It's ironic that just as I was finishing this blog entry, I got word from my publisher that Asking God for the Gifts He Wants to Give You, a book on prayer, would be free for two days on Amazon. Ironic because this post, and my current thoughts, have been about unanswered prayer.
I wrote Asking God in a very different time and space in my life, a time when I was feeling God's presence much more than I have in the recent dark night of my soul. Lately, as in the past year and a half, I've been wrestling with the question of unanswered prayer--or worse, prayers that seem to be answered the exact opposite of the way I had wanted. Scorpions and rocks instead of eggs and bread.
This seems to have happened to a lot of people that I know and I've observed that when God doesn't answer our prayers, we tend to give God a "free pass." We rationalize the non-answer or the negative response by saying things like "I must not be seeing the answer." Or "This must be the best thing for me."
While that may be true, it's still finding reasons why God's promise that if we ask, we shall receive isn't being fulfilled. (I talk about this in the book, as well.) We change "ask and you shall receive" to "Ask and then after you don't receive, try to find reasons why you excuse God for not giving."
The cold, hard reality is that sometimes--sometimes more often than any Christian likes to admit, the answer we get to prayer is not what we ask for; in fact, it may be the exact opposite. And so we find reasons to cut God some slack because the idea that God might not really be keeping the promises we think he has made to use is just too painful to contemplate. It's way too distressing to allow the thought to creep in that God might perhaps be a trickster, a coyote god, who may or may not answer our prayers; a god who pulls out the football just as we Charlie Browns line up to kick. A god who doesn't really mean what he says.
It feels almost heretical (and perhaps it is) to even write about such things since the Christian thing to do is to have faith that God is answering our prayers even when all evidence is to the contrary. We are expected to proclaim that "God is healing me" even as we get the grim diagnosis that the chemo isn't working and we need to go to hospice. Or that "God is providing" even as the foreclosure notice is pinned to the door.
The alternative to God not answering prayer is simply that God says "no" a lot. But that isn't always the most satisfactory of answers. Why, when we are told that we simply need to ask to receive, is the answer "NO!" so often? Again I find most Christians want to give God a freebie on this, saying that we simply have to believe that the no is the right answer. That's a tough one to accept, when there seem to be a preponderance of "no" in one's life.
This whole notion of answered and unanswered prayer is certainly not a new question and I'm hardly the first person to wrestle with it. Better minds than mine have lost their faith over it and better minds than mine have had their faith built to great heights considering it.
However, the fact that others have struggled is cold coffee comfort as I contemplate why so many prayers go unanswered or are answered in the negative. It's little wonder that we are genuinely surprised when a prayer is answered the way we pray it. So surprised we call it a "miracle!" And indeed answered prayer often does feel like a miracle since it seems to happen so rarely.
Now I will admit that I have had answers to major prayers, but they have been rare, a handful of times that I can say that the heavens opened and a voice from above rocked my world. So I'm going to try an experiment. For the next month, I'm going to keep a record of my prayers---big and small--and see what the answers are: yes, no, unanswered. (I'd say yes, unanswered and absolute direct opposite, but that would be a teeny bit negative and biased.)
Yes, it is a challenge to God, but it's more of a challenge to me. I do believe that God wants to give us his gifts, as I wrote in the book, but I need to have some clear-cut evidence for myself at this juncture in my life. I'm willing to consider that I'm just not paying attention to the "yes" and focusing on the "no." I'm willing to consider that my gaze is so intent on the things that I truly want to happen that I can't see beyond them.
(For those of you who are shocked at the idea of "testing" prayer, I would remind you that all miracles accepted for sainthood have to undergo rigorous scientific testing so a little data isn't a bad thing spiritually speaking.)
While some of the prayers may be too intimate and person to reveal in detail and others may involve other people whose stories aren't mine to reveal, I will post as many details as I can about prayers and I will reveal the "results."
If nothing else, I'm anticipating an interesting May.