Sunday, January 3, 2016
When Your Prayer to God Doesn't Get Answered
When God’s Answers Disappoint
Have you seen some of the relatively recent Christian films, such as Facing the Giants, Fireproof, or War Room? They are all great calls to prayer, faith and taking stands for God by reordering one’s own life and opening oneself up to God’s guidance and power. Good movies, and I have enjoyed each of them.
However, I have also been troubled by each of them, and if you are divorced or have experienced other difficult upheavals in your life, I bet you have had some uneasiness as you watched them, too.
A friend and I were discussing these films lately, and expressed our concern that the image presented can only be taken so far, and can easily be misinterpreted. The primary concern is that in watching them, it almost seems to say that if you pray and straighten out your life with God, he will then make everything work out wonderfully….with wonderfully being defined as “the way you think it ought to be.”
For example, you will win the football games, God will send somebody to give you a new truck, your marriage will be saved and you will get that new job without being prosecuted for past crimes. I don’t think that is the intent, but it is an impression that can be given, because they don’t include in the stories individuals for whom God did NOT provide the desired answer.
Let me offer another example. Fireproof and The War Room both present stories of marriages in trouble. In each case, one spouse submits him/herself to God and asks God to intervene and save their marriage, and sure enough, the marriage partner gets straightened around, too, and the marriages become wonderful examples of ideal godly homes. In fact, I have mentioned before a book by a casual acquaintance of mine, called Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome by Nancy Anderson, in which the author talks about her own falling into temptation, repentance and how God turned her marriage around when she repented and asked God to intervene.
Are we guaranteed that God will ALWAYS answer that way? I suspect not.
That is the concern my friend and I discussed, because if we put that expectation on God, then if God chooses to answer differently we will end up confused, disappointed and maybe even without faith.
I was struck a number of years ago when missiologist Ralph Winter wrote in a mission magazine a piece about Hebrews 11. Winter recounted the various images of people who by faith receiving children back from the dead, shut lions’ mouths, conquered kingdoms and so on, and then Winter pointed out that without skipping a beat, the passage goes on to other people of faith who were hungry, lived in caves, were sawn in two….in other words, suffered tragic experiences. Winter’s conclusion was that faith isn’t something that rescues us from the difficulties of life, but it is that which guides us in them, regardless of the outcomes. For every Christian who is miraculously spared an encounter with death, there are others in the world who have been beheaded, killed or displaced by evil men. Do those others not have faith? Did they simply not pray right? Does God love them less? These are the questions raised when watching movies such as those I have listed. It is, indeed, a great thing when God turns everything around and makes for happy endings in peoples’ lives here…and he DOES do that. But that is not all He does.
As I watched the movies dealing with marriage, and observed individuals praying God would save their marriages, I remembered distinctly making the same request of God before my divorce. Still, my marriage ended. Why is that? Perhaps you have wrestled with that kind of question yourself about some troubling issues in your life, and ended up struggling with whether you prayed enough, loved enough, repented enough, tried enough, had faith enough, or whether God cared enough. We are to trust and pray and try….but we cannot guarantee or manipulate God into producing the results we demand. We have to trust that God knows the best answers, even if they don’t seem best to us.
Why doesn’t God always make these things, such as marriages on the brink of divorce, work out?
Well, let me say first, I don’t really know. But I think it is important to always realize that not just one, but both marriage partners have to be obedient to God for full transformation of the marriage to occur. Surely a changed heart in one can have significant impact, but it may not guarantee a changed heart in the other. In 1 Peter 3:1, there is a reference to wives living godly lives even if the husband doesn’t, and that such actions MAY lead to the husband’s salvation...but it is not guaranteed. Or in 1 Corinthians 7:16 where the same possibility is raised, although it is explicitly stated in verse 15 that if the other partner chooses to separate, the believer is under no obligation.
In our discussion of the movies, my friend pointed out that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for what he wanted, but allowed God to answer differently and granted that the Father’s will would be most important, and God did NOT take the cup away as Jesus asked, but He did fulfill His will.
For some of us who have prayed for God to save our marriages but it did not happen, perhaps we, too, need to be open to the possibilities that God can do things in a way differently from how we think they ought to have been done. For instance, if God had saved my first marriage, though I cannot speculate what the future might have held in those circumstances, it is highly unlikely you would be reading this blog right now, because there would have been no books about getting through a divorce. I would have had nothing relevant or knowledgeable to say on the topic! That meant that the person about whom I learned who said that my writings about divorce saved her marriage (because they decided they didn’t want to go through what they read), might not have had her marriage saved. Or others who have been on the brink of suicide or turning away from Christ, might have ended up hopeless and faithless because the sharing of my experiences was not available to them.
What God intended one way or another may not always be clear, but God can use experiences in our lives even if they don’t go the way we think they should. That message IS clearly stated in Facing the Giants when the coach keeps saying that they are going to praise God whether they win or whether they lose. The wording is there, but the movie doesn’t show much about those who praise God and lose.
We are to pray, to seek, to intercede, to obey….but the final outcomes, those are God’s to choose. And if they don’t come out the way we would prefer, the wise Christian will conclude that he didn’t really know what the best answers were. Ultimately, God will make all things right in the new heaven and the new earth. But for now, sometimes we just have to trust that He knows what He is doing…even if it doesn’t feel like it!