By: Steven Nelms
A prayer is something that you petition before a personal God through Jesus Christ.
Some of the more sarcastic responses would say that prayer is a wish made to your imaginary friend. Now, while their response is meant to be degrading to the Christian faith, does it really sound that much different from what the Christian response was? There’s a little more Church jargon throw into our answer, but fundamentally we are replacing the phrase “to ask for what you want” with the word, “petition” and replacing the idea of “superstition” with the person of God. The action and motivation of prayer does not seem to be understood as a fundamentally different practice than that of wishing upon a star. Just as Pinocchio was told to simply wish upon a star, Christians seem to be practicing a discipline that could be known as wishing upon a prayer.
If there truly is something worthwhile to our prayer so much so as to invite us into a communicative relationship with our Father God through prayer, then it must be fundamentally different from simply making a wish in action, motivation, and ultimately, result.
What do you mean, “No”?
Jesus told us, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14) This brings us face to face with a very real problem. How many of us have ever kept a prayer journal where you wrote down your prayers and then would also write down the answers to your prayers? Now don’t raise your hands, but how many of us have skewed the reality of our experience to force an answer to a prayer? Did you fudge some details? Force yourself to be comforted by the mantra that God works in mysterious ways? Maybe massage the truth of what exactly you were praying for? It’s like setting up a hypothesis in a science lab and then when you don’t get the conclusion you were hoping for you either stretch the conclusion to include the parameters of your original hypothesis, or you just claim to have miswrote your hypothesis in the first place and make handy use of your spiritual white-out to preserve God’s perfect prayer request record. The reality is that we have prayed prayers that were not answered in accordance with what we asked for.
What are some of the most common excuses we make when we don’t get what we want from God? Now, we could say we have unanswered prayers, but that’s really a misnomer, isn’t it? Jesus said that we can ask for, i.e. pray for, anything in his name and it will be given to us. So to say that we have unanswered prayer is to say something very serious; that is to say that Jesus lied. But we know what this insinuates, so instantly we run to God’s aid in order to make sure no slander would befall his fragility. And what are some of these excuses? We say, God answers all prayer, he just sometimes says, “No”. I actually argued in agreement with this very point a little over a year ago. But now I feel like it doesn’t hold much water. Again, let’s read what Jesus said. “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Out of the three basic answers that we can assume as Yes, No, and Maybe, which answer is most consistent with what Jesus told his disciples? There is only one answer that makes any sense and the answer is “Yes”. Jesus stated very plainly that whatever we ask in his name, this he will do. He left no conditional for himself to use as an escape hatch with even an answer of “Maybe”, much less a “No”. So that excuse is out. It’s just not consistent with what Jesus said.
What is another excuse we lean on?
God answers all prayers; he just might answer it in a different way than what you expected. But is that really an answer? Remember, Jesus said whatever you ask and ask anything and he will do it. You can certainly get pedantic with wording and argue that he said whatever and not however, meaning that he can answer prayers in ways that we did not ask. But is it really better to excuse God by arguing that he caught us in a word trick? That sounds like the stereotypical trap that pirates, gypsies, and road thieves play on their victims, making a promise that conveniently has a subtle loop hole allowed by a strictly literal interpretation of the exact meaning of the words used. Again, this excuse is lacking when we look at what Jesus meant. His promise does not sound like it was meant to provide a loop hole for his convenient excuses of either answering our prayer with “No” or answering our prayer by doing it in a way or form that we did not request. These are convenient excuses, but they do not explain away the simple fact that our current face value understanding of what Jesus said does not align with our current real life experiences. Jesus said that we can ask whatever and for anything in his name and he will get it done. So why does this not seem to be the case?
This is what makes this a hard saying of Jesus. Most of his other hard sayings are hard to believe at face value and tend to shock you and make you think that Jesus just turned into some crazy pagan. This saying is very easy to take at face value, especially for those who were born and raised in the church. But it is also very easy to see that we must have a vast misunderstanding of what this verse means, because we’re obviously not getting everything we pray for. I mean that’s easy to see, because if Christians were receiving anything and everything they prayed for, I would have flown to church today, superman style, instead of driving in Sunday morning church traffic. It is painfully obvious to me that this verse contradicts my life experience as I currently understand this verse and presently perceive reality.
So if I am to have faith that Jesus is not a liar or a lunatic, but the Lord God, and that this bible has accurately preserved the meaning and the message of God’s word, then I must reevaluate two things. First, I must reevaluate my understanding of this verse. Second, I must reevaluate my understanding of reality in light of an appropriate understanding of God’s word. Those are our two goals with this series. What does this verse really mean? What are we missing that it seems to so starkly contradict our life experiences? And then how are we to understand our life experience in praying to God and our interaction with God through these prayers? And lastly, after covering those two goals, our conclusion should be an appropriate understanding of our relationship with God through prayer which should encourage us to challenge ourselves in communicative prayer with our Heavenly Father.
To Be Continued...