“Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?!” It’s a common question we tend to ask. The perplexity is … in my opinion … less about seeking an answer from God. It’s more about the answer from God that we get.
I love watching shows about courtrooms … whether something like Law and Order (any of the franchise), or movies like A Few Good Men, The Verdict, Twelve Angry Men, And Justice for All, and even My Cousin Vinny. There’s just something about them that intrigues me. Not that I’d ever want to be a lawyer (or a defendant for that matter), because Lord knows I argue plenty without being one (just ask Helen).
Over the course of watching all these, I sort of feel like I’ve developed a sense of how things work in the courtroom. Having been on a jury once, it’s pretty plain that there’s a difference between court on TV or on the big screen and real-life court. But there’s still a familiarity with certain terms used both in pretend court and real-life court. “I object, Your Honor … asked and answered,” is one such example. This comes at a time when a witness has been asked a question, and the inquiring attorney is dissatisfied with the answer and tries to pursue the line of questioning from a slightly different angle in order to try to get the witness to give a different answer. The opposing attorney is, in effect, saying, “You already got your answer. Accept it and move on.” (I try this at times with Helen … she’s the queen of questions … but not often because it gets me in trouble … LOL)
Reading from Luke 20 – 23 this week allowed me a glimpse into a situation where Jesus perused a similar line of questioning to His Father … albeit with a bit of a different result … and the lesson to us is vivid.
Luke 22:39 – 44 records one of the more powerful and poignant portraits of Jesus in His final hours.
Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives. There he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.” He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.
Back to my first point … it seems to me that the struggles we often have with our prayers to God aren’t so much in the sense that He doesn’t answer them. He does. The thing is, I think most of the time we struggle with getting answers that are discordant with what we were hoping the answer would be. That is, most of the time, when we pray we have our answer already in mind. Or at least, we have the answer we want Him to provide.
Why is it that we think that God is obligated to give us what we ask for when we pray? Let’s face it, when we ask Him for something and when we have a presumed the answer He should provide, we are not asking Him, we are telling Him. And when we do so, we are assuming that He bears an obligation to us. So, that’s the first issue.
But more to point, perhaps, when we ask God something in prayer without presumption, God has three ways generally He will answer … “Yes,” “No,” or “Not yet.” And He does answer. The question is, then, in our response to His answer.
We might pray for a friend to come back from a doctor appointment with a clean bill of health … and they don’t. We might pray for the Lord to provide a job we’ve been interviewing for … and we don’t get it. We might pray for the reconciliation of a broken relationship … and it doesn’t come. What then?
Jesus’s example on the Mount of Olives helps us know how to respond. Jesus is in terrible anguish, knowing what is about to occur. He knew He was going to sacrificially lay down His life, suffering unimaginably. In that agony, He asks our Father … is there any other way? Please, let Me not have to go through this. And it wasn’t as though this was a meager, halfhearted prayer. It was so severely and deeply felt that He literally sweat blood (this is actually a known medical condition under intense stress). Yet … and this is huge … His prayer didn’t end there. His prayer followed the model that He provided us Himself, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” And ultimately, His prayer resulted in basically a “no” answer. What did He do? Did He get frustrated and pitch a fit because our Father didn’t answer His prayer? No. Because He concluded by saying, “Father, don’t answer my way, answer your way.”
When we pray, we need to remember that we aren’t (and shouldn’t be) seeking God’s validation of OUR will, we’re seeking HIS will. There’s a vast difference, needless to say. But asking for His will to be done is only a small part of the lesson. Feeling and meaning it are crucial. Why? Because when we align ourselves to what He seeks for us, in accordance with HIS will, the will of the One who created us, and who (through Jesus’s death on the cross) purchased us, no matter the answer, we will accept it. More importantly, rather than anguishing from it, we will draw peace from it, knowing that more than anything, His answer always derives from His immeasurable love for us.
Jesus never had to confront the “asked and answered” objection. He didn’t ask again once He realized the answer from our Father. He realized the questions had been asked and answered. The moment He uttered “answer Your way” … out of His full-blown commitment rather than just His words … He committed to accepting and embracing God’s answer.
As for us … the question is will we rephrase the interrogatory and attempt to redirect the answer? Or, will we recognize that it’s useless to object because the question’s been “asked and answered?” The sooner we accept the answer and move on, the more satisfied we’ll be with the answer, knowing that the ultimate Judge has made His ruling, and it’s a ruling that is just, fair, loving, and abundantly in our eternal best interest.