I saw a friend ask this question on my Facebook feed recently. Given that God has seen fit to grant me a minuscule glimpse of an understanding of prayer during my few adult years, I immediately thought of a crucial Scripture that addresses the question.
We all struggle for things in this life. Victory, deliverance, breakthrough, blessing, healing, bounty, hearts’ desires. It’s a tricky high-wire to walk, for no matter what some people tell you, 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.
Are we to believe a servant is greater than his master? The Bible doesn’t stutter: not every prayer will be granted in this life, not every hardship averted. 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. If you can, you’ll have room to turn to Jesus, finding him to be the ultimate prize that can never be stolen.
I’ve also learned not to put limits on God’s generosity. He is scandalously generous. Sometimes the church, in its frustration with the masses grasping for “prosperity” and deaf to all else, will race to the other extreme and quietly throw cold water on blessing of any kind. (This really is a thing. Just observe your reaction if I write the phrase “bold prayer”. You instantly pull up and worry: Is this right? Respectful? Scriptural?) But it buries a great truth: God does answer prayer. The Bible speaks of many such times, and seems to hold them out to us rather excitedly. God can teach us about himself through a “yes”, grow closer to us through a “yes”, as well as a “no”.
But this merely yields another problem: our cynicism. Where is this generosity? Our experiences don’t match up to the awesome power God wields in the Bible – yet. “This is reality,” we want to say. “God doesn’t do that stuff anymore.”
I certainly want to believe. What is reality, really, if God is your God?
But regardless of how many stories we hear about provisions and breakthroughs that are tough to pass off as science or coincidence, something in our hearts has a hard time with faith. Some of us have been left feeling fed up with hope; some of us are just down-to-earth by nature. We feel stuck between reality and faith, between hope and surrender. “If I’m going to undertake any long season of hope and prayer about something,” we say, “then I want to know I’m grounded in reality. I want to know I’m not losing my mind.”
You could have been friends with Abraham. God gave him a crucial key to faith in the midst of realism (or is it the other way around?)