News flash: Christians pray for stuff (no really!), and it is no secret we do not always get what we ask for which causes us to get upset sometimes. The enemy tries to give us a sense of self-entitlement when we pray which can cause a lot of problems, so how do we get into the right mindset when praying for things?
The Enemy, And Human Nature Both Portray God As A Prayer Request Gumball Machine
I am not entirely sure where all the “Once you become a Christian your life is going to come up roses, as God will answer all your prayers because he loves you!” teachings come from, but there is no guarantee in the Bible we will get everything we want in life, nor does it guarantee our prayers will be answered immediately, definitively, or exactly how we want, no matter what we pray about
For example, people sometimes ask God for things like a spouse, a better job, physical healing, etc… fully expecting that because they prayed, they should receive what they want
Depending on someone’s heart, that type of expectation could be motivated by anything ranging from not understanding God’s character, to being downright selfish and self-centered
Regardless of the intentions, it is very common for Christians to get upset, disappointed, and sometimes angry, when they do not receive what they want
But why, what gives anyone justification to get mad at God?
The most common reason why people get upset with God over unanswered prayer requests is simple:
The enemy wants to separate us from God by making us feel uncared for, unloved, and unheard, which they do by preying on the very insecurities, fears, and doubts they sowed in the first place through family issues, bad experiences in relationships, etc…
If God does not give us what we want immediately or how we expect it, the enemy often uses the opportunity to whisper things to Christians, and even curious non-Christians, about how God does not listen to us, how he does not care about us or the world, or how he has a terrible personality because how could a God of love allow such awful things in the world to happen, etc…
In an attempt to create bitterness in our hearts, and put distance between us and God, the enemy loves to point out every time God did not “do something” for us like, or when, we prayed for
They do this so we overlook the fact that they stab us, and whisper a constant stream of lies in our ears every chance they get–they would rather make God look bad as it makes their job of pulling us away from him easier, and their efforts become much less obvious after God becomes the “bad guy”
Think about it, the enemy would be happy if we were mad at God, doubted him or even just felt like he did not love us
Once we start down those paths, the enemy can lead us into all sorts of issues and problems much worse than unanswered prayer requests
However, not every prayer request is actually one that is worth honoring, so it is important to understand the difference between the types of prayer requests we have, as some are motivated by our worldly, self-centered desires, while some are motivated by righteous desires–God looks at the two very differently
Not All Prayer Requests Are Created Equal
Okay, let us face it, not all prayer requests we offer up to God are born of something good inside of us, no matter how “good” or “innocent” they seem at the time
Sure, some prayer request are genuine, like wanting to see someone saved, have a friend or family member be healed, to receive help to overcome a particularly difficult area of sin, etc…, but a lot of prayer requests usually revolve around things we want that would make our earthy body/mind happy, rather than our spiritual nature
And the reality is, for the earthly things that seem incredibly important now, they may not be important to us at all in a few days/weeks/months/years anyway, let alone when we are in heaven–so why get upset if we do not get immediate answers?
“God, I really want a spouse so I can feel loved”
“God, I do not have the same lifestyle as my friends, where are my blessings?”
“God, I really want you to deal with this person at my work because they make me angry all the time”
In taking an example from my own life, I remember pestering God constantly about getting married, and I mean constantly pestering
I was always asking, always looking, always anxious, with the sense that I was going to have an amazing life whenever God put the right person in my life
It was the ultimate “the relationship will save me” syndrome
Then, one day, I remember praying about a spouse and outright begging, and God flat out said to me:
“Why would I give you one of my daughters? I am the first one she will come crying to”
After a few moments of shock at what sounded like a backhand upside the head, I regained my composure and accepted that it actually was a backhand, and I had to own up to the fact that the reason God was not giving me a partner, was because he did not want to put someone who was dear to him through the mess my life was at the time, ie: overrun with alcohol, drugs, and porn, not to mention a massive wound left over from my childhood where I wanted to be validated by a partner all the time
Hardly a romantic invitation for a godly woman!
When God said this, it was a huge turning point for me, as despite all my praying, and years of yearning to be in a relationship, in that moment I realized that at no point did I stop and ask God:
“Am I ready for a real Christian relationship, if not, what do I need to do to get ready?”
Even though a big portion of my life was about Bible study, street ministry, and attending every church function I could find, my life was not really in order, which was ultimately the reason God was not giving me what I was asking for, not because he was screening his calls or enjoyed watching me be alone–I was just not ready
It took another ten years or so, but I finally got to the point where God put someone in my life, after I learned a lot of lessons and matured quite a bit
This lesson taught me that it is imperative to ask God “why” something is not happening, rather than just focusing on the idea that I was not having my prayer answered in the timing I wanted
Over time, I learned it is not always God’s “fault” we do not get things, which leads us to the next point…
Living Righteously And Having A Clean Conscience Is Important When Praying!
I mean honestly, think about the dynamics we pray in
God stepped down from his throne and became a man, paid for our sins through his own blood, yet we constantly offend and upset him by still choosing to sin, but still ask, and expect, him to do us favors, and give us things we want right after we ask for them
If we saw that behavior in a child, we would probably think they were spoiled, but for some reason, we do not look at approaching God with prayer requests in the same way, even though the behavior is quite similar
Don’t get me wrong, nobody has to be perfect in order to offer prayers up to God as that would mean the airwaves would be pretty silent, but the dynamic of asking for things when we are clearly, willingly, sometimes stubbornly, in the wrong, is lopsided in a way that we do not always stop and think about
Also, it is not uncommon for people to ask things like: “God, I have been really patient and good, why do you love everyone else and answer their prayers but not mine?”
Whoa whoa whoa, easy there
While it is okay to ask God “why” something is not happening, make sure to ask it from a place of rational, calm objectivity, not from a place of anger or resentment because our expectations and wish list were not met
Remember that we have to trust God has our best interests at heart, and we also have to understand how important it is to not only ask for things with the right motives, but to ask from a place of a solid relationship and a clean conscience
Think about it like this, if you are constantly, willingly, and knowingly offending God by living sinfully without any genuine sense of repentance (even if in just one area), and had the opportunity to pray in front of God’s throne, how do you think it would go if he listened to your prayer request and said:
“I am happy to discuss your request, however, before we do that, can you explain why you choose this area of sin over my love and righteousness?”
I am sure most of us have areas we know we could improve but do not, which leads me to ask: why are we okay with that, and why do we expect the same blessings as if we were not living that way?
Apart from asking with the right heart, our the health of our relationship with God is a huge factor in how our prayers are received
We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will
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
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me
1 John 3:18-22
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him
Look at how Jesus says that those who have his “commands and obeys them” is “the one who loves me”, where John talks about receiving “anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him”
Isn’t that amazing?
Wait, so that means we actually have to live righteously in order to have really powerful prayers?
Again, we do not need to be perfect, but it is clearly written in the Bible that our prayers are more powerful when we live righteously
That is not all of the equation though, as having true faith and trust in God is beyond important as well
We Know How To Ask, But Do We Know How To Trust Or Be Patient When We Do Not Receive?
Imagine praying to God for a spouse but not actually trusting he will give one, but then still getting upset when they do not appear in our lives
That is kind of weird isn’t it?
We just basically turn God into a complaint center, more so than having faith he is working on us, or the other person, in preparation of meeting, or beyond that, just having the happiness that if God did not intend for us to be with someone, then that is what is best for our lives (a scary thought, I know)
That would be like placing an order online, but paying for it with no expectation it will actually arrive, and then calling customer service every day asking them as to why the order did not arrive–some items take time to ship!
It is a weird game, but the enemy will attack our trust in God to the point where we not only lack faith we will receive answers to prayer, but they manipulate us so we get upset at God when he does not answer our requests as well
This is the wrong perspective to have, as God does not say “Yes, I am totally going to do that!”, and then backs out, he does not promise things and then leave them unfulfilled, but since our self-set expectations are not met, we choose to get upset at him anyway as if he was not only our prayer gumball machine, but our punching bag as well
Having faith, and earnestly seeking God for a relationship, not just for prayer requests, is another huge part of receiving from God
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him
But also think about it from the other side, in that if God does not answer our prayer immediately, or ever, instead of being upset, we should accept that he has our best interests at heart, and that he has reasons we cannot see or understand at the moment
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose
Also, in some particular cases, God will give us exactly what we want, even if it is going to be a bad thing in our lives, because he knows we will not give up unless we see for ourselves that something is wrong or bad–not the best way to learn lessons as it means we were not listening to, or faithfully waiting on, God for what he wants for us, we just kept telling him what we wanted instead as if we knew better
Gratitude And Humble Appreciation Keeps Us From Becoming Self-Entitled
I mean honestly, just as much as we want to have our prayers answered quickly, God wants us to love him with all of our hearts and stop sinning just as quickly, he just happens to be more patient!
Rather than focus on what we want God to do for us, it is beyond important, and a crucial step in learning to love God, for us to understand the magnitude of the gifts and love God has given us in the first place
If we focus on the joy of salvation, all the things he has overcome in our lives, and all the amazing things we see, or have seen, in the lives of those around us, we should rejoice and always have a sense of gratitude
This joy should be what inspires us to remain calm when we do not get what we want, and should inspire us to trust that the same God who paid for our sins so that we may spend eternity with him in heaven, is the same God receiving our prayer requests and is processing them in the best way possible for us
The LORD knows the thoughts of man; he knows that they are futile
It’s funny how this sort of thing works. I remember Tim Keller describing prayer as living in the Spirit, and being able to hear the Father and Son as they converse through you. It’s a wonderful, uplifting thought, and sometimes it feels like that.
Other times it’s more like nagging a parent to get what I want. I make an effort to only pray for things that I know God would want me to have. Rather than praying for a better job, say, I pray for encouragement and inspiration to work harder, and opportunity to prove myself. Rather than a spouse, I pray to be a more godly man, and that the right woman will be there at the right time. Even if there’s one I have my eye on, I ask for God to love and protect her, and warn me in my heart when I’m not displaying a character which honors, respects, and loves her. Physical healing, I’ll cop to asking for (especially when the eleventh hour of severe stomach illness hits), but funnily enough I always end up thanking God for having let me get sick in the first place–it humbles me, and reminds me what the only source of strength in my life is. Not my flesh, or my mind, only God’s grace (that said, flu is the kind of blessing I can stand to receive infrequently).
I do my best to strike a balance between requesting God’s aid in exercising better virtue (which is its own reward, after all), forgiveness for what I’ve done wrong (and there’s always a list), and thanking him for all that he’s already given me. I ask him to help others, to protect and comfort them. And then, if there’s a desire that’s really burning in me, I’ll confess it in all frankness, and ask if it’s something he wants me to have.
At least, that’s the ideal. Sometimes, especially in my love life, it’s more like “God. I have no idea what you’re doing, or what I’m doing, or what she’s doing. I just hope and pray that you’ll give me a clue and a hand here, cuz I don’t even know enough to know what to ask for. Heeeellllp!” That ain’t always a bad prayer, I think.
By the by, your idea of God as a gumball machine reminds me of some of those things like the Harvard Prayer experiment, or people who become atheistic or agnostic because their wishes weren’t granted (especially when they were praying for a sick loved one). It’s very clear that the notion of God as a “Magical Sky Daddy” is a tool of the enemy, as you put it, to lead us astray, and it bilks even the smartest and best-intentioned of people, not just those of us who are obviously being petty and selfish. Oftentimes even the best of us can have a terribly skewed or inaccurate image of God (often thanks to a very superficial reading of Scripture and shallow prayer life that poor catechism tends to produde), that leads us away from him. It’s good to remember that the enemy isn’t some huge, horned, demon-thug from a video game (if only it were so simple as winning hearts for Jesus with a BFG9000!). He’s a liar, and a coward, and a vain, selfish, proud thing, who wants us to be just the same. Expect the attack to flow accordingly.
That is a really good attitude to take towards prayers, as our hearts should be modeled after God’s, and our wills should follow his
Consistently, finances and relationships are two things that people seek God about a lot, and relationships can be particularly difficult to “hear” God on, when we have a deep internal desire that exceeds logic, or when that desires is greater than our willingness to trust God will give us what he wants, and (a very big *and*), we also have to trust his plan is better than ours, no matter how attractive someone may seem at the time
This is one of the areas where a “if it feels right, do it!” attitude can bite us harder than anywhere else, as long-term relationships have a very big impact on us emotionally, spiritually, and financially
It is really important to be able to tell God we do not know how to pray or what to ask for, it is not like we shock him with our wisdom and amazing insight anyway!
… for your Father knows what you need before you ask him
Your idea that the enemy wants to mold us to be like them is a great way of looking at how their attacks are formulated in some cases, as most of the time their tactics are painfully obvious if scrutinized
Also, I would rocket jump everyone right up to heaven if it were possible!
This whole week, I prayed about making the decision of not going to my dads anymore. To be honest, I felt like this. In my head I was thinking, “Why haven’t I made a decision yet. Why am I still confused about this.” I told my friend this yesterday before I made the decision of leaving. The only thing she said was, “This is all on God’s timing, not yours.” right then, God told me to tell him. I just had to realize that everything is on God’s timing.
That is amazing, God always has the answers, and it is so important to listen and wait on him, as he could always tell us what to do, but there is usually more value in having us learn lessons along the way as we grow closer and trust him
So you made the choice to not go? How do you feel and what happened?
Well said sir. I commend your ability to articulate what prayer really is into an eloquently put article. So many people tend to oversimplify the idea of prayer as a input/output system. However I do want to offer some thoughts that I have had about prayer. I tend to adhere to a lot of ideals of a Deist and thus don’t believe that God has any active role in the daily events on this earth. Some believe that God paints the sunrise every morning however I believe this is childish and while there are probably quite a heavy handful of Christians that would agree with me, my beliefs about the detachment of God from the Earth go deeper.
I venture to say that when you or me or anyone else prays to God, the prayers fall on dead air; no one is listening. The notion that I can just pray to an almighty being at any time for any reason at all and be heard seems silly. It reminds me of Psalm 8:4 “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Well put in the words of David. (I think it was David.) Of course I am taking this out of context because David was so in awe that such a powerful being would busy itself with the affairs of what would be the equivalent of an ant. But back to my point, God doesn’t listen to prayers. So what does this mean about prayer? Does it mean that prayer is futile or in vain? I don’t think that either. I still think that prayer is a healthy assuetude. I read the comments for this article and Steve Mah kinda got to a question that I have asked myself before: would the world be different if God didn’t listen to prayers? I say that it wouldn’t. Prayer is like a form of meditation. It forces oneself to sort out their life and identify the problems that trouble them. I think that identifying a problem can be a crucial first step to fixing anything. Like you said in your article, there is both a right way and a wrong way to pray. Doing it with the notion that prayer is an input/output system will leave someone disappointed when things don’t go well. But when we pray for advice when struggling with sin I believe that things will get better not because God intervened in your life to improve it, but because of our own psychological ignorance. One might start to notice positive things that have always existed but have just never been acknowledged because of a dismal attitude on life. And once they begin to pray and admit that there is a problem with motivation or energy or incentive, one will be able to pull themselves out of the hole that they are in. Prayer is like a self fulfilling prophecy for the ones who do it right with an honest heart. The ones who do it wrong will be disappointed because prayer alone doesn’t produce any results. So it really doesn’t matter if God is listening to us pray or not, prayer will do its job either way. God gave us an amazing ability to think for ourselves but for many that must seem a pretty heavy task so God gave us prayer. God’s way of tricking us into helping ourselves, should you entertain the idea. I don’t want to seem iconoclastic, rather just present some of my thoughts about prayer.
It is nice to meet you
I understand your perspective, though it leads me to ask whether you are a Christian or not as you cite scripture but then also offer up a view about prayer that contradicts the Bible–can you explain a little bit more, my guess is that you were raised catholic?
John 9:31We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him
Proverbs 15:29The LORD is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous.James 5:16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.1 Peter 3:12For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil
The verses above show God does not listen to everyone’s prayers equally, which is important as our actions directly impact the level of intimacy we have with God–this was something David was familiar with
Psalm 66:16-19Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer