How Should We Pray? – Part 4
Posted by Obie
What about me? What about my hurts, my wants, my needs? In Part 1 of the study on how the Bible teaches us to pray, we were reminded that the Lord’s prayer is a template for our prayers, and that God expects prayer to be a regular part of our life (even when we don’t feel like it). In Part 2, we saw that our prayers should be filled with thankfulness, as well as God centered, and God honoring. In Part 3 , we recognized that our prayers should actively seek God’s will for our lives and that His will is not some mystical will, but ultimately God wants us to follow the very practical will He has already revealed to us in Scripture (i.e. study the Bible, pray, etc.). These are all practices that we should incorporate into our prayers each and every time we pray. However, let’s be honest, God doesn’t really need anything from us. Sure, He wants a relationship with us, He deserves our praise and our thanks, but when it comes right down to it, we pray to God because we need Him – not the other way around. Therefore, it is with gladness that I begin the portion of the study which most of us are probably ready for. And that is, the next section of the Lord’s Prayer which lovingly directs the focus and attention of our prayers back toward the needs of us mere mortals.
The Lord’s Prayer
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
Let’s get something straight up front…God loves you. We have heard passages like John 3:16 so frequently in our lives that we often forget that God really does love us. The effect has worn off a bit. The meaning has been watered down. But God really does love us. If you want to hear a description of how God defines love, then read 1st Corinthians 13:4-8. If God expects us to love our fellow man with the kind of selfless love described in this passage from First Corinthians, then we can be certain that it is this type of love we’ll receive from Him. If a definition isn’t enough for you, and you want to know the lengths to which God would go to demonstrate His love, look no further than the cross (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 5:25)! The message is plain, simple, and wonderful – God loves you! These aren’t just words! This is a reality that He has demonstrated in the greatest way possible – by laying down His life for us (John 15:12-13). Think about it! If He would die for us, how much must He care for us?
Since we know that God loves and cares for us, it is perfectly reasonable and even expected to think that our prayers would consist of requests to God for help with the things that are important to us. However, if you are like me, you often wonder where exactly is the line between wants and needs. What is the difference between a request out of sincerity and a request out of selfishness? Do all of my requests need to be spiritually focused, or can I pray also for things that are personal, physical, and perhaps quite material? Fortunately, I believe Jesus included the section, “Give us this day our daily bread,” in His prayer to help answer this very question. And so the question is…
…What Can and What Should We Ask For in Prayer?
What can and what should I ask for when I pray? Let me first answer this question by saying, I can’t answer this question. That’s a bit disappointing, I know. But realistically, I believe two people could pray to God for the same thing, and yet have entirely different internal motives, thereby changing the answer to the question. One person’s intentions and desires might be pure, while the other person’s might be selfish.
For instance, let us say that two people are praying that God would provide them a new job. We can’t know a person’s heart, but if we could, let us say that we found out the first person prayed for a new job simply because they wanted more money, a bigger house, or a new car. However, what if we examined the second person’s heart and found that their request for a new job was for the sole purpose of being able to move closer to a sick family member. Surely we can see that the first motive is selfish and the second motive is selfless.
Or how about this?…I actually think a person can pray the exact same prayer at different times in their life and they might pray with different intentions each time. For instance, let us say that I worked really hard on my Bible study posts here on this website simply because I want people to know God and grow in God. Let us say that I pray to God, asking that the things I write would reach lots of people. At this time, while my intentions are pure, my hope is that my writings will touch the lives of people and help them either come to know God, or to grow closer to God. However, what if success began to snow ball and build? What if my website suddenly became nationally recognized and millions of people began reading it (unlikely, I know, haha). What if this success went to my head and I became a proud person who wrote these studies simply to seek my own fame and glory? If I go to God in prayer once I have allowed this pride to overtake me, and I pray the same prayer – that what I write will reach lots of people – then my new desire is not for the glory of God and the growth of Christians – as it was when I began – but instead I am now seeking my own glory, my own success, and my own recognition. Suffice it to say that if these were ever my intentions, then I should stop writing immediately. However, the point of this example is pretty clear. One individual could say the exact same prayer at different times in their life and at one time the prayer might be sincere, while another time the prayer might be selfish.
We could probably think of hundreds of other examples, which proves the point that I cannot provide a list of what we can and cannot ask God for, simply because I believe that answer will vary person to person, situation to situation, and even moment to moment as the hearts of individuals change (for good or bad). I believe this is one reason why Jesus did not intend to give us an exhaustive list of things that we can ask God for in prayer. Instead, He gave us ONE example: bread. I actually think it is quite telling that Jesus only told us to ask for bread. Did it preclude prayers for water, shelter, clothing, or healing? Certainly not! In praying for bread, I believe Jesus was teaching us that it is not only acceptable, but expected for us to ask for what we need. In short, I believe that the Bible teaches that God loves us, God knows that we have needs, God wants us to rely on Him, so God expects us to pray to Him to petition Him for the things that we need. Let’s look at a few passages of Scripture on this to help discern exactly where the want/need line should be drawn…
Praying for Healing
James 5:14-16 says, 14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. 16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
When I began this study, I admitted that I am frequently guilty of skepticism or faithlessness when it comes to prayer. Not that I don’t think God can help people – the Bible is clear that He has and can – I am merely skeptical that God does intervene very frequently. I’m not saying this is biblical or right. I’m merely confessing one of my struggles as a Christian. Sadly, this is an area where we prayer skeptics often feel our prayers go unheard. I’ll cover the problem of “un-answered” prayers in a bit, but for now, let us recognize that there is a Biblical case for praying for those who are sick. These verses in James make it clear, praying for the sick is something God expects. But why? Why would God expect us to pray to heal people if, in fact, He might very well decide not to heal them? There could be several reasons…we could discuss how our prayers for healing demonstrate our faith in God’s abilities. This would certainly be accurate. We could say that our prayers for healing draw us closer to God and teach us to depend on Him. This would also be true. Like I said, there could be lots of reasons. However, I want to point out just one reason, because I think it is very important!
We have already discussed that God loves us, but did you know that God also expects us to love each other? Seriously! In fact, in many places in the New Testament, it is stated that love is the fulfilling of the law, and it goes so far as to say that love is the basis on which the entire Old Testament hangs (Matt. 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31; Rom. 13:8-10; John 13:34; 14:15; 15:12, 17; 1 John 3:23, etc.). In Romans 13:8 it tells us to “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” This is an interesting sentence, because at first read we might think the topic is changed mid way through the verse – it looks like it takes an awkward transition from debt to love. However, nothing in the Bible is there by accident. The purpose of the verse is to teach that there is one exception to the prohibition on Christian debt, and that exception is love. Do you ever see your Christian walk this way? I think of it as a sweet symmetry that Christ paid our debt on the cross, and in turn we have a debt to love. Love for us nailed Christ to the cross, and when we accept Him, the expectation is that we will change and live out His love, through us. We have a debt to love!
As such, the message is clear and simple. God expects us to care about each other. How could we carry out the continually repeated command to love one another if we didn’t care when a brother or sister in Christ, or a family member, or whoever, were sick or dying? Galatians 6:2 says that bearing each others burdens fulfills the law of Christ. How? Because the law of Christ is love, and bearing each others burdens is an act of love! If someone you love is sick, pray for them. God expects you to pray because God expects you to love.
Pray for Everything!
Phil. 4:6-7 says, “6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
In modern English, being careful is a good thing. However, in this passage, being careful for nothing really means that we are to be anxious for nothing. In other words, whatever is in your life that causes you to worry, to fret, or to be anxious, the Biblical mandate is to take it to God in prayer. Be anxious for nothing, but instead pray for everything that worries us.
I don’t know about you, but I appreciate that God led the Apostle Paul to use the word “everything” in this verse. Not that God is giving us permission to pray for selfish things such as winning the lottery, but this teaches that we are to pray for everything that we are worried about. Perhaps we are applying for jobs, and we need to get one soon or we won’t be able to support our family. Perhaps we do not know where our next meal will come from. Perhaps our only vehicle is broken down and we do not know where we will get the money to pay to fix it. Perhaps we have a sin in our lives that seems to have a hold on us and no matter how hard we fight, we cannot seem to shake it. Perhaps a loved one is sick or dying and the only hope they have is a miracle from God. Perhaps we are having trouble with a co-worker, our kids, our spouse…whatever it is, pray about it! Everything that is burdening our hearts and our minds should be lifted up to the Lord! If we do this, if we bring every request to the Lord, then the peace of God will keep our hearts and minds.
We are not intended to bear our burdens alone. God is the one to whom we should turn when the weights of the world become too heavy. I do need to point out that the passage says to go with thanksgiving. It does not say to go to prayer with complaining and whining. Let’s walk a careful balance. We are to take our requests to God, but we should still approach Him with reverence. An attitude of thankfulness does not prohibit pleas for help. It merely reminds us that even when we have needs, we still have much to thank God for. As such, when we are worried about anything, we are told to take our concerns to God.
This is very similar to the teaching in Matthew 6:25-34, which says,
This is a powerful passage in Matthew. Notice the similarities between it and the passage in Philippians 4. Both promote a reliance on God and both discourage worrying. Verse 27 says, “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” That’s an amazing point. Since when has worry fed my kids? Since when has worry made me healthy or happy? Since when has worry helped me sleep? Since when has worry demonstrated my trust in God? Since when has worry helped me perform better?
Let us say that I have an interview for a new job that my family really needs. Worrying about the interview will not land me the job. Prayer and preparation just might, but worrying will not. What about putting food on my table or clothes on my back? Does worrying do those things? No, but prayer and hard work might. This does not say to ignore realities as if they are not there. If my children are starving or my loved ones are sick, I am not told to pretend that they are not. I’m just told not to worry. How? By trusting God. By putting the burden on Him! Don’t worry, He’s strong enough. Seek the things of God first and God will take care of all the other things (in His time and His way I might add, but more on that later).
God made us, He certainly understands that food, clothing, and shelter are quite important to our survival. Yet, He also wants us to trust in Him. If He clothes the lilies of the field and feeds the birds of the air, He can absolutely take care of us. Trust Him. Pray to Him for the things that burden you. I believe the Bible is clear that we should pray about “everything” that we are anxious about. Once we have thanked God, once we have praised Him, once we have pursued His will, when the subject of the prayer finally turns to our human needs, lay your burdens at the feet of the king.
However, examine your heart as you do so. I think we all know what selfishness looks like, even if we sometimes ignore its presence. Selfishness is where we should draw the line when answering the question, “What can and what should we pray for?” Every silly or selfish prayer is not what we are talking about. I’m not suggesting that we pray if we are anxious about the Cardinals winning a baseball game. I’m talking about the things that are close and personal to your life. The things that will really make a difference in your life. If something like a sports team or the car you drive, or the status of life you keep is going to significantly impact your life, your anxiety, your family, or your spiritual walk, then I suggest you examine your priorities. There is a difference between a prayer of selfishness / silliness and a prayer that is sincere and worry filled. If you are sincerely worried about something in your life, give that burden to God.
I hope this makes the subject clearer for you. I hope you recognize that while God certainly cares about our spirituality, and the reverence and thankfulness with which we approach Him, He also loves us. He knows we have personal and even physical needs, and He is a God who can help. Examine your heart and ensure your prayers do not have selfish or corrupt motives. If they don’t, then I cannot say it better than this, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Sparrows Still Die
In my opinion, the song His Eye Is on the Sparrow is one of the most beautiful songs of all time. It is a great reminder of the omniscient and omnipotent characteristics of our awesome God. It comes with the promise that since God watches over the Sparrow, I can know He will also watch over me. This is a refreshing and reassuring message that can bolster our faith in God and make our problems seem smaller in light of our huge and all-powerful God. I do not intend to do anything to diminish this positive view of God and His abilities, nor our trust in Him.
However, I also want us to be realistic…and Biblical. Just as I said at the beginning of this study, I do not want our prayers to be based on egocentric superstition that thinks God will say yes to every whim that floats into our mind. As such, it is time to discuss something I have not yet tackled in this study, and that is, what about when God says “no” to our prayers?
Ask yourself this; isn’t it true that sometimes we pray with the right motives, the right intentions, with Biblical consistency, a pure heart, selflessly, and yet God still says “no“? I’ll be honest, I have watched a church pray prayers over a man with cancer…and then I sadly also watched the man die, leaving his wife and kids behind – more than once. I have watched as people with very low incomes pray for a job, and they cannot seem to find one. I have watched as Christian families are ripped apart by sin despite the deep and desperate prayers of people who love them. I could go on and on and on with examples of seemingly unanswered prayers, but we all have our own examples. It is in these instances in life that we can’t help but wonder if we are praying wrong, or perhaps wonder if we don’t have enough faith. Why won’t God say “yes” to our prayers when they are clearly righteous and entirely selfless? After all, how could it possibly be God’s will to allow the father of a family die? How could it be God’s will to allow a strong Christian man to struggle to feed his family? Is our real God less loving or less powerful than the God we sing about in His Eye Is on the Sparrow? These questions awake our raw emotions as we pour out our desperate pleas to God, only to be told “no”. How do we balance faith in God with the understanding that not everything is in God’s will?
It is a discussion for another day, but the Bible recognizes the reality of seemingly unjust pain and unanswered prayers in passages such as Jeremiah 12:1, which says, “Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?”
Jeremiah seems to compliment God, “righteous art thou, oh Lord…”, but then he immediately says what sounds like, “but God, we seriously need to talk about some of the decisions you are making….all these bad people around me, why are they always successful? Why are they happy?” The implication being that Jeremiah was not happy. Indeed we know this is the case. Jeremiah is the author of the book of Lamentations, a book that recounts the prophets sorrow upon witnessing the conquering of Judah and Jerusalem. He was sad about his country and city being destroyed…as would any of us. His question to God is simple – “why?”
Why is this happening? Why won’t you stop it, God? These are the types of questions that we ask when our prayers do not receive the answer we wanted. The example of Jeremiah could easily move us away from our current topic on prayer and onto the popular topic of “why do bad things happen to good people?” After all, if Jeremiah can wonder why God is allowing bad things to happen, then so can we! However, let us save that subject for another day. For this study on prayer, the question is simply, “Why does God say ‘no‘ to my prayer?” Whether it be prayers to avoid the conquest of Jerusalem, or prayers to cure a friend of cancer, or give me a job…whatever the prayers may be, why does God say no?
First, let us take a look at the previously mentioned sparrow that garners, in part, such boundless expectation for our prayers.
Matthew 10:29-31 and Luke 12:6-7 are the sources for the teaching that God looks after the sparrows and will therefore certainly look after humans – who are described as much more valuable.
Matthew 10:29-31 says, “29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.”
Luke 12:6-7 says, “6 Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? 7 But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.”
Both passages clearly teach that God looks after sparrows and that God deems human value as superior to sparrows. God, therefore, looks after humans. So, what’s the problem? Well, as the title for this section implies, notice the passage in Matthew states that sparrows fall to the ground. In other words, sparrows still die! This is an important point, because my impression has been that people think of the song His Eye Is on the Sparrow and these two passages as evidence that God will not let bad things happen to His people. This belief is clearly not accurate. What do these passages say about God, then?
Do these passages portray God as sovereign over all life? Absolutely! God is sovereign, and anyone who professes themselves to be Christians should freely admit that if God wanted to heal every wound and sickness, He certainly could. However, God clearly does not heal every wound or sickness. We could talk about the question of “why?” and I could tell you that God has a holy standard that must be upheld. As such, sin and death are only in this world because of us. I could tell you that God IS getting rid of sin and death, but He had to do so in a way that was consistent with His nature – or as Scripture says, God must be both “just and the justifier” (Rom. 3:23-26 and 1 Cor. 15:53-57). God’s holy standard must not be infringed upon by His love for us. We rebelled in sin and invited condemnation into the world, God paid the price by dying for us and will save anyone who believes. He will also return and put an end to sin and death as soon as the very last soul who will be saved is saved. Until then, however, we have to deal with sin and death.
I could tell you all of that. We could discuss other reasons why there is sadness and death in this world; such as human choice. However, for this study, we don’t even have to go that far. For this study, the answer can be even simpler. The answer is, this world is not our home!
If we were to look at the verses surrounding Matthew 10:29-31 and Luke 12:6-7, we would find that the context is not about the safety of every sparrow and the earthly care of every human, but instead the context is about having an eternal mindset. In fact, both passages contain a similar warning…
Matthew 10:28 says, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Luke 12:4-5 says, “4 And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.”
A far cry from saying “don’t worry, if God cares about the sparrows He cares for you more, so He certainly won’t let anything bad happen to you,” instead this passage is a warning about God’s sovereignty over life and death and it points dramatically to the mortality of our physical bodies and the need to focus on the destination of our soul. This is why both passages also include a plea to declare our allegiance to Christ!
Matthew 10:32 says, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.”
Luke 12:8 says, “Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God.”
I hope you followed that. I hope you recognize the two points in both “sparrow” passages. Neither point to universal physical protection here on earth. Both point to the mortality of us all, the sovereignty of God, and the need to profess faith in Jesus Christ, because eternity is where we MUST invest! This is because eternity is the only thing that will last. Just as the sparrow falls, we will one day fall. The fate of our body will mean nothing compared to the eternal fate of our soul!
Another thing to think of is that while God’s eye certainly is on the sparrow and while God cares for the sparrow, the sparrow is not exempt from the curse that all of creation is under.
Romans 8:19-23 says, “19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. 20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, 21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. 23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”
Just in case you didn’t follow that passage, it is saying that even the animals in nature are under the same curse that we are because of sin. Death and destruction are a reality in this world. Man dies, just as the sparrow. However, this passage in Romans also points to the future glory which will be given to the children of God. A child of God, as every regular reader knows, means someone who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ and has been subsequently reborn through the Holy Spirit (John 1:12-13; John 3:1-7; 1 Cor. 15:45-50; Rom. 8:14-17). But this glorious day has not come yet. We have not been glorified yet (1 Cor. 15:53-57 and 1 John 3:1-2). We are waiting under the curse of sin and death, just like the sparrow. This is why the passages in Matthew 10, Luke 12, and Romans 8 ALL implore us to look toward eternity, instead of this temporary life here on earth. Check out the previous verse in Romans 8…
Romans 8:18 says, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
Do you get that? Heaven, eternity, and all the glory which will be revealed therein, is beyond comparison to the sufferings that we go through. God’s eye certainly is watching over me and you, just as He does the sparrow, but ultimately, God sees the whole story. God sees that while our troubles on this earth can certainly be great, eternity is so much more important. And I might add, eternity will be incomparably wonderful, or incomparably terrible…depending on if you have trusted Jesus as the savior from your sins or not.
God cares for us, but that does not mean every pain of this life will be removed. This world is not our home!
2 Corinthians 4:18 says, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
1 John 2:15-17 says, “15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
James 4:14 says, “14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”
1 Peter 1:23-25 says, “23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. 24 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: 25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”
We do not know the mind of God. We do not know why He sometimes chooses to spare us pain and other times chooses to let the curse of this sinful world run over us. However, do not mistake a “no” to your prayers for a lack of sovereignty or love. God certainly loves you, and God wants you to lift up your burdens to Him. He is certainly in control of all things. I freely admit that it is only by His permission that a sparrow falls and even if God is not the direct cause of our suffering, it is only by His permission that bad things happen to us.
He is sovereign over all things. Because of His decision to give humans freewill (a.k.a. choice), sin is now in this world. God has defeated sin and death on the cross, but is waiting for His perfect timing to completely eliminate it. That perfect timing might include waiting for someone we know to be saved. Their soul might be what He is waiting for.
No matter what God is waiting for, it is only because of our choice to sin that the curse of death is in this world. This means there will be pain, sorrow and destruction. Until Christ returns, we must continue to pray for “everything” that burdens us and be “anxious for nothing“, but also realize that God might not lift every burden from our shoulders. He might allow sin to run its course in our lives, even to the point of taking our lives. This sounds harsh, but it has been true of every single human who has walked this earth and has now died. I like the quote that has been attributed to Katharine Hepburn — ‘Life is hard. After all, it kills you.” Until Christ returns, death is a universal truth in this life.
I guess the point is that a “no” to our prayers in this life is not the end of the world. The end of the world would be rejecting Christ and missing out on eternity. If a “no” in this life is so devastating that it affects our faith, then perhaps we are not living this life with the proper perspective; perhaps we are placing too much value in this physical and temporary existence that we have.
If you think I’m saying this lightly, I’m not. I have my own prayers that I wish God would have answered differently. Let me tell you, when I lost my best friend, never was the importance of eternity more apparent to me. To think of them being gone from this life is terrible, but to think of them being gone for all eternity…this would be unimaginable pain. I am not doing this study lightly. I just recognize that Scripture wants me to view my earthly pain with an eternal perspective.
As such, God says “no”, even to noble, pure, and godly requests. And just in case you think God does not understand the pain we go through, let me remind you that once, God the Father said “no” to God the Son’s request.
Mark 14:36 – “And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”
Was it understandable for Jesus to want to avoid dying on the cross? Only an insanely masochistic person would say otherwise. To think of the brutality and pain He endured is not something anyone in their right mind would gladly volunteer for. However, the choice for Jesus was to let all of humanity die in their sins, or to die in their place. While Jesus offered His life freely (John 10:18), He had no desire to be gruesomely killed. Only His love for humanity allowed Him to die on the cross. And so, in the face of such impending brutality, Jesus asks God the Father to take the cup from Him, but being a perfect example to us, Jesus fully submitted Himself to the will of the Father (Phil. 2:8).
God the Father did not give Jesus an affirmative answer to His request, even though there could be no better example of a person praying with godly intentions. Jesus is God, after all.
Even though Christ’s motives were pure, His request sincere, and quite understandable, it was still not what God the Father willed. As such, it did not happen. The cup was not taken from Jesus, because for us to live, Christ had to die.
Jesus struck a perfect balance. On the one hand He asked for something He wanted, He took His request to God the Father in prayer, fully hoping that God the Father would grant His request. On the other hand, He was willing to be obedient and faithful to the Father, no matter what the Father’s answer was…
If Jesus’ prayer was not given a “yes”, then we should remember that even when our prayers are sincere, unselfish, and possibly even God centered, that does NOT mean they are what God wills. Therefore, we might get a “no”. That does not mean that God is not sovereign. It does not mean that He does not love us, and it does not mean we should not pray. That simply means we should trust God’s will with all things, even when we do not like what happens. This argument does not eliminate the effects of human choice and the reality that we live in a fallen world. Meaning, I am not arguing that a child was abducted because God willed it. That is another conversation that we will have another day. For this study, I’m simply saying that we should not be surprised or discouraged when our prayers are not answered in the way we wished they would be. We should trust that God is always on the throne. When He answers our prayers the exact way we want, we should praise Him. When he does not…we should still praise Him.
Don’t stop praying just because you might get a “no“. Keep praying, because God just might say “yes“. James 5:16b says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Whether or not we pray just might determine whether or not God gets involved. It seems crazy to think that the creator of the universe might actually choose to do something simply because we cared enough to pray! But with all my heart I believe it is true (ex. Ez. 22:30-31).
Keep praying because God has told you to pray. Keep praying because ultimately prayer is about our relationship with God and our love for others. Pray to God because we want to know Him more. Pray for others because we love them and want God to help them. We intercede on their behalf because we want God to intervene! Pray because you desire to see God move in your midst and in the midst of others. Keep praying because more than anything, I believe our prayers for help are about laying our burdens on God. Our anxiety and our worry over all the things that are beyond our control is exactly what God wants us to give to Him. He can hold us up. He can give us hope and comfort and healing. And so I say to you, be anxious for nothing, but take all things to Him in prayer, and no matter the response, keep your eyes locked on eternity.
(For another example, see the Apostle Paul’s request in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.)
Lazarus Come Forth
In my section above on God saying “no” I’m a little worried that it might seem too heartless. I hinted at my own example of when my best friend was killed, as well as God the Father saying “no” to God the Son, but I still probably did not give God credit for all the compassion He deserves.
When I think of God saying “no”, I think it is probably hard on Him. My mind is drawn toward John 11, when Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, and we know that this is also the passage that records “Jesus wept”. It has always baffled me that Jesus cried tears of sorrow for His friend. I mean, if I think about it, Jesus had the entire perspective. He knew that even if He did not raise Lazarus from the dead that Lazarus would still be alive in heaven. He also knew that in just a moment, He was going to bring Lazarus back to life. So, why the tears? What was there to cry about? From God’s perspective, everything was going to be just fine, right? Of course it was!
However, Jesus Christ still cried. I can only understand this to mean that even though God sees the bigger picture, He still cares when we hurt. God cared that Lazarus’ friends and family were weeping over the death of Lazarus. I believe He even cares about the event of death itself. Perhaps to God, every death is a reminder of our sin—who knows? After all, our death is a result of sin (Rom. 6:23). No matter what the secondary reasons that Jesus wept, the primary reason is that God loves us.
As such, even when God says “no”, God still cares. If I were dying of a disease, and God chose not to heal me, it is not because He does not care. I am certain that my pain saddens Him. Sometimes His reasons for saying “no” might be obvious. Sometimes His reasons for saying “no” might go against the grain of every belief in a merciful God that we have. Perhaps sometimes God just lets the sin of this world run its course and unfortunately that might mean even we Christians are victims. We don’t know the reason. But every hurt that we experience should be a reminder that not only is this world not our home, but we also should not want this world to be our home. There is pain, and sin, and sorrow and death in this world. We should long for the world where sin and death are destroyed (cf. 1 Cor. 15:54-57), we should long for the world where our tears are wiped away and there is no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, nor pain (Rev. 21:4).
Everything I see on this topic in scripture seems to remind me of the temporary and tragic pain of this life compared to the glory and eternal joy of the next. This reality should drive us closer to God, because when He says “no” in this life we should remember that the next life is the only “yes” He guarantees us. Cling to God when you are in pain, because pushing Him away does not remove our pain, nor change a “no” to a “yes”. All pushing Him away does is alienate our one true friend and shut out our greatest source of comfort (Matt. 5:4). When God says “no”, trust Him, because He sees Lazarus risen in this life, He sees Lazarus glorified in the next life, and even with knowing all that, He still weeps for the temporary trials and pains of His friend. Now that’s love!
To Be Continued…
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Posted on April 20, 2014, in Practical Christianity and tagged Answered prayers, Belief, Bible, Christ, Christian, Christian theology, Christianity, Daily Bread, Faith, God, God's Will, Grace, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Lord's Prayer, Need vs Wants, Needs, Our Daily Bread, Prayer, Praying for stuff, Selfish, Selfishness, Selfishness vs Selflessness, Selfless, Selflessness, Thanks, Thanksgiving, Wants. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.