There is nothing quite as frustrating as a medical condition with no cure, or no answers to a physical ailment. I’ve seen this play out in my family many times.
One of my kids has several issues that have been tested over the years. The doctors look at results and just say, “Huh. We don’t know why this happens.”
Or there’s the time I went to the chiropractor and developed a case of vertigo. When I presented the issue to my practitioner, he just said, “That’s weird.”
Not the words you want to hear from the “expert”.
If we have problems, we want clear cut solutions that work in our favor every time. Bonus points if we can be in control of said solution.
Then we go to church, or turn on our favorite telepreacher. And he shares with us- from God’s Word- that if we just pray harder and have more faith, God will answer our prayers. Problems? Solutions. He will heal us. He will supply our need. He will take away the problems we face.
And that preacher isn’t completely wrong. It is Bible. The verses are there: If was ask in Christ’s name He will do it. (John 14:13-14) Ask and it shall be given. (Matthew 7:1) If you have faith of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. (Matthew 17:20) The effective prayers of a righteous man avail much. (James 5:16b)
So we ask, and God will give us what we want, right?
God is treated like our genie or administrative assistant. We just call out and He does our bidding. Our problem is we just don’t pray enough. We just don’t really believe.
These are notions I have heard often in my advancing years. I have even read scripture and gleaned these ideas, based on what I had already heard. But as I have watched many prayers answered in ways I haven’t liked, my faith has had to be re-evaluated. I did all the right things and God didn’t give me what I wanted.
I wanted my twins to not have a NICU stint. I wanted my church to be healthy. I wanted my back pain to go away. I wanted my Dad to live.
What was I doing wrong in my prayers? Why wasn’t God answering in the way I wanted Him to?
The truth is, these teachings of “you-ask-and-He-gives” are subtle forms of Prosperity Gospel. The power is placed in your hands instead of you submitting your “power” to the all-powerful God. These prayers are not petitions to an all-powerful Creator, these prayers treat God like an employee. Our view of God errs on the side of blasphemy.
So in comes the story of a leper. He is taking a chance by approaching this Rabbi- an unclean man kneeling before the pure Son of God. Nothing else has worked. This man is known by his condition and lives away from everyone and everything. Leprosy was a life of pain and chronic rejection.
When this man approaches Jesus, he makes a remarkable statement: “If you want to, you can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:2)
He doesn’t really ask; he just makes a statement of truth. If it is in God’s plan, His Son can. That leprous man placed his life in the hands of his Maker for the outcome of his situation.
The undercurrent in all of Jesus’ teachings on prayer is this: We ask according to the will of God. We pray with the desire that, above our wishes, God’s will is ultimately done. We rest in the persuasion that whatever God deems best in the situation is really the best for us.
“Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10
“And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us.” I John 5:14
And even Christ prays this way before giving Himself as a sacrifice: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:39
The idea isn’t that we must pray harder or squeeze out more faith, as if we have to work hard for God’s will to be done. Our Creator’s plans will come to pass, whether we like them or not.
So why pray, if God is going to do whatever He knows is best anyways? I have had to ask myself this question too, especially after a long string of requests not answered according to my desires. What’s the point in asking for things if God’s going to say no?
My kids do this to me. It’s frustrating. They don’t ask for something because they are afraid I will say no. Like that word is poison. Then they go and try to do the thing they could have just asked about, or they try to get thing thing they want without simply asking. These exploits often end in disaster and frustration.
As a parent, I want my kids to ask for things. I want to know their desires, I want to build that relationship with them. If I can say yes to them, I will. And while there are times when I do say no, the reason is always for their benefit even though it seems cruel at the time. I want to save them the time and effort of striving for something that is not right for them.
Prayer is communicating to our Father. Telling Him what we want. Understanding that He may choose differently for us. Our petitions are the sacrifice of our will to the altar of God’s sovereign plan. We place the requests before Him, asking Him to do His perfect will with our issues and needs.
Praying according to the will of God feels scary, because we are taking our hands off the situation and giving control over to our Lord. And He doesn’t always answer the way we think He should. There is a reason the author of Hebrews writes, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10:31)
But do you know what another purpose of prayer is? To pour out our hearts to our Father. To express our disappointment, heartache and suffering. To ask Him to stay with us (He always does), to ask Him to help us cope with the plan He has, to bask in the peace He does give freely. Prayer is an act of submission and rest.
I can tell you, living in surrender to the will of God is not always pleasant. It is hard. Jesus tells us countless times it will be. But I find the most peace, the most contentment, the most growth and the most love when I trust what He is doing even when it is a painful thing.
So let’s take a deep breath, and pray “Thy will be done.” And mean it.