Christianity 201

October 24, 2022

Prayer: Erring on the Side of Audacious Expectations

John 14 : 14 (NIV)  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 16 : 23 (NIV) In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

John 16: 24 (NIV) Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

John 16: 23-24 (The Message) “This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks!

It can be hard to find the balance. On the continuum between, at one end, half-hearted prayer that is more doubt than faith, and the other end, believing that as your day began God was like a genie ready to grant you your daily three wishes.

We are commanded to go to God with our needs — our prayer petitions — and leave them before him. But what are our expectations of what happens next?

There are many people who believe that God’s intervention in the affairs of humankind are an extreme rarity, if he intervenes at all. The world is simply what it is, and that is the answer to the question, “If God… why all the suffering in the world?” We live in a fallen world where there is bound to pain and sorrow; flood, fire and famine; doom, defeat and despair. (That wasn’t a cheery sentence; but it was rather alliterative.)

There are other people who believe that God certainly hears our prayer requests and that this is the end in itself: That God wants to be in communication (or fellowship) with us. This is the idea that just as a father behaves towards his children, God wants us to tell us when and where it hurts. He wants each situation to bring us back to him. He wants us to come to him when we are ‘burdened and heavy-laden.’ But it’s about keeping the channel of communication open, ‘without ceasing.’

Still others believe that while God’s intervention is rarity, miracles do exist; they just don’t happen every day. We’re talking about genuine miracles here, not things contrived for the glare of the television lights or the crowd in the arena. So God is indeed a miracle working God, it’s not (as with the first group) a complete rarity, but just don’t get your hopes up.

Further up the ‘hope’ ladder are those who would say, ‘God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to give us what we ask.’ Why this doesn’t happen may be related to the complexities of other situations we can’t see, or a lesson that we need to learn before the answer comes. But absent those factors, God’s default position would be to give us what we come to him asking. I wrote about that this time last year:

A former pastor of ours used the phrase, “God is positively disposed and favorably inclined” to hear and answer our prayers. Many are praying right now for the world to be set right (or as N.T. Wright phrases it, “set to rights.”) It might appear that God is not answering. I believe that’s why we’re told to be tenacious about our praying. Keep on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking. (Matthew 7:7 even spells out the acronym ASK!) But it doesn’t say that if we ask enough times we’ll get a ‘yes.’  Even as many are praying, we would appear to be living in what a songwriter called, “the mystery of unanswered prayer.”

And there are those who believe that God is constantly orchestrating more details in the lives of his people than anything we can possibly imagine; that there are constantly situations where God is even giving us ‘answers to requests we haven’t made;’ or that life consists of many seen and unseen coincidences, defined as, “Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.”  This view ranges — depending on the person — from the dramatic holding on to the hope of healing even when doctors say the situation is incurable; to the trivial belief of some that God is truly willing to intervene in life on Planet Earth so that you will get a parking space next to the big box store entrance.

…Parking spaces notwithstanding, I fall into the latter camp. I have to pray believing that my prayer is not only keeping the lines of communication open, not only making a difference in me, but making a difference also in the situation. Regardless of statistical odds or past prayer performance, I have to go to him with an ultimate faith that he is willing and able to execute deliverance from whatever situation is pressing in. This is the faith of children; what it means to ‘come as a child,’ and it’s a faith that is not double-minded, but believes without doubt (See James 1:8 and 1:6 and Mark 11:23) and without wrong motivation (see James 4:3).

(Deliverance might be a better way of defining the situation. If you are praying for money for a specific need you are praying for a deliverance from poverty with respect to that financial issue!)

…The greatest danger I see is in not asking at all. Not coming to God to bear our souls and cry out for help or mercy because the petitions we brought before him last month were not answered in the affirmative. I believe God will respect our tenacity in prayer; our willingness to go to him even in the absence (so far) of the answers we sought before.

He longs to see faith that is lived out in a concrete assurance of things not apparent (Hebrews 11:1).

Right now, we hear a lot about deconstruction or to say it slightly different, people deconstructing their faith. I think some of this has to do with is termed “the mystery of unanswered prayer.” (We wrote about that here in this 2020 devotional.)

Some of this may have to do with the ‘big one’ that God didn’t answer. Maybe the request was indeed to audacious, or our motives were wrong, or God clearly had another plan and granting the request would have been to our peril.

But I also think we need to consider what our general expectations are when we pray. Where do we fit in with respect to the above five categories of what we think God can do, is doing, or will do?

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