In today's Gospel reading (Mark 11.12-26), Jesus teaches us to pray with a believing heart:
Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, everything you pray and ask for — believe that you have received it and it will be yours.
Mark 11.22-24, CSB
These are hard words. Many of us have earnestly prayed for things that did not happen as we asked. Many have pleaded with God, fully believing, only to have our prayers go seemingly unanswered.
Did we not truly believe enough? Did we not have enough faith? These are the questions posed by the Pentecostal-Charismatic.
Is God not listening to me, as he promised? Is God not able to act, as he said? Is God a figment of my imagination? These are the objections raised by the skeptic.
Both of these sorts of doubts are wrong.
In his little book of essays and speeches, God In the Dock, C.S. Lewis tackles the subject of unanswered prayer. He describes our universe as one God has created with two means by which to accomplish things: work and prayer. Through work, he says, we can essentially guarantee the outcome of small events. But through prayer, God has not chosen to respond like the genie I mentioned last week but has given himself discretion as to whether or not he will answer our prayers. "Had He not done so," Lewis writes, "prayer would be an activity too dangerous for man" for we would inevitably bring about our own downfall.
Prayers are not always--in the crude, factual sense of the word--'granted.' This is not because prayer is a weaker kind of causality [or power], but because it is a stronger kind. When it 'works' at all it works unlimited by space and time. That is why God has retained a discretionary power of granting or refusing it; except on the condition that prayer would destroy us. It is not unreasonable for a headmaster to say, 'Such and such things you may do according to the fixed rules of this school. But such and such other things are too dangerous to be left to general rules. If you want to do them you much come and make a request and talk over the whole matter with me in my study. And then--we'll see.
C.S. Lewis, God In The Dock (1970)
His perspective, as usual, is right on. Some prayers God chooses not to answer or answers in a different way than we asked--not because he is incapable but because our prayers (if we truly understood all the consequences and ramifications) would result in disaster. Like any loving parent who limits their child's activities and gifts or like a wise chemistry teacher who limits in-class experiments...God limits the prayers he answers and the ways in which he answers them. Not because he does NOT love us, but precisely because he cares about us so incredibly much.
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