It is a question that I have heard talking with some friends. The person who raised the question was not suggesting that he was not open to accepting what God would do, even if it was not what he was asking. Neither was he suggesting that God does not have different purposes than we do. But if God is simply going to do what He is doing to do what difference does it make if I pray? After all, there is a tendency to make excuses for God when He does not respond to us the way He promised – e.g. until now you have asked nothing in my name; ask and you will receive that your joy may be made full (John 16:24).
So how do we think this through?
The natural tendency is to assume that God will respond to those requests that clearly affirm His desire for us. If we ask for help, won’t He give us what we have asked? (Matthew 7:7-11). We don’t want to make excuses or rationalize what happens to take God off the hook. Here are a couple of thoughts:
First, I think that our perspective of what “God’s will” is for any situation sometimes does not get any higher than a five-year-old. Clearly God’s Word tells us that when we ask according to His will, we will receive what we ask for (1 John 5:14-15). However, just because we assume we have God’s will figured out or have the attitude “how can this not be God’s will,” does not always mean we are correct.
Five-year-old’s often ask crazy things from parents and a five-year-old usually does not get very far past the immediate. Often you can get two five-years-old’s asking about the very same thing, but they are completely contradictory with one another. Someone used a real life illustration about someone who left the Catholic Church and started attending an evangelical church. The Priest told that person he would pray that God would change her heart and restore her back to God and to the church. This persona also had a friend who was praying she would come to Christ and follow Jesus and now this pastor friend of mine was being asked how God would answers prayers that seem opposed to one another. Again when two five-year-old’s fight over the same toy, it does not always mean either one of them sees things clearly, and certainly not from the vantage point of eternity.
Secondly, before we turn God into a concierge service thinking that He exists to simply make me happy (which by the way was not what my friends was suggesting), we need to make sure that we realize that one of the key purposes of prayer is relationship with God not just getting things from God. While it may seem obviously clear (from a human perspective) that when a five year old wants a hug, what reasonably normal parent would not give them a hug? However if I am covered in grease from working on and engine and I’m filthy with grime I might actually say no to such a request. So what seems like an automatic “yes” in one situation, might actually get a “no” in another.
I believe that even in our most creative brilliance, that even the most mature, experienced Christians, are not much different than a five-year-old compared to the inexhaustible wisdom and knowledge of God. What seems obvious to us, may not be the way God chooses to answer. What we ask for may not be in our ultimate best interest as far as God is concerned. And yet He does lavish us with answers and good gifts… I think the larger question is: do we have the spiritual sensitivity to see how He is working and how generous He really is?