When we read some of the promises in the Bible about prayer, we may feel we have carte blanche to a life of unending bliss (see 1 John 5:14-15, Matt 7:7, John 14:14). Yet we soon come to realise that prayer is not a slot machine programmed to pour out coins every time we pray. We can spend a lot of time disappointed with prayer and with God because we have unrealistic expectations and because we don’t always get the answers we want.
‘No’ and ‘wait’ are as much a part of prayer as ‘yes’; waiting on God is a vital part of prayer, and in those positive verses about prayer, we see the importance of asking in Jesus’s name and according to His will. Prayer is not the spiritual path to selfishness, but an invitation to participate in a relationship with God. I listen to my granddaughter’s confidence when she speaks to me (‘I watch videos now; I get an ice-cream‘), and if her views are challenged (‘it depends. Maybe. Later’ or even ‘No‘), she nods her head and says ‘yes, yes, I say so.‘ We can be like that too, telling God, ‘yes, yes, I say so’ if He doesn’t give us what we want immediately!
So often, we believe we know better than God, but what we want is not always the best for us (a life of watching videos and eating ice-cream seems wonderful to a two-year-old, but a wise parent knows these things are not always good for us!) In the same way, God knows what is best for us and this kindness and goodness are what lie behind the ‘no‘ and ‘wait’ which so often infuriate us. Waiting and refusals do not mean God doesn’t love us, any more than my refusal to hand out an endless stream of ice-creams means I don’t love my granddaughter. We grow up when we learn to yield to HIs wisdom.
Not getting what we want in prayer can leave us feeling frustrated and disillusioned with God, but in truth, all God’s answers to our prayers are meant to shape us into His image. Rick Warren says, ‘The things you wish most removed from your life are often the very things that God is using to shape you and make you into the believer that he wants you to be. He wants to use that problem for good in your life.’ We grow up when we learn to pray as Jesus did: ‘not my will, but Yours be done.’ (Luke 22:42)