God often does not answer my prayers because he knows me. He knows that if he allowed me to enjoy material ease, plenty of affirmation and affection from the people around me, a good name and reputation and eased the intensity of my many imperfections, I would be satisfied. But my satisfaction would be in the good life I had rather than in God himself.
So God has often withheld good things from me, not because he doesn’t care and not because he doesn’t want them for me. Rather, it’s because none of those things are good enough for me or for him. None of them are God.
“Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.”
I don’t think it’s God’s desire for us to live in poverty and misery. I think he wants us to enjoy the good things life has to offer. But he also knows that none of those things are permanent, they don’t bring life and they don’t redeem the world. Only God can offer that. Without first finding what we need in God, all the things this world offers are poor substitutes for the real deal.
The bible says that God is a jealous God. He doesn’t share his throne with idols. This isn’t because he’s a petty narcissist who must be the center of attention all of the time. It’s because he is the source of life, love, truth, light and every good thing. All the good things of this world are temporary at best. Without a firm foundation, they aren’t life giving, but corrupting. God does not want us to build lives on such shaky foundations. And that is why he will not share his throne with them.
Until we are satisfied in God, the abundance of this world will be an idol. Until we’ve been shaped by love, we’ll resist using abundance and excess for the benefit of others instead of for ourselves alone. Until our identity is grounded in Christ, our relationships and possessions and work and reputation will carry the weight of providing an identity for us.
And ultimately, our idols, our wealth and our false identities will require more work to sustain than they give us in return. We will live our lives serving them, rather than the other way around. And at the end of our lives, we will lose those things we invested so much in and go back to God empty handed and depleted.
It’s not God’s desire that any of us would have this experience. But as we spoke of yesterday, God is willing to allow us to make our own choices, even when it does not serve his desire for us. But some of us – a minority most likely – have offered ourselves to him to shape. We have prayed silly prayers like, “let your will and not my will be done.” We’ve sincerely offered our lives for God to do with as he will.
When we do that, all bets are off. God will never push us to our destruction. But he will relentlessly push us to grow and mature in our relationship with him. And more often than not, part of this will mean that he will allow us to be deprived of good things in life. Even when we ask for them in prayer.
I’ve certainly done my fair share of bitching and moaning around here over the last couple of years. I’ve done much more on my own. I’d be embarrassed for you to know how often I wished I wasn’t alive or hadn’t been born.
God could have eased my burdens, answered some prayers, made a way out for me. Instead I often felt like Jeremiah when he said, “He has walled me in so that I cannot go out; He has made my chain heavy. Even when I cry out and call for help, He shuts out my prayer. He has blocked my ways with hewn stone; He has made my paths crooked.”
When God does not answer your prayers, it is normal and understandable to become bitter. To wonder if he is even real. If he cares. If he will live up to his promises. But the truth is that even unanswered prayers are part of his grace for you.
I’ve been bitter and angry and given up my hope. And yet, in my heart of hearts, I’ve also known that it’s all grace. All of it is grace. When I could find satisfaction in nothing else, I was driven to find it in God. And that’s grace. That I can walk as a companion with others who suffer is grace. Everything I’ve ever sought after or put my trust in has been ripped from me. And it’s grace to be freed from those unworthy things.
As unlikely as it seems, the most important reason God does not answer our prayers is because of his grace for us. It’s what we need on our way.