One of the challenges of being persons of prayer is, of course, that God doesn't always give us what we ask for. Yesterday, we saw how that idea is misguided; it would make a fool out of God if He just gave us things that we asked for, if He let us harvest what we haven't planted. But this, too, raises some sticky theological questions.
One of those sticky theological questions is whether or not we even know how to pray at all.
This is hard because most of the time when we pray as mature believers, we are praying for something that we think is good. We are praying for something that we think God Himself would want. We are praying for something that He has perhaps even promised us - like healing or peace or forgiveness. If we are praying for good things, then shouldn't our good God want to give them to us? Shouldn't the fact that we want these good things be evidence of the faith that we have in the Giver of Good Things? Isn't that the 'magic formula' for prayer?
When it doesn't work out that way, we say that there is a problem with our hearts. Something is wrong with the depth of our being, and we just don't understand what we're really asking for. Or Who we're really asking. Or whatever it is. There is something wrong with our wicked hearts, which are so depraved that they can't even pray correctly. Then, we spend so much of our Christian journey questioning our hearts. We question whether we are actually good persons, whether there's anything redeemable in us. We question whether we are as good, as loving, as kind, as joyous, as faithful, as righteous, as insert-the-adjective as we think we are. We question whether God is as good, as loving, as kind, as joyous, as faithful, as righteous, as insert-the-adjective as He says He is. It just raises all kinds of questions, and the truth is - we often don't know how to get past them.
But what if our problem in prayer is not a heart problem? What if our hearts...are okay?
The problem we have in prayer is often not a heart problem; it's usually more a vision problem.
An illustration might be helpful here. Imagine that you are in a grocery store with your young child, and she sees a candy bar that she simply must have. She asks you for the candy bar. To her, the candy bar is good. It tastes good. It makes her feel good. You promised to always take care of her and feed her. The candy bar is food. You have told her she is beautiful and that she deserves beautiful things; the wrapper on the candy bar is very beautiful. But you do not buy her the candy bar. She cries. She stomps and screams. She throws a fit and threatens to run away.
The first question is: when your child desires a candy bar and understands this candy bar to be good, is her heart wicked? Is there something fundamentally wrong with your toddler because she wants this candy bar? No parent would say there is. Rather, we know that the child doesn't understand the complexities of the candy bar the way that we do - its processed sugars, its nutitional deficits, its tricky marketing, its cost inflation. We understand the candy bar, and even though it checks every box for 'good' in her book, we know that it is not as good as it seems because we have a better vision of what a candy bar truly is.
The second question is: are we terrible parents for not giving her the candy bar? Have we broken our promise to be good to her because we do not buy the candy bar? Again, of course not. And the truth is that of all of the thousands of things we're going to do and not do for our child over the course of her life, virtually no grown child is going to come back to a parent and say, "Yes, but remember when you didn't buy me that candy bar when I was 3 and really wanted it?" Because we fill our children's lives with so many good things, the candy bar becomes null (eventually).
This is the way that it is in prayer. It's not that our hearts are wicked, and it's not that our God is somehow not good. It's that we and God have a different vision of things; we're able to see different aspects of what it is that we're asking for. Our asking doesn't make us wicked, and God's 'no' doesn't make Him unfaithful. And He will fill our lives with so many good and beautiful things that we'd be foolish to walk away over lack of receiving something we want.
So then, what's next? Stay tuned.