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.
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.