God the Magic Prayer Genie

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.

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22 Responses to God the Magic Prayer Genie

  1. Love this Tim,

    “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.”

    What a great post! This is one of the hardest things to teach a new believer is that prayer is our opportunity to bend the knee and offer ourselves as his servants to bring his glory.

    Thanks!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Patrick. I’ve found that prayer is not only hard for new believers to understand, but this old believer as well!

    • That is so true, Patrick! I remember hearing one prayer request as a new believer that was extremely helpful for me in beginning to understand prayer. This elderly gentleman prayed: Lord, give me the grace I need to give you glory no matter what.

      Talk about God-centered instruction!

  2. This hits the nail on the head. Maturity in Christ is LOVE without conditions. Oh, the Father (and His Son) love us without conditions, that is clear. But as we mature we love without conditions too. That includes love of God without the expectation of getting what we want. Rather, we expect He’ll give us what He wants to give us, knowing what is best for us. Sometimes that might be a great gift, like a new job or a new friend. Sometimes it might be a new challenge, like a work colleague that is difficult to work with, or the loss of a friend. The point is, we who are “in Christ” can expect the best for us from Our God, whether we see it that way or not. Thanks, Tim.

    • Tim says:

      You are so right, Sarah. One thing I’ve found myself doing less and less as I get older is putting conditions on God. What a waste of time!

  3. Judy says:

    “He himself is not only the one we pray to, but the one who is himself our response to prayer as well.” God has often answered my prayers for specific situations with an assurance of his perfect love and presence. Sometimes I’d rather he move a mountain, but I’m learning that he himself really is the answer to…everything. Happy Monday!

    • Tim says:

      How true, Judy. It turns out that the Sunday School answer really is the ultimate answer; Jesus.

      And on moving mountains, I think many times what I really need is for God to move me; I just don’t know it yet!

  4. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for this post and a reminder that God’s presence with us surpasses the specific things we want and pray for. I also appreciated Gloria’s quote of the older man praying: “Lord, give me the grace I need to give you glory no matter what.” I can’t imagine God ever NOT answering that prayer.

  5. Jeannie says:

    p.s. God the Magic Prayer JEANNIE … now that does have its appeal to me personally … 😉

  6. Aimee Byrd says:

    Amen, Jesus Christ is the blessing! Good words of encouragement.

  7. Cathy G. says:

    I heard a sermon once where the pastor said we have a tendency to treat God like a vending machine — we shake it and kick it if we don’t get what we want after putting in our money.
    I’m guilty of that a lot, and I appreciate your thoughts about how to pray differently.

    • Tim says:

      I love that analogy to rattling the vending machine, Cathy. When I take the time to envision myself doing that with God, it makes me want instead to sit quietly at his feet.

  8. Excellent! I so loved what you said about praying things in Jesus’ name meaning with His intentions! Rob and I have been praying a lot with a mindset of “The Lord’s Prayer”. . .where we truly try to live out and pray and mean what we pray in that way.
    1. Recognizing our Father and blessing & glorifying Him
    2. Considering what His will is and to want life to be here what it is in a peaceful manner just as Heaven is.
    3. Wanting God’s providence on what He wants for our lives and thanking Him for what He has already given to us.
    4. Asking Him to Forgive us for the wrong we have done to all (and to ourselves) and making sure that we have been able to forgive people we may have wronged
    5. Asking Him to protect us from being led into saying or acting out evil and to keep ourselves away from situations that could harm our souls to separate us from Him.
    6. Asking for Him to save us and those around us.
    7. Praying for it to all be done through Jesus, who is the intercessor for us.

    • Tim says:

      What a great prayer, Victoria! And on forgiveness, I’d add thanks that God has already forgiven me of all sins past, present and future through the finished work of Jesus on the cross. What a wonderful freedom from sin we have in Jesus!

  9. janehinrichs says:

    So good Tim. Thank you (I’m a bit late in reading this…. Sorry!). It is all about God. Everything. Absolutely everything! It all gets back to Him, especially our prayers.

    • Tim says:

      “Absolutely everything!” So true, Jane. Everything in our relationship with God is for his glory. What a blessing that we are made to enjoy this too!

  10. Lisa says:

    Hi Tim, I have been following you for awhile and a fan from ROPemberley. Really needed this perspective this morning as a chronic illness continues. Have read so much on praying Gods will and am off to find Gloria’s book. Blessings!

  11. ezerkenegedo says:

    Wonderful post Tim, so easy to slip into self focused prayer with no peace or assurance resulting.
    Lifting both you and your family and your Dad’s recovery to Him who causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
    God’s blessing and peace,
    Christine

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