Many cry out to God with all their heart. They are truly suffering. Their prayer concerns could be health related, dashed hopes, struggles with work, a relationship, money – or all the above. We carry so much pain, suffering, and misery. The weight of it all can crush us. Why doesn’t God answer, help, or alleviate the suffering? To get at this, let’s clarify one area of prayer – our prayer agenda.
We bring our own agenda to God in our prayers. In other words, we pray to the Creator of the Universe, the Uncreated One, The First Cause, God Almighty what “we” think the problems are and subsequently make requests as to what should be done. If we stop to think about that for a second and let it sink it, we might realize that our ideas may not be God’s ideas – no matter how inspired we feel they are.
Our desires and prayers may even be godly (e.g., a peaceful home, less conflict at work, healing for a friend). But approaching God even with a list of godly desires is an agenda. It might sound innocent enough – something like , “Dear God, please help my friend Johnny with his alcoholism. He’s suffering so much. He needs you lord. Please show yourself to him.” This is a perfectly fine desire. However, the answers to this prayer don’t concern you, and thus you may never see the results and thus feel ignored.
Or perhaps we desperately desire to lose weight, but can’t. We cry out to God for help, but nothing changes. It’s a great desire, but just like the paralytic lowered on a mat in front of Jesus, Jesus had bigger ideas than just the man’s physical struggles.
Neil Anderson, in his series, Victory Over Darkness, distinguishes between Godly Desires (like those for our alcoholic friend above), and Godly Goals – those that we can control and participate in.
A godly goal can empower us when we pray and allow God to use us. For our friend Johnny, in addition to our specific desires, we might pray, “Dear God, please make me the best possible friend that I can be. Or, “Please make me into the person you would have me be – even if I’m afraid.” What this type of prayer does is open us up to God. It humbles us at His feet and says, “Let me be your vessel. You’re in charge, God. I am your servant.”
God wants us to pray. As the late great preacher Jonathan Edwards taught, we have a “Prayer-Hearing” God. This in itself is amazing when we stop to think about the size and scope of God’s creation! But our agenda-filled approach to God misses the fact that God knows and wants what’s best for us. For God to work through us, for us to see God work, we need to let him. Our agenda, as wonderful as we might think it is, will fall far short compared to God’s plans for us.
In sum, God is not ignoring our prayers, He just wants to give us something far grander than we can imagine.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson