I often receive letters--sincere, heartfelt letters--from those who have prayed long and earnestly about something they desire. But it doesn't appear their prayers were heard or, worse, it appears that they really were given a stone instead of the fish they requested. These letters are heart-rending to read. The painful confusion jumps off the page (as does the anger in many cases). I wish I could personally respond to each letter I receive, but unless that became my full-time job, there aren't enough hours in the day to be faithful to all I'm supposed to do and keep up with this correspondence. So that's why I began this blog. It provides a way to publicly consider some of the trends in the letters I receive (yes, I do read them all).
Yesterday I received a letter in which a woman told the story of learning to pray with more expectancy and faith about a husband; she was shortly thereafter asked out. This developed into a long-term relationship. But unfortunately, it ended and ended rather badly. Now she is wondering if God can be trusted again. Why did these circumstances occur when she was trying to pray in faith toward a God who promised good gifts to His children?
Honestly?... I don't know. And that's not a very comforting answer, I realize. But if I were to say anything other than that, it would be presumption. I have no idea why these circumstances turned out the way they did. I'm not God and He didn't consult me on this one. But I do know this: Job went through much worse and he was able to be satisfied with a revelation of God's character, and not a detailed response to his specific questions. The nagging particulars of his experience ghosted away when Job realized the tremendous gulf between the Omniscient Creator and himself, leaving Job with one clear statement of faith: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2).
I recently completed Henry and Richard Blackaby's book, Hearing God's Voice, my copy of which is now thoroughly stained in highlighter yellow. One of the sections that is especially marked up is titled "Why Pray?" The authors write:
The motivating impulse of our praying should not primarily be what is on our heart but what is on God's. Jesus taught us to pray, "Give us today our daily bread," but the crux of the Lord's Prayer is, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10-11 HCSB). It is understandable for us to pray from the honesty of our hearts, "My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me." But our ultimate conclusion when we pray must be, as it was with Jesus, "Yet not as I will, but as You will (Matt. 26:39 HCSB).
It is a miraculous thing to consider we have any relationship at all with a holy God. Then to be told that we can speak to Him and He will hear us! And if that weren't enough, He wants to reveal His heart to us and use us--the very creatures who sinned against Him and cost Him greatly to redeem! These facts alone should keep us from ever questioning His goodness to us. Even in deeply painful circumstances, we are still objects of outrageous mercy.
So we press on, certain that prayer is not a vain thing and neither are the things we request in prayer. As the Blackabys outline, God is consistent in the pattern in which He speaks to us in prayer:
1. God takes the initiative to cause us to want to pray. We do not naturally seek God (Rom. 3:10-12). The fact that we desire to pray is evidence of God's work in us. When we pray it is because God has summoned us into his presence.
2. The Spirit of God reveals the will of God through the Word of God. The Holy Spirit takes the words and truths of Scripture and impresses them on our minds. As we pray, he will bring specific Scriptures to our mind.
3. The Holy Spirit helps us pray in agreement with what God is saying (Rom. 8:26). Our natural tendency is to meet God's Word with unbelief. The Holy Spirit works to align our heart and mind to accept all God is saying.
4. When God gives us direction in prayer, he will confirm that word to us through the Bible, circumstances, and other believers.
5. We adjust our lives to what God says. Once God speaks to us, we cannot remain the same. God's word always requires adjustments in our part. It is impossible to obey God without making adjustments.
6. We obey God. All of God's speaking to us means little unless we do what he tells us.
7. God works in and through us to accomplish his revealed purposes.
8. We experience God through our obedience as the Holy Spirit revealed we would. Experiencing God comes out of an obedience response to God's Word to us.
In the case of this recent letter, I don't know why this relationship unfurled the way it did. Perhaps this man was not a door God was opening, but she didn't detect that because this man popped up right after so much prayer. But I think point number three in the list above is most helpful right now. Our natural, sinful tendencies are to drift from the Gospel, to drift from the magnificence of the Cross. When we find ourselves wallowing there, the Holy Spirit is the one to enable us to say, "Help me in my unbelief!" (Mark 9:14-23). Then He provides us with the sustaining grace we need to continually seek fellowship with God in prayer.