One of the questions we always seem to have about the Christian faith is: why doesn't God just answer my prayer? We pray fervently, we pray earnestly, we pray without ceasing, and we don't always get what we want. Some would say we don't even often get what we want.
The standard Christian answer to this is...difficult. We say something like, "Well, you don't understand what you really need and God does, so God's answer is always better than what you wanted anyway." There are two primary problems with this. First, God's answer doesn't always seem better, so it can cause us to question whether God understands us (or cares about us) at all. Second, if we don't even want what we think we want and if what we think is good isn't really good, then how can we know anything about our own hearts at all? Like I said, it's just difficult.
Galatians offers a little insight into this question, and it's important to look at what Paul is saying in context in order to understand it. Paul says,
Make no mistake about this: You can never make a fool out of God. Whatever you plant is what you'll harvest. - Galatians 6:7
A lot of us try to do this very thing - make a fool out of God. We live our lives the way that we want to and then, when we need something, we start telling Him how much we love Him and how special He is in our lives. We're the kid whose mom says 'no' at the store, so we give her the big puppy dog eyes and say, "Please? But I love you. And you said you love me." We're always trying to pull on God's heartstrings in the same way. But I love You, God. And You said that You love me. Well, if You love me....
Like God's gonna fall for that. If He did, He'd be a fool. You know it, and I know it. And the truth is that neither one of us wants a God who can be so easily played. We don't want a God who is a sentimental sucker for His own feelings of goodwill. We don't want a God who can be bowled over by puppy dog eyes or by our 'really, really, really wants.' We need, and we want, a God who's got some strength of character.
And the strength of character comes in in the last part of this verse: God isn't going to give you anything you haven't been cultivating. Plain and simple. God won't harvest in your life what you haven't planted. God is not going to magically cure your diabetes if you always have cake on the shelf. God is not going to give you peace if you're constantly stirring up strife. If you're not making the move toward the good thing you're praying for, God's not just going to magically drop it in front of you. It can't just be something you pray for and ask your genie-God-in-a-bottle to do; you have to be disciplining yourself toward it.
Now, that raises another sticky theological point, and I don't want you to misread me here. I am not saying that our faith or God's blessings are works-based. I am not saying that God wants us to go out and do for ourselves what we want Him to do for us. I am not saying that God is somehow keeping tabs on our efforts and will only reward us when we put in so much elbow grease of our own. And that's not what this verse is saying, either.
What I'm saying - and what Paul is saying - is that you don't receive blessings from God that you didn't make room for in your life. Planting is a work of planning. It's a work of making the space and preparing the soil and setting aside the season so that the fruit of what you're planting is possible. And that's what we have to do when we start praying for something - we have to make the space in our lives for the answer. We have to create a little nook where the God-seed goes so that it can grow. We have to start living a life that accommodates the fruit that we're hoping for. This is the 'work' that we put in - it's a work of planning and preparation. Only then comes the harvest.
Sometimes, of course, we don't know what to do for ourselves. And sometimes, we'll do the wrong things. But too often, we do nothing at all and just throw prayers up toward heaven and hope that God will magically manifest whatever it is we're wanting. And God just doesn't work like that.
If He did, He'd be a fool.