Prayer can prove to be a disappointment, especially when we are told that it shouldn’t be so:
· If we know that he hears us--whatever we ask [in prayer]--we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:15)
However, this hasn’t been our experience. Many of our prayers seem to go unanswered, and this can lead to a faith-avalanche – “Well, if God didn’t answer this prayer, maybe I can’t trust in the other things that the Bible promises? Maybe I can’t trust in God at all?”
The false teachings then come rushing into our wobbling house, claiming that we haven’t received because we have failed to implement the necessary techniques – their techniques. For instance, the mystic, Richard Foster, provides this analysis of the problem:
· Often we assume we are in contact [with God] when we are not…Often people will pray and pray with all the faith in the world, but nothing happens. Naturally, they are not contacting the channel. We begin praying for others by first centering down and listening to the quiet thunder of the Lord of hosts. Attuning ourselves to divine breathings is spiritual work, but without it our praying is vain repetition. Listening to the Lord is the first thing…(Celebration of Disciplines, 34)
According to Foster, “contacting [God’s] channel” is a matter of approaching God with Foster’s techniques, as if God is telling us:
· Unless you learn to attune yourself to my “divine breathings,” forget-about-it. I care about techniques, not faith, righteousness, confession and repentance.
But why doesn’t God respond to us in a timely fashion? James offers one reason:
· You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:2-3)
Wrong objectives and objects might be the reason that we are not receiving. However, just one verse before John’s troubling promise of receiving “whatever we ask,” he adds an all-important condition:
· This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14)
This means that whatever God gives us has to be according to His will, and we can learn a lot about His will from Scripture. He will not grant us anything that does not accord with His love for us.
There are many things that I want that I have not received. Perhaps I am not ready for them, and perhaps they might hurt me and others. I had prayed for years that God would open the door for me to teach, but for many years this door did not open. Now, in retrospect, I can understand why! Had He opened the door for me prematurely, I would have been preaching destructive heresies.
There are other things that I desire that He has not given me. Perhaps, had I received these things, I might have grown arrogant or self-content.
However, we have the hubris to claim that we know what is best for us. Many had been self-assured that if they hit the Lotto, they would then be happy. However, surveys reveal that it has destroyed many lives.
Consequently, I am glad to allow the Spirit to intercede for me:
· In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Romans 8:26)
Therefore, prayer is not a blank check, but a beckoning check awaiting our God’s signature.