I don't know about you, but I love shopping online. After all, who doesn't?
It is so much fun to order something and then a few days later open up your mailbox to find a box addressed to you. Just me? Perhaps it has to do with my love for mail. But that is besides the point.
Regardless, there are some days I get frustrated with online shopping. I remember one time I needed a t-shirt by a certain date. I ordered my size online and when it arrived, I excitedly tore into the package. But the size was definitely not what I had ordered. Frustrated, I rushed to call the online store and get the size issue sorted out, but the correct size wouldn't come by the day I needed it.
Sometimes I think we treat prayer a little bit like this.
We pray for what we want, then when the answer to our prayer comes and it's not at all what we asked for, we become frustrated and wonder what the whole point of praying was.
When we treat prayer like this, we lose sight of what prayer really is.
I remember a time I prayed for something I really wanted. I prayed hard and consistently. And the answer God gave me was nothing at all what I had prayed for. In fact, it was the total opposite of what I prayed for. Why? It didn't make sense.
And this makes me ask myself: What is the purpose of prayer?
I think to answer this question we must first ask two follow-up questions.
Is it possible to change God's mind through prayer?
And if it isn't possible to change God's mind through prayer, what is the point in praying?
I think if we can answer these questions, we can get a better idea of the purpose of prayer and what it really is.
So first, can we change God's mind with our prayers?
The first Bible story that comes to my mind is found in Genesis 18:16-33. Because of the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah, God intended to destroy the city. Yet Abraham prayed to God and asked Him to spare the city if He could find fifty righteous living there.
Throughout the dialogue, Abraham keeps asking for the Lord to spare the city until he gets down to ten righteous people. God kept agreeing and finally agreed that if there were ten righteous in the city, He would not destroy it.
When you first look at this story, it looks like Abraham changed God's mind right? However, if you keep reading into chapter 19, we see two angels that the Lord sent to Sodom to seek out those righteous men. Because of the intense wickedness of the city, the angels told Lot that he was to flee with his family, because they had been sent to destroy the city.
Here's the truth that we often forget:
God is all-knowing, God is all-powerful, God's thoughts and ways are so much higher than our own. And God is God--we are not.
God already knew that He would need to destroy the city. Yet, He listened to Abraham's prayer and sought out the ten righteous, even though He already knew they were not there. Abraham didn't know that, but God did.
Sometimes we believe that we know what is best. We think that what we are praying for is the best option because it's what we so desperately want. But we don't see the whole picture. We don't see the ending. We're only seeing a small piece of the grand picture of life. But God? God sees it all.
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,' says the Lord." (Isaiah 55:8)
His thoughts and His knowledge is so much higher than ours. We could never understand it.
But this begs the next question: If God already knows what is going to happen and will accomplish His will no matter what, why pray to change things?
I may not be entirely qualified to answer these big questions, but I have walked this journey of when God says no, and He has taught me much along those deserts.
First, here are three things you should remember about prayer:
Prayer is a conversation with your Heavenly Father.
God is not a vending machine or online shopping retailer.
Prayer draws you closer to God and invests in your relationship with Him.
The best verse I can point you to is hidden in 1 John 5:14-15. "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions we have asked of Him."
Read it once more, because there's a very important part of this verse that we often miss.
"That if we ask anything according to His will..."
The prayer that will change your life is this: "Not my will, but Yours be done, Father."
Jesus Himself prayed this prayer in the Garden of Gathsemane. He asked that God would remove the suffering He was about to endure, but He ended with, "Not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39) Jesus even taught us to pray this way in Matthew 6:10.
Remember this: The will of God is good and perfect. Easy? Nope. I have cried much and wrestled with His will more times than I can count. Because I am merely human and I don't understand. But He does.
When it is hard to accept the will of God and when it is hard to accept that you prayed for something that wasn't His will, hold onto this: God loves you and God has a perfect plan that isn't easy but that will make more sense one day when you are standing in His presence.
What then is the purpose of prayer?
Texting is one way that I communicate with my friends. I ask questions, I share my own heart and struggles, and I listen. Prayer is how you and I communicate with God. We can share our struggles, our fears, and our hurt or anger. But we must also remember to listen and ask God what He would have for us, no matter how hard it is.
Prayer draws you closer to the One who already knows everything about you. Prayer allows you the opportunity to talk to the One who loved you so much He died for you. And although God already knows everything that is going to happen, He wants to use your prayers to fight spiritual battles. He wants to use you to intercede for family or friends on their behalf and call on Him to rescue. He wants to use your prayers and listen to your prayers, according to His will.
He may say no. Sometimes it may seem He is saying no a lot. But every good parent has to say no at times.
I can't tell you why God's will didn't include Him answering your prayer in the way you wanted. I can't tell you why God's will means your heart breaking.
But I can promise you this one thing with all of my heart: God loves you and He will never abandon you. Pray to Him when you don't understand.
He is the One who holds all the answers.
Thy will be done.