If I were to ask you, “Who would you say is the boss, you or God?”; I’m sure most would say “God, of course.” It would make sense. A superior being in both power and knowledge should plan most or all of the world’s agenda. In practice, however, we approach God with a different model in mind. Since humanity’s first sin, the model has been we are the boss and God is expected to do our bidding.
In 2005, I went to India. There I got my first immersive experience into Hinduism. Everywhere you looked there were personal and public shrines. There were even gods on carts–street vendor deities. People gave offerings to these various gods. Why? They wanted the god to give them something: luck, prosperity, and the like. The person set the agenda and for a fee the god used their powers to carry it out–maybe.
This is a human temptation. We ultimately want to be in charge. It also makes us feel in control of our world if we feel that we can move a divine being to do what we cannot do. Christians can fall into the same trap. Our prayer life can be nothing other than a wish list of what we want God to fix. God does offer to help us, it is the attitude with which we approach God that becomes the problem.
Even the “name it and claim it” approach to prayer can be problematic in this way. This approach uses certain promises that God makes in the Bible (often out of context) and calls upon God to fulfill His promises. While it is meant to show faith, it can come off as using leverage to motivate God.
God knows what He has promised. He need not be reminded. In fact, God doesn’t promise to answer any prayer request for the majority of humanity. As sinners, we don’t naturally even have the right to approach Him with our requests. He will answer out of mercy or to accomplish His own higher goals, if at all.
People whom God has called and moved to faith in Christ have a promise. God will here them and He promises that He cares for them. Still, we are not God’s boss. Certain criteria apply. First, if we are being defiant or unrepentant in our behavior, then God, like a parent may deny our prayers. Next, prayer cannot be an empty religion obligation. When we ask we must believe that God exists, God hears, God cares, God can do what we are asking. God would also ask that we care about what we are asking, so sometimes He makes us wait.
The biggest issue is the appropriateness of what we are asking. Our request may seem like a “no-brainer”, but changing the course of the world can be very complex. If we are asking God in impact the life of another person, for example; that request involves aspects into which we don’t have God’s insight. God knows the spiritual condition, the inner motivation, the past and the future of a person. We don’t. Everything that God intervenes to change has a chain of cause and effect that follows it. A short-term positive change could precipitate a long list of negative long-term effects. That is why the Bible speaks of God’s will. He will not do something that conflicts with His will.
This does not mean that we cannot get God to do something that He would not have done. Prayer has the power to elicit the response of God. But we need to approach not as His boss, but rather as someone who asking God not only to do something but to also determine the wisdom of doing something. We seek His will.
The spiritually desperate often use a prayer request to test either God’s love or His existence. This often can be in life or death situations. You want God to spare the life of somebody you love, for instance. It is understandable but a shaky proposition, if your faith is also hanging in the balance. We are not to test God. He finds it offensive. Wouldn’t you? Those who wish to put God to the test are already elevating themselves above God. Beyond this, what if there is a cause and effect reason not to save a life? We must and will all die sometime. Maybe it is time.
People who have come to know God through His Word, prayer, and serving along side of Him will not hang their faith on one prayer request, no matter how important it is to them. If God doesn’t do what you want, ask to be given insight into why not. It may take some time, but I have found that God is faithful in finding a way to do it.
If you are angry with God because He did not do something in the past. God understands. Be angry and mourn your loss, but hopefully you can come around to consider the complexity. Seek God again and learn how God must work in a sin-altered, complex world with few easy answers.
When my nephew was diagnosed with a terminal disease I prayed for a year that he would be healed. When it became apparent that his disease was not getting better I started praying for strength to accept whatever God had planned for his life. That’s when I felt God’s peace.
It is always hard to accept an answer like this, but hidden in the grief is often an experience of God’s presence and love