People get so mad when God doesn’t give them what they want! After all, doesn’t the Bible say that all we have to do is ask and God will grant our wishes?
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4.)
You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:14.)
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you … so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16.)
Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. … Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:23-24.)
What common theme do you see in those passage excerpts? No, it’s not that they all promise that God will make us deliriously happy by giving us whatever we want. Look carefully. You might even want to look them up in a Bible for yourself.
The common theme?
I ripped each of those passages completely out of context.
Prayer Is Not About You
Prayer is not about you and it’s not about your needs. Prayer is about God. Gloria Furman brought this home clearly in her chapter on prayer in Glimpses of Grace.
As Gloria explains, life can get very hard and it is in those hard times that we can succumb to a superficial understanding of prayer and fall into despair:
When I believed that my circumstances were a result of the measure of my faith, I doubted the sincerity of my faith and the veracity of my prayers. (Glimpses of Grace, p. 152.)
She also says that in those times we can instead utter some of the gutsiest prayers of our lives, and quotes Martin Luther as an example of that gutsiness when he wrote about how to face deep personal loss:
“Although it hurts us when he takes his own from us, his good will should be greater comfort to us than all his gifts, for God is immeasurably better than all his gifts.” (Quoted in Glimpses, p. 131.)
Gloria notes that Luther’s view means two things: there is no hurt too great for God to handle, and there is no gift he can give us that “could ever be greater than the gift of himself.” (Id.) And all of this should remind us that God truly is perfect.
The only way God answers prayer is in accordance with his perfect character. God can’t do anything that is not to the praise of his glory. (Id., emphasis in original.)
She draws an interesting comparison to how parents treat their children and how we sometimes expect God to treat us. While parents hear a child’s incessant whining and sometimes shove a pacifier in the little one’s mouth (literally or figuratively), Gloria assures us that:
God is … not accustomed to giving his children pacifiers to keep them quiet so they’ll forget they need him and then leave him alone.
Oh how many times have I asked for pacifiers! These pacifier prayers usually start with this: “Lord, if you would just ______ for me, then everything would be okay.” … Prayers like this typically involve comfort and never involve requests regarding my sanctification or God’s glory. Bryan Chappell, in his excellent book Praying Backwards …, says that we ought always pray in Jesus’ name, that is, with his intentions to glorify the Father in mind. Oh how my prayer life would change if I began my prayers by asking, “In Jesus’ name, Father, would you ________?” (Glimpses, pp. 132-133.)
Did you catch that bit toward the end? To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray with his intentions to glorify the Father. Our own desires to glorify God don’t stack up to Jesus’ desire for the Father’s glory. But if we submit ourselves to Jesus and pray in his name, we are submitting to his intentions not for our needs to be met but for the Father to be glorified.
And this is where we find joy:
I know it may seem precarious to stake your joy not on your own circumstances or even on the gifts that God has given you, but on the person of God himself. I know that’s difficult. That’s why we need faith to do this. We need faith to trust that God doesn’t merely “know what’s best for us,” but that he is what’s best for us no matter what our circumstances are. (Glimpses, pp. 135-136, emphasis in original.)
Prayer is about what’s best for us after all, because prayer is about God. He himself is not only the one we pray to, but the one who is himself our response to prayer as well.
Ask in Jesus’ name – according to the Son’s eternal intention to honor and glorify our heavenly Father – and you’ll find out for yourself how true that is.