This is not a lament! The title could be read as a whine or a complaint, but it isn't. It's just a question. What does the Bible say about unanswered prayer? What are the things that break the connection and make a positive response from God unlikely? I am not talking about spectacular prayers for amputated arms, or rotting corpses. What about the prayers for loved ones, for release from addictions, for the kinds of things it would seem a good Dad would do?
For the next number of posts, I am indebted to Francis Chan. During a Desiring God pastors' conference this past February, I listened to him give a thrilling account of the ridiculous generosity of God towards him. He framed his personal testimony as an experience of John 15:7. (The same John 15:7 that I have used as the basis for a personal lament.) Listening to him, I was filled with excitement and hope.
Then the next day, question and answer time, some pastor was bold enough to submit a question something like this: I have been in the ministry for __ years (a lot), and I have never experienced John 15:7, Why? Initially I felt sorry for him, because I can give testimony to many marvelous answers to prayer, and had in my mind that this poor pastor had a life devoid of answered prayer. But then the more I thought about John 15:7, at face value... it turned into a lament.
Francis Chan answered him boldly. Instead of rushing in to comfort him, he instead touched on a number of passages, all with which I was familiar, as to why God might not be answering this pastor's prayers. My study of the context of John 15:7 has released me from the necessity of a miraculous ministry (healing the sick and raising the dead) but I am not without empathy for that pastor. Sometimes it has felt like God isn't the good Dad Jesus portrays Him to be. My personal lament has lost most of its punch, but not to the point that I am confident that my prayer life is all that it could be.(If you go to the Desiring God website -- http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/prayer-as-a-way-of-walking-in-love-a-personal-journey – you can hear his message.)
So I want to say right up front, one or all of these passages could apply very directly to me. I am going to give them to you one a day (except for tomorrow – gone to the lake) until they are done, and I encourage you to read them with a view to your own prayer life.
The first one is James 4:3. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
In my lament I already spoke of my prayers for financial relief. I could spin those prayers as prayers for relief from pressure so that I would be freer to minister, and the spin would have truth in it, but it would be equally true that I was tired of the struggle and wanted an easier life.
Those years freed me of the love of money, made me aware of my smallness, filled me with compassion for others going through bankruptcy or financial failure, and contributed significantly to my growing in humility. All of which I would have missed out on, had God quickly come to my rescue. But at face value, James 4:3, cancels the wishing and asking that is motivated by love of self. God graciously refuses to support our base desires. Statistically, I wonder how many prayers that cancels.
I can hear readers snorting and huffing. Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, Plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.” I have a nephew whose goldfish turned upside down, and when he prayed, God restored it. Francis Chan's testimony includes things like golf clubs and a family vacation. I am not a prude or a worshiper of a God who is a prude. And I am not saying that God never gives us things that are just for us. I think it has to do with the pattern of our hearts.
James 4:3 stands. Sometimes, God does not grant our wishes, because they come from a heart that is not knit to His.