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Monday, September 27, 2004

Lies We Have Bought Into #3

I see that my earlier post is causing quite a ruckus over at Messy Christian's. It seems that while Christians are uncomfortable with the idea of manipulating God, we also would like to cling on to the hope and belief that God is responsible for many of the good things that we do experience in this life. When we hear testimonies of good things happening to various Christian people, we want to give Him the glory and praise for it.

When things go particularly well, we think that God must have had a hand in it since He is our Father, and He looks after His own. Yet when things do go awry, we get confused. Sometimes we blame it on ourselves. Perhaps we do not have sufficient faith. Perhaps we have not done the proper confession, or have incorrect teaching about the promises of God. We have failed to claim what is rightfully ours. We are ignorant, or we are lazy, or we have not given God His due. We play the roles of Job's friends upon ourselves so well that even George Lucas would be impressed. Or perhaps, we put the blame on the Devil. After all, his purpose is to thwart the plans of God. Yet at other time we point the finger at other Christians. Sadly, sometimes we turn against God, slide into despair and unbelief.

Oh, we so want to be blessed by God. Therefore, we make it a point to pray for blessing. God, bless our home. Bless our church. Bless our family. Bless our business. I have blogged about blessing in my previous post, so I will not belabor the point here, although from some of the responses at Messy's I think I have not been able to get my view across clearly. In any case, I shall move on...

Closely related to misconception #2 (which should have been the title of this series... oh well...) is misconception #3 - how God answers our prayer.

We pray for all sorts of things in our lives. Because we believe in prayer. We believe, and rightly so, that in prayer we are inviting God into our lives, or rather, we are accepting God's invitation to share in His life.

The problem is that we take it for granted that God is going to answer our prayers in the way we have packaged for Him. We give God multiple-choice answers and say, choose one, Lord: "Yes", "No" or "Wait". Don't mark outside the box, don't pick more than one answer, or our scantron will not pick it up. So, we believe that God answers our prayers in one of the three ways, yet we only ever acknowledge it when He says "Yes" to our prayers.

A few years ago, my wife and I newly arrived in Western Australia and were looking for housing. Within a couple of weeks, we found a lovely home that we could afford in a nice suburb close to all the amenities we cared for. Leaving the realtor's office and as we were getting into our car, my wife exclaimed, "Praise God for His swift anwer to our prayer!" I shared my wife's elation, but I was a little concerned about the reason.

I looked at her and gently asked, "Honey, what if God had given us a "No"?"

She was quick on the draw, "I would have just praised Him!"

"Really?" I challenged.

We went on to discuss our thoughts on the matter. In depth. I don't remember clearly most of the rest of that conversation. But I do remember that it was the beginning of a long dialog that has continued to this day as we grapple with the issues surrounding these reflections.

I don't know if I have ever heard someone praise God or even acknowledge a "No" answer to a prayer. Perhaps the only time I can think of is in Corinthians, or I can imagine, in resignation. We only give God thanks when the answer to our prayer is in the affirmative.

Why is that?

I believe it is because our expectations about prayer and how God works in prayer are wrong-headed. For in prayer we do not go to God with a wish-list and expect to have him check off our list. In prayer we go to engage in the life of God and the result is that our lives are transformed.

God doesn't answer our prayers with a "Yes," "No," or "Wait!" Instead, He answers our prayers with "You..." When we approach God, rather than looking for His answers to our prayers, we had better tuned in our ears to listen to His voice. There is a difference, I believe. A huge difference.

UPDATE: Since posting this article, I have an updated post on what I call my "theology of prayer" which of course is a "work-in-progress". See it here.