Some time ago, my son mentioned an acquaintance who had a sarcastic sense of humor. This person used sarcasm to be funny, but my son perceived that it was often cutting, as is the nature of sarcasm. We started praying for that individual, that God would lead them to see that sarcasm was not the best way to communicate. We prayed about this together for a while until my son informed me one day that this acquaintance had actually apologized for the sarcasm. Sadly, I was stunned. I honestly hadn’t expected that at all. Although we had been praying about it regularly, I really hadn’t expected a response quite like that. It was as if I was surprised that God had answered our prayer.
Now be honest. How many of you have had experiences like that? Perhaps God answered a prayer right away and it surprised you. Maybe He granted a request you thought He wouldn’t. Or maybe you’re just too much of a “realist” to believe that God would answer prayer. Maybe you pray without really believing God will answer. How often we come before God with our petitions, inwardly thinking, There’s no way He’s going to answer this. Perhaps a loved one has cancer and you know the medical statistics. You pray that God would heal your loved one, but secretly you know that request won’t be granted. You go through the motions and start the prayer chain and everything, but you know there’s no way God will really answer. But is that really true?
Look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:7-11. He promises that if we ask, it will be given to us. He even compares prayer to sinful parents granting good things to their children. “If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Does this mean that God will give us everything we ask? No. Just as a loving parent uses discretion in granting their child’s requests, so our perfect heavenly Father knows what is best for us, and sometimes the answer has to be “no.” If your seven-year-old asks you for an iPhone and a gaming system and a DVD player in his room with a bunch of PG-13 and R-rated movies, will you grant his request? I certainly hope not. You have a better perspective and know what is best for him in the long run. In the same way, God sees things from His heavenly perspective and knows what is best for us and for those around us. Sometimes, He will answer a simple “yes,” like in my opening example. But often, He will answer it differently than we might think.
Let’s look at another example: Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew exactly what faced Him. He had the weight of the entire world’s sin laid squarely upon His shoulders. He knew the suffering and physical agony He would face, and He knew that He would have to experience even the abandonment of His Father on that cross. It’s a weight none of us will ever know. But in Gethsemane, Jesus prayed fervently to His Father. Hebrews 5:7 tells us this: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” Now here was a fervent prayer. I’ve cried before while praying, but never like this. Jesus was groaning and crying loudly, physically moved during this prayer session. And we know from the Gospels that His prayer was, “Father, if you are willing, remove this up from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Now, did God grant His request? Did God remove that cup from Jesus? No, He didn’t. Because God knew that only Jesus could save us all from sin and death. If Jesus didn’t die as the sinless lamb of God, we would all be lost forever. God was looking not to Jesus’ personal comfort, but to the good of the entire world.
On the other hand, God did answer Jesus’ prayer. Look what happened immediately after He prayed. Luke 22:43 continues, “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.” God wasn’t going to remove the cup of suffering from Jesus, but He did ready Him and strengthen Him for the task at hand. And look again at the words of the Hebrews passage above—“to him who was able to save him from death.” God was able to save Jesus from death, and in fact did so through the resurrection. Death did not have the final victory here. Jesus’ resurrection assured us of our own new life with Him. Death has no power over us anymore. Now that’s an answer to prayer!
So pray with confidence, dear one. Present your petitions to God, who knows what is best. Pray that His will be done. It’s hard to do, I know. There are some instances even now in my own life where I honestly don’t think I want God’s will to be done if it doesn’t match my own selfish desires. But He answers all prayers in ways better than we can ever imagine. Just ask, with the words of Ephesians 3:20-21 on your heart. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”