[Originally posted Friday, October 13, 2006 at 11:59pm]
I have no doubt that there is power in prayer — its power rests on the unchanging nature of God, and His nature is demonstrated clearly in the Scriptures. The problem is that most people don’t realize the real power of prayer, or the purpose. Robert Law says that “Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in heaven, but for getting God’s will done on earth.” Our focus tends to be on ourself and what we want, but I think that can be a dangerous thing for us in our use of prayer.
Thankfully, the power of prayer rests in God’s hands, nevertheless, I fear that the danger in prayer rests in our feeble hands. God never lacks the power to answer our every prayer, yet the beauty of God is that He does not always answer our prayer. I thank God everyday that He has not answered some of my prayers — prayers that I brought to Him every day in earnest hope and desire. And no doubt it was a good thing that I was asking for, but God didn’t answer me how I wanted. Now I would never have wished that He would have said “Yes.” He had much better things in store for me, and in His Divine wisdom and grace held off for me.
Oscar Wilde says that, “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” The danger in prayer is this: getting what we want. Eric DeShan gave me this quote from George Macdonald that I really have grown to love:
“Even such as ask amiss may sometimes have their prayers answered. The Father will never give the child a stone that asks for bread; but I am not sure that He will never give the child a stone that asks for a stone. If the Father says, “My child, that is a stone; it is no bread,” and the child answers, “I am sure it is bread; I want it.” may it not be well that he should try his bread?”
So often we ask amiss in fervent prayer and recieve nothing from it, and then begin to doubt the power of God or the power of prayer. Yet it is not that He is not able to answer, but rather that He is not willing to answer. I pray that God would never answer my prayer when He is not willing to do such.
A great example of this can be found in 2 Kings 19-21. This is the story of Hezekiah and his illness. Hezekiah was a great king who followed God, and towards the end of his life he became very ill and God tells him that he is going to die and it is his time. But he prayed to God to give him more years to his life because he was faithful, and God answers him and lets him live for 15 years more. The interesting thing is this, that when he dies he is succeeded by his son Manasseh, who takes the throne at 12 years old. God says this about Manasseh, “Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations, having done wickedly more than all the Amorites did who were before him, and has also made Judah sin with his idols; therefore thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I am bringing such calamity on Herusalem and Judah…'” That calamity ends up being the captivity to Babylon. The point is that all of the evil that came to Israel because of Manasseh would have been stopped if Hezekiah had just accepted his time to die (3 years before Manasseh was born) and had not prayed for a longer life. God gave him his desire, his stone that he thought was bread, and I think that Hezekiah might not have prayed for life if he knew what was in the future. (Luke Dunn showed me this idea)
So often I find that I myself have prayed for a stone thinking it is good bread, only to have God not give it to me — which only embitters me more…untill I find that I had asked for something so far inferior to what He had in store for me. I don’t know how many times He has given me my stones that I ask for, or how much He has spared me, but I do know of one particular instance in which I am absolutely sure that He choose not to give me the stone I asked for. And looking back on it now, I cannot be more thankful that He did not answer my prayer. I would have been eating mud pie when I could be having a holiday at the sea that is in store for me now, by God’s amazing grace alone.
There is another great George MacDonald quote on this topic, he says, “Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best; God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best, and man will not take it.” Too often I fear I have asked for what I want, even though it is not what is best. My hope is that I may learn to trust God in my prayers enough to submit my self to His will, and not just submit my requests to Him. Submitting requests in not a bad thing, in 2 Timothy we find that we are to “let [our] requests be made known,” it is that we desire our requests over the will of God. In our foolishness we ask for so many stones and He so often graciously gives us bread each time, but we hate it. And so He decides to finally give us what we ask for, our stones, and we are worse off than before.
My hope is that our attitudes will change toward this desire to have our prayers answered, but rather that we will desire to have God’s will done on earth. I hope that we will be able to grow and ask for true bread, and quit asking for our stones. And I pray that God will continue to have mercy on me and not answer my prayers that are so often for mere stones.
One final thought from George MacDonald on prayer is another thing God has been teaching me. I don’t know whether I agree with this yet, but there are some things that I have been praying for that He seems to be telling me to wait for, and perhaps it is because of the nature of the thing I ask for. MacDonald says,
“Perhaps indeed the better the gift we pray for, the more time is necessary for its arrival.”