Have you ever been in a restaurant when a customer doesn’t get what they want, and they completely freak out? Are you often that customer? It’s always a tense and awkward situation when it happens. You’re sitting there and listening to the person yell that they ordered cheese on their burger, and they only see one piece of cheese.
As awkward as it can be, I’m never surprised. This is the culture that we have set up for ourselves: “I have money, I want to spend it on what I want, and you must give it to me. And if you don’t give me what I want, I have the right to act like a three-year-old who needs a nap.”
It doesn’t surprise me that this is the way we often treat prayer. And it’s not limited to Christian prayer. I hear people from different walks of faith talk about sending out/up positive energy, so that they can get what they want. We create a magical wish list. We add small things we think might be nice. Then we add grand things just in case God is feeling generous. Then we add things we actually want in the middle of all that. Then if God doesn’t give us what we want, we get mad and throw tantrums.
I’ve even seen something like this on a certain evangelist’s website: post your prayer, and if two or more people like your post–and of course you have enough faith—then God will give you what you want. Sometimes you see people praying for a real need. They are praying for someone they love to be healed of cancer. Or they are praying to get a job and not become homeless. I also saw someone’s request for more faith.
But in the middle of these heart-wrenching needs that you want to pray for, there are other prayers. People saying that they no longer like their Porsche and they want something better. Or they want a house that has a few more bedrooms. Now I’m not saying that you can’t pray for more expensive things, but are these prayers selfish?
The problem with having this mentality toward prayer and God is, what happens when you don’t get what you want? Does it mean that you don’t have faith? Does is mean that God doesn’t love you? Treating prayer, a gift from God, in this way is dangerous. It can lead people away from God—unnecessarily—if it doesn’t appear that He is listening or responding to their requests.
Prayer shouldn’t be this complicated. We shouldn’t use it to try to convince God to grant us our every wish. It’s better to just pray, and trust God to answer how he will. The best example of this is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying before he gives his life for the sins of the world. And as he’s sweating blood from the pressure, he prays to his heavenly father to take this burden away. But, he concludes the prayer by saying, “yet not my will be done, but yours.” Jesus has complete confidence that whatever takes place will work out for the best.
As I said earlier, prayer is a gift. It’s a space where we can have a holy conversation with our loving God, who does care about our wants. But more than that, he cares about what we need. So the better approach is to use prayer as a way to give everything that is weighing on our hearts to God, and trust that He will respond in the way that is best for us.
This means that God might say no to your request to win the Powerball. Even if you promise to give more money to the church if you win.
If you pray, why do you do it? And what do you hope to get out of it?