every thing by Prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God..(KJV)

    John 15:7 If ye abide in me and my words abide in you ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you..(KJV)

    More of God’s promises to us and He always keeps His word…..

    Mark 11:24“Therefore I say unto you; What things soever ye desire, when ye pray believe that ye receive them and ye shall have them.” (KJV)

    Matthew 7:7-12 Ask, and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth and he that seeketh findeth and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you whom if his son ask bread will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you do ye even so to them for this is the law and the Prophets.(KJV)

    Matthew 21:22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in Prayer believing ye shall receive…(KJV)

    John Chapter 14:13-14 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my Name that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my Name I will do.(KJV)

    John 16:24 Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask and ye shall receive that your Joy may be full…(KJV)

    Christian Love and Blessings – Anne.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is great wisdom. Prayer is always answered. I always receive. I just don’t always get things my way. Prayer isn’t merely asking, it is hearing. For me, the best time to spend in prayer is when I am searching in his Word to hear from him. This promotes 2-way communication and is far more effective because I begin to not only pray for the needs I see but for the needs God sees, which may be far different than I comprehend on my own.

    I need to stop praying to avoid the struggle but for strength to make the journey. I think that I get to engrossed in finding an “I Dream of Jeannie” God that pops answers to prayer into my life rather than one that leads me to the answer.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “Denied prayers transform us; they provide opportunities to allow God to become our all; they lift our gaze to heaven.”

    I never quite thought about the struggles we go through as “denied prayers,” but that makes complete sense, and is oh, so true. I’m going through something now, that when it started year or so ago, I was on my knees 24/7 hoping for a sea change in the situation. Now, I know that if it had changed as I hoped, my reliance on Him wouldn’t be what it is today. While I’m still on my knees, my trust in His wisdom and plan for me has exponentially increased.

    Good stuff! And btw, thank you for liking one of my posts too!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly – because of God’s delay in some of my prayers, I’ve learned to find his love and his peace. Had God simply answered when I asked, I would have only tanked and choked off the blessing. Instead, I’m both fulfilling the highest purpose of my life – to know God – and preparing myself for other things he might be bringing. Have a great day and thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Such an insightful, introspective post!

    Also, I would like to think there are more than just Prayers of petition. At times when things get overwhelming and I think He will not be answering *any* prayers, that’s when I try to change it up – to prayers of Thanksgiving, of Adoration, of recognition for the role God plays in my life.

    Also, “Jesus, I trust in You,” is a simple, yet powerful prayer. One short sentence, but also a prayerful reminder when I get down about the way He is answering prayers!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Very thought provoking indeed. When my prayers are not answered I simply praise Him. He is far better at deciding what is best for me. Praising always is best for me — after that is gravy. Thanks for the post. Del

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I fully understand what you are saying, and have wrestled myself with similar thoughts. However, the more I understand the lavish, over-the-top love of my heavenly Daddy, the more I realize that he longs to bless me. Not necessarily the way I think I ought to be blessed, but even better. He longs for me to come to him with my requests, and then wait expectantly to see how lavishly he will answer – even beyond all I could ever ask or imagine. Those answers may mean a “no” to my “dreams” if his “yes” is better, and if my “dreams” would bring me harm as they fully play out in my life. However, if I assume it will be a “no”, I’m listening to the accuser. Any child who assumes every request taken to his father will be “no”, either has a poor relationship, a poor father, or has somehow misunderstood his father’s heart, which is sad. When Moses asked to see God’s glory (in the book of Exodus), God chose to display before him his goodness. If I ponder this fully – it is an amazing thought! Of all the characteristics that God would choose to best display his glory before Moses, God chose his goodness. John says that Jesus is the exact representation of God, and that he came full (or lavishing) grace and truth. When Adam sinned, he assumed there was no goodness or grace in God, because already he was thinking like the accuser, his new “master”. So he ran and hid. Yet, God showed complete goodness and mercy by sewing fig leaves together to cover his rebellious “son”. God knew Adam would sin, before ever creating him. Yet he allowed it, also knowing that the only redemption would be to kill his beloved son in a horrible death. That is complete and amazing goodness and love. Paul prayed that we would be given the ability to grasp the depth, height, and breadth of God’s love – because our fallen minds cannot grasp it alone. I pray the same for each of us this day – for God’s goodness, mercy, and love are beyond measure! Thank you for the opportunity to brag upon my Daddy!

    Liked by 2 people

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  17. Amen! He’s our perfect Father who wants us to tell Him what’s in our hearts-just like I’d give anything for my daughter to tell me what’s in her heart! I can see it on her face, but to have her “talk” about it with me is how I envision our Heavenly Father. He KNOWS, He just wants our time to bring it before Him. I waited 25 years for an answer to prayer-that a friend would return to Him! And that’s what He wanted….it just took her 25 years to see her NEED for Him. It’s amazing what a diagnosis of cancer will do to a person. She’s safely back in His arms and is healing from the surgery and radiation. She’s thankful no chemo needed!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Beautifully said. I am in awe. That line — “Christianity is a call to come and die.” — is perfect. Far too many ministers fail to recognize it. Yet you do not overlook God’s generosity.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Pingback: Irritated by God’s Glory: Adventures in Overthinking Prayer, Part III | Brandon J. Adams

  20. Before I was a Christian I asked God to make me a Christian like they were in the Bible. He gave me mental illness on the spot. At the time it was the absolute worst thing that could have happened to me. Looking back it was the absolute best thing that could of happened to me. God used the mental illness to humble me, (which I greatly needed) so that I could see my need and accept his forgiveness. “Let Him decide”? I like that. (Thank you for following my blog).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a certain…erm, issue…that I am starting to see the same way. It’s certainly humbled me. I’ll always remember where I came from now, and how it was God and only God who lifted me out.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Pingback: My Mole Scare and What It Taught Me | Brandon J. Adams

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