If you have ever prayed for something and were disappointed that it did not come when you expected it, or not at all, then you may have pondered through your doubts whether faith in Christ isn’t merely a state of mind with no causal influence, and that we are really at the mercy of a dispassionate fate.
It would seem that whatever concerns us the most, must surely be of concern to God. And if we are overcome with anxiety about our most urgent cares, why wouldn’t God grant our petition? What if our most urgent care is a matter of life and death?
Think, you are the sole breadwinner for your young family including infants; or you are the sole caretaker of your aging and physically challenged parents. Perhaps you are the custodian of a disabled sibling. In any event, there are those who depend totally on you for their care, wellbeing and survival.
Now think, you are staring in the face of a gun being held by someone intent on killing you. Is God obligated to deliver you from death at your request? What would be going through your mind?
We do not often think about our Christian walk in such stark terms. Indeed, it would be an ugly sight if Christians go about weighed down by such thoughts – it would make Christianity truly unattractive, and reflect poorly on our Lord who gives us, not mere hope, but a lively hope at that (1 Pet. 1:3). However, it is necessary at times to recognize that our disappointments are for a purpose – His purpose – and to reflect upon what that means.
We are challenged because we are inwardly focused. Paul said that to live is to live for Christ (Phil. 1:21). That means the whole purpose of his living was to do the will of the Lord. As he explained in his letter to the Philippians, everything else about himself was regarded as worthless garbage (Phil. 3:7-9). Paul was focused on the Lord and not himself.
Back to that killing thing. I was impressed by an account of a Christian staring down the barrel of a gun being held by Muslim man intent on killing him. It appeared in the Christian Post on August 30, 2017, in an article about what made many Muslims turn to Christianity. Read it here.
There was an Islamic State terrorist who killed Christians but was having dreams of “a man in white” telling him “You are killing my people.” The article gave this remarkable account:
“The fighter said just before he killed one Christian, the man said, ‘I know you will kill me, but I give to you my Bible.’ The Christian was killed and this IS fighter actually took the Bible and began to read it. In another dream, Jesus asked him to follow Him, and he was now asking to become a follower of Christ and to be discipled.”
Notice two things. First, the Christian obviously fulfilled a purpose for which he was called. It is doubtful that at the point of his conversion he ever imagined that he would die at the hand of a terrorist. Yet in his last moments he was focused on sharing the Gospel, and not on saving his own life. In his death he literally saved the life of a sinner. He lived for Christ, and will certainly gain in death.
Second, unknown to the martyred saint, the Lord was calling that terrorist to faith. This Christian was a vessel fit for the Master’s use, and would be the conduit through which the man would be presented with the word of life. Who knows, if he was more concerned about his life than the cause of Christ, the terrorist might not have turned from darkness to the light of God’s salvation.
We have an attitude problem
Paul learned to live with and without the stuff we consider necessary to make life palatable (Phil. 4:11-13). He was contented with what the Lord provided. He found peace and contentment in serving the Lord. We become disappointed with God – even though we are mostly lying to ourselves and say that we are just disappointed in not getting what we desire – and turn to our own devices to get what we want.
I know, we are often told that it is okay to be angry if God does not always give us what we desire. We are told that it is natural, only human. After all, “there is a time for every season under the sun.” But let us be both careful and frank about this.
Be careful not to make an excuse for intemperance. Sometimes we get angry simply because we do not get our way, and we cannot tolerate denial. And to be frank, the urgency of our petitions often times simply reflect our emotional state of mind. By that I mean we convince ourselves that unless we fulfill certain desires our lives will be meaningless, or we will suffer some irreplaceable loss. Then we become angry (James 4:1-3), and our anger becomes a rebuke of God because we think he should have granted us anyway.
Unfortunately, we have been made to believe that because we are joint heirs with Jesus; that because we are children of the King, our Christian walk should manifest royalty. That is why we get angry. We think we are not getting what we deserve – we feel entitled.
Try something radical
How about praising God for not giving us what we request of him? Really. I bet you have never seen anyone, even a congregation singing and praising the Lord for denying their prayer for healing and deliverance! Yet Paul teaches, “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18).
All circumstances… This means we ought to give him thanks even for our disappointments. Ought to give thanks at the death of a loved one? Ought we to give thanks when our bodies are racked with pain and ravaged by disease? Ought we to give thanks when we call out to him for help from the depths of our distress and can find no relief? Ought we to give thanks when we are staring death in the face? That is a really hard thing, but he said all circumstances. And we ask ourselves, does he have a purpose for this? If we ask Job, the answer is, yes.
Two final things. First, we must thank him all circumstances because he is God. He only does what is right and good, and good for us (Rom. 8:28). No matter how dire and unpleasant the circumstance, as Joseph learned after the fact, God means it for our good (Gen. 50:20).
Second, God will never allow us to be tested beyond our ability to overcome (1 Cor. 10:13). We are tried in various ways to make more like Christ, so we can rejoice in it (James 1:2-4). Adversity strengthens our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7). Furthermore, it is God’s testimony of us that we will maintain our integrity. Just as he testified, “Have you considered my servant Job?” (Job 1:8), God will boast about us in the face of our adversary. As we endure faithfully with grateful hearts, we will lift up Christ, and by our lives lead men to him.
When God denies your prayer requests, it is because he has something better for you. You just cannot see it yet.
A verse and refrain from Daniel W. Whittle’s wonderful hymn “I Know Whom I Have Believed,” addresses our despair and our hope:
I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.
But “I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.”
So, the next time that you do not get what you pray for, pause a moment and then give God thanks. Worship and praise him with all your heart, because he is worthy and does all things well.