We’ve all prayed for something and felt like God didn’t answer it. In the best case scenario, perhaps we gained some wisdom and in retrospect are thankful to God for not “answering” us, given current circumstances.
But prayer and answers from God are often tough issues to face. Consider the example of someone with a cancer diagnosis. She prays for direct healing, but the disease gradually worsens. Treatments don’t work. Things look bleak. Or consider the example of a parent yearning for a child to make the right decisions. He prays to God for guidance and protection for that child, but the young family member makes bad decisions time and time again.
Where is God in unanswered prayers? Is God ignoring us? Is God actually doing anything? Is God testing us?
The answer to these questions is often ambiguous. We don’t always know the mind or actions of God. And I think the answer is a lot more complicated than simple cliche sayings.
Prayer was at the forefront of our sermon yesterday. The blind man seeing trees in Mark 8 shows us the messiness of miracles and healing. Jesus did a “do-over” to fully make things right. Even after the healing, this man would have likely experienced eye trouble in old age, as well as dying a physical death, too.
There are several factors of prayer and divine intervention that may or may not impact your own personal experience with petitioning God. Consider the following…
God is not Santa Claus, and prayer is not a Christmas list
We often think of prayer as simply asking God for things. In reality, prayer is communication with God. Hopefully we learn to praise and thank God, repent of our shortcomings, and also listen to our heavenly parent. I find it helpful to remind myself that while prayer does include asking God for things, petition is only part of that deeper relationship. We should also never treat prayer like witchcraft or spell-casting–saying certain words to create a desired outcome.
Is it God’s will… or my will?
We frequently confuse our personal will and desire with that of God’s. The classic example of this is someone praying to win the lottery. Care to take a wild guess as to whether or not that person is submitting to God’s will? Most likely, s/he is simply wanting to pursue greedy desires to have a lot of money for minimal effort.
Sometimes our prayer life centers upon our will instead of God’s. We want our way. In this regard, remember Jesus’ teaching on prayer with the Lord’s Prayer–thy will be done.
What about human freedom?
God has gifted us with free will. We have the ability to say “no” to God. This is necessary for love to exist–for instance, you cannot coerce or threaten someone to genuinely love you! True love requires the freedom to walk away.
Many times with prayer, we are partly wrestling with the issue of human freedom. Praying for someone to make a good decision? That person bears some responsibility, thanks to human free choice. Sometimes prayer doesn’t turn out the way we want it to because of human-created circumstances. Sure, God could easily “strong arm” our world to submission, but I think God often takes a step back to allow for the potential of love.
Our world is broken
Our world is fallen. It is sinful. Things don’t work out like they should. This is a basic fact of our broken reality. We struggle with sin in personal actions. We also see the effects of sin in the lives of other people, as well as general circumstances in the world around us.
When praying to God, we often face the reality of our broken world. Bodies fall apart and stop working, and our time here on earth eventually comes to an end. As with human free choice, I believe God works within our current circumstance to produce different outcomes.
These are just a few issues to keep in mind as you think about prayer.
I have one final thought to sum up everything: Keep on praying. Just like the blind man in Mark 8, keep on seeking God’s healing. It doesn’t matter what may happen or if you feel “unanswered”… it is imperative to continue that communication with God.