This is a concept in the Bible that I have shed tears over, and I bet any Christian would agree that this one is a toughie. I wrestle with this all the time. I claim no expertise in this area, I claim no mastery. If anything – I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone.
God promises many times in the Bible the overarching message that if you pray for something it will be given to you. It even popped up in my reading during Monday’s journey of Jesus to the Cross. Matthew 21:22 Jesus says – “And if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” That offers a lot of promise for people facing brokenness, sickness, big dreams, and lofty goals. That gives a lot of hope for the oppressed, for the underprivileged, for the marginalized. It also gives us hope for our trivial pursuits (not the board game). It provides an awful lot of hope.
But if you look around – Christians aren’t just getting granted gifts. God isn’t acting as a genie here, and sometimes – although consciously we don’t expect God to be a genie…sometimes subconsciously we do. But, as I believe I’ve mentioned before – God doesn’t work on our timelines. Maybe this is coming up again because God’s trying to nail it into my brain more than anything else.
When I read “ask and you shall receive” – I pray and then think – great! This mess will all get sorted out within the next couple days. Wrong. Here’s what God doesn’t say – “ask and you shall receive within 48 hours”, “ask and you shall receive within the week”, “ask and you shall receive within the month”, shoot – He doesn’t even say “ask and you shall receive within the decade”.
He also doesn’t always provide in the way we would expect. So sometimes you can miss it. Maybe you’ve been lonely and praying for community (cough cough – that’s me), and every day you pray for it, and position yourself, and reach out to others, and it seems like no one wants to be your friend (yep, still talking about me). And then one day your 74 year old neighbor strikes up a conversation…and then the next day she does it again, and then the next day she’s your walking buddy, and then a week later – you’re invited to her weekly euchre game with all her friends. Boom. Is that not community? Did I envision that type of community for myself? Not at all. But – my prayer was answered. Just not the way I personally thought it would be answered – I am not God, I have to stop guessing what His next move will be. All I can guess is – wilder than my greatest imagination.
The Waiting Game
Between the time you pray and God delivers in His uniquely creative way you will wait. Sometimes you will wait a long time. Sometimes, actually scratch that, almost ALWAYS this waiting will be painful, and really hard. I’ve spent a lot of time waiting, for various things, but I can tell you this much – waiting sucks. I really don’t like waiting. Ask my mom, I was like the most persistent kid ever – because I just couldn’t handle the suspense of the unknown. And sometimes I feel like that’s where I’m at with God too – suspended in silence. Like – did my prayers not make it through? Maybe His service provider was down…
Can I tell you about the beauty in the wait though? Because – as much as it is painful – it is so beautiful. I believe God uses those waiting periods to draw His children close to Him – to reveal Himself in ways you would never think possible. I truly believe that you can’t fully understand the full beauty of Christ without the wait. I think I would miss so much about Him if I wasn’t suspended in silence with Him. If I didn’t have to have faith – even when I don’t feel faith. If I didn’t also get to experience Him so intimately. If you’re waiting – press into Him deeply.
Coming to God isn’t about always getting our way, it’s about always getting to experience a personal relationship with God. If you can’t fully grasp that – good, because then you realize that we can’t even begin to imagine the power of God. We can’t even begin to understand His vastness. And so I wait. And the wait is painful, and it sometimes feels like suffering, but in my wait I ALWAYS have Jesus – and maybe God wants us to get to a place when we really believe that’s all we need…because it is.
“Whatever You Ask For in Prayer”
I don’t claim to fully comprehend God or even the details of our relationship with Him, but I do believe He’s given me very specific clarity on what I ask for in prayer. Now, please, don’t over analyze your prayers, or feel like you can’t come to Christ with anything – I still do, but the way I anticipate God’s “answers” are different.
I believe that to get to a place of true belief like Matt 21:22 calls us to, you have to believe other truths about God. One of the main ones – that His Will is higher that my own, that His way is better than mine. When I used to pray it was all about what I thought and what I wanted, and honestly – I gave very little care or concern for what God thought and what God wanted. So when I didn’t get my way through prayer – I felt let down. Like God had missed me.
God hadn’t missed me, but I don’t think I was in a place of true belief. I only believed the part in the Bible where it said “Ask and you shall receive”, somehow I missed all the other parts. Isn’t it so true that a lot of people who claim Christianity only want to believe in the parts of it that benefit them personally? That’s not the Bible my friends.
I believed in myself and my own good ideas. I didn’t trust God with what He wanted for my life. Like – move over God – I got this, just let’s do it MY way…cooperate and no one gets hurt type of deal. But God changed my heart BIG time. Thank the Lord, because that heart needed to change. Now when I pray it’s saturated with – “God – I truly only want what you want for me.” “Jesus – Whatever is not from you, make known to me, because I do not want it.” “God – change my heart so it only desires what you desire”. And when I pray that – I truly believe it.
Now, of course I still come to God pleading for things that I feel or that I think – I treat God like my best friend…He literally knows everything about me – because I’ve shared it with Him (well, and because He’s God). BUT, deep down all I really want is His best, all I really want is His plan, all I really desire is Him. So every day I’m willing to die to my own desires…and it’s tough, really tough, and I tell Him that, and He let’s me cry about it too.
This shift has made all the difference. Because I no longer assume that what I pray is also what is best, and I without a doubt believe that if you have a heart that craves God’s will for your life – you will receive it. If you want God’s best wholeheartedly – He will give it to you. It just won’t come packaged the way you anticipated. But God isn’t a liar – He tells true believers that they will receive what they ask for – and a believer desires God’s best – He will deliver.
So, my friends, wait with anticipation for what God will do next. Wait expectantly for God’s next move. You won’t want to miss it – this is the answer to your prayer.
Here’s a GREAT book about waiting well: