From the pulpit: Greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Biblical texts are clear that God answers prayers. Sometimes the prayers are answered in a way that affirms the petition put before God. Psalm 34:6 states, &8220;This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.&8221;

Sometimes the prayers are answered in a ways that is contrary to the petition. Paul&8217;s prayer to God about a &8220;thorn in the flesh&8221; is helpful. II Corinthians 12:8-9 states, &8220;Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me but he said to me, &8216;My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.&8217; So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.&8221;

These texts point out what we all know. Prayers are answered, but the answer to our prayers may not come in the exact time, form, or response we desire.

Noted Biblical scholar and interpreter William Barclay writes, &8220;God will always answer prayers, but God will answer them in God&8217;s way and God&8217;s way will be the way of perfect love. Often if God answered our prayer as we desired, it would be the worst thing for us, for in our ignorance we often ask for gifts which would be our ruin.&8221;

Barclay&8217;s comments make us aware of a couple of problems when it comes to the subject of having our prayers answered. I think both problems can be framed in the language of the Holy Spirit.

We are, mostly, impatient as we pray. Our minds are made up as to what will benefit us the most. We have determined the outcome necessary before we even pray to God. Prayer often resembles a notion of God being like a cosmic vending machine at our disposal, to meet our every whim. Somehow we have become accustomed to the idea that our ideas, values and time are also God&8217;s. That is dangerous. We need to rely on God&8217;s Spirit to discipline us and create patience in us so we can fully understand God&8217;s presence.

We also do not always know how to pray. Barclay&8217;s phrase &8220;we often ask for gifts which would be our ruin&8221; is particularly indicting. Paul wrote in the Roman letter that this ignorance is a place where God&8217;s wisdom can be glorified. Paul writes, &8220;The Spirit intercedes for us with groans too deep for words (Romans 8:26b). In other words, God cares deeply and intimately. God is involved with us at a level exceeding our comprehension. And, God desires what is best for us as a part of God&8217;s creation.

Give thanks and offer your life as a place where God&8217;s plan will be used as a light to all people. Pray for your children and your parents. Pray for your church. Pray for yourself and all that troubles you and gives rise to your celebrations. Pray ceaselessly.

And wait for God to answer. You might not always get what you want &8212; that&8217;s not how prayer works! But, over time, you will find you get what you need.

Mark Davenport is pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Alabaster (Cumberland).