Monday, September 28, 2015

The Hard Thing About Prayers

I got a series of Facebook messages this weekend from a man old enough to be my father. He has, he told me, lost his faith. His words were raw and real and hard to read. I woke up in the middle of the night Sunday thinking of them. All I could do was pray.

The more I thought about his God complaints and accusations, the more his words faded into this blurry canvas of dark, deep hurt. Hurt that felt unacknowledged. Prayers that seem unanswered. At the crux, he doesn't feel God has been listening, and if God has, well, His unresponsiveness is cruel. 

But there's one thing I'm learning from this constant stream of people- all ages and genders, friends and perfect strangers- who reach out to me: they come to me for reassurance that God cares. Why else would someone who's "lost their faith" reach out to a person of faith, as opposed to an unbeliever? To me it's obvious: we want someone to convince us that God hears us and that God loves us.

His complaint is one I think we've all struggled with at one time or another: Does God hear my prayers? And if He does, what does He do with them? I reckon at this point, we better let God speak for Himself, because He's already answered both those questions, and I think a reminder would be nice.

Do you hear me, God?
In a word, yes. Yes, God hears us. He is an all-knowing, all-hearing God, and not a word we speak or thought we think escapes Him. He hears us, no question. Generations of people in the Bible recognized this and reassure us today:
- And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.-1 John 5:14

- Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. -Acts 10:4

-But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. -Micah 7:7

-People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. -Isaiah 30:19

-He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. -Psalm 145:19

-O You who hear prayer, To You all men come. -Psalm 65:2

- In the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. -Exodus 16:7

(There's a pattern here. Did you notice it? We'll come back to that in a second.)

Let's face it: most of us who pray believe, on some level, that God hears us... or else why would we pray? Our question, then, isn't Do you hear me, God?. Our complaint, then, isn't Why doesn't God hear me?. Our real cry, actually, is: why isn't God responding to me? Why isn't God answering my prayer?

And oh boy. The words that have been written and the sermons that have been preached on that one.

Here's what I've become convinced of: we've lost the understanding that God is God and we are not. We have made God in our image. I mean, the expectation we have of God is that He should do our bidding (because we know what we need) when we ask (because we know when we need it), and if He doesn't, well, He's a joke. Or He's cruel. Or He's not even real. 

Then Why Aren't You Answering, God?
The truth? God is holy. Just. Kind. And good. And He keyed us in beforehand about why He answers some prayers and not others. 

Truthfully, though, it's hard to swallow. It doesn't fit our image of an On Demand God who plays what we want, when we want. It doesn't fit our idea of The Santa Claus God who gives us our every want and whim if we're "good". It doesn't jive with our view of a Houdini God who performs a bit of magic for us when we demand a show. Concerning the Real God of Heaven answering our prayers, there's a caveat. The caveat is this: God is sovereign, and He does everything in the context of relationship and His overall plan. In other words, God moves when He will, and He favors the prayers of those who are trying to love Him and follow Him. Look at those verses above again. And look at these, too:

 - The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous. -Proverbs 15:29

- It's your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore. -Isaiah 59:2

- We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. -John 9:31

- And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. -Hebrews 11:6
- You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. -James 4:3

- And whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.- 1 John 3:22

- You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. -Jeremiah 29:13 (I love this one.)

The hard truth: God isn't going to hear/grant all of our prayers. Why? Because of our sin. Because we're not worshipping and obeying Him. Because we don't believe He even exists. Because we ask for the wrong things... or ask for the right things for the wrong reasons. Because we're not seeking Him... we just want something from Him.

Does this mean even the prayers of godly people get answered in the way they want? Obviously not. Read John 11. A guy Jesus loved was sick and Jesus didn't come when the friend's family begged for Jesus to come. The guy died while Jesus intentionally waited around for him to die. (Cruel and kind of twisted in our minds, right? Must have seemed like it.) Or maybe God's purposes were bigger than a sick person getting well. They were. His purpose was that people would believe Him (John 11:15). So when Jesus finally showed up and called his days-dead friend out of that tomb, it was the news. And many people believed God that day. They were friends, and God never answered their prayer. Instead, He did something greater.

I wanted to be able to write a lovely response to my angry Facebook friend. I want to write a sweet devotional today about how God hears us all the time and answers us all the time. But come on. My Facebook friend's prayers... some of my prayers... some of yours probably, too... aren't being answered right now. And only God knows why. But maybe that realization alone is an invitation to examine ourselves, our prayers, our motives, and our relationship with God. Maybe His silence... or His waiting... is the best answer He could possibly give us today.

It's hard, I know. In the meantime, know I'm here with you and I understand. And listen: God hears us and He cares about us. And together we can echo the cry of one who's gone before us:

Out of the depths
I cry to you, Lord.
Lord, hear my voice.

Monday Moment is a little devotional to help kick start your week. See you again next time!


Kathleen Grace said...

Well put Brin. It's one of the most often heard questions about God and faith and the only answer is God is God. Part of faith is trusting that He knows what we need and accepting His will. My mother used to say "You can't put God on a string, He's not here to do our bidding".

Gail said...

You always provide a thoughtful and truthful response. God bless you in all you do.

racel said...

This really spoke to me today. I'm going to think on it some more. I think I like what C.S. Lewis says about prayer best: (I'm paraphrasing) that when we are pray, God doesn't necessarily change everything we want changed, but he does start to change *us*.
Have a lovely Monday, rin!

Kathi said...

You are so right, Brin. May this man come back to our loving God. I am praying for my 31 year old nephew who has suddenly done the same thing. I'm so sad, but I am praying. Kathi

Cindy Brick said...

It's easy to say that because God isn't answering, we've sinned. (After all, that was the point of one of Job's friends.) But yes, sometimes God doesn't 'solve our problem,' because:

*He has a better solution than the quickie one we thought up

*He wants us to learn something through this, however undeserved

*He wants us to TRUST HIM.

Can I do it...can I say "Lord, I trust you, even with THIS..."
That difficulty makes me understand where Thomas was coming from...or Peter, walking on the water.
But I keep trying.

Melanie said...

God always answers, but the answer is sometimes no.

I don't think he denies us things because we have sinned. My husband's first wife died of a brain tumor. She was a lovely, sweet girl, full of life. I think there may have been a bigger plan that we cannot know, but saying that she wasn't miraculously cured because she sinned or someone else sinned places blame where it doesn't belong, and it turns the idea of God into some cruel being who plays favorites, who decides that some people just deserve to have really bad things happen to him.

Brin said...

I don't believe God denies us things because we have sinned, either. We're all sinners. But I do believe our obedience (or lack of) sometimes has a direct correlation with what God does or doesn't do.