“We do not know how to pray as we should.” (Rom. 8:26)
I know some things that my pet does not.
My dog thinks he wants to fight that pesky cat next door. With his barking and straining on the leash, Albie gives every indication that chasing that cat would be the high point of his day. It wouldn’t. It would be his greatest nightmare.
That little cat sits on the driveway, completely unmoving while my dog walks within 10 feet, barking and snarling and threatening. The cat hardly blinks an eye. Another day at the office. Another housedog who thinks he wants a piece of me but has no idea the trouble he’s asking for.
I know what a fierce cat can do to a sweet, little house-broken dog that has never been in a real fight in his life. I know his instincts tell him to chase the cat—that this is what he was put here on Earth for—but I know better.
I hold the leash and lead this lovely little canine on to other things, and as far away from that fierce little feline as he can get.
And just so does our Lord lead his children.
He knows better.
He knows better than we do.
“He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3).
When we pray, we say, “Not my will, but your will be done.” And we say, “Your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”
We want what we want, but more than anything—am I assuming too much here?—we want God’s will. He knows what’s best.
So, when we come to pray, we trust him to answer in the way of his choice, not ours.
If we cannot pray and leave the answering of that prayer to the Father, accepting whatever he chooses to send as his will in that situation—if we cannot receive that with thanksgiving and believe that he has indeed heard us, we will quit praying.
Some have quit praying.
If we cannot keep believing in God when he delays answering our prayers, we will quit praying. Many have quit.
If we cannot keep trusting when God disappoints us with the answers he sends, we will quit praying. And many have quit.
God knows what he is doing. God has his own plans. He wants our faith in him to be strong and steadfast, to endure the hard times and to be pure in the good times.
God is at work this very moment. He will do things in his own way, and he will take his own good time about it.
If we cannot pray, “Your will be done,” we will quit praying and go away disappointed. Many have gone away disappointed.
Do not be surprised if God’s answer to your prayers is not what you asked or wanted or expected. But what you said you wanted above all was his will to be done.
Sometimes, we live to see what the Lord had in mind.
Think of Joseph. Here is the skeletal outline …
- Genesis 37:24 – Joseph is thrown into the pit by his brothers.
- Genesis 37:28 – Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt.
- Genesis 39:20 – Joseph is betrayed by his master’s wife and abandoned by his master and thrown into prison.
- Genesis 41:1 – Joseph is still in prison two years later, betrayed by fellow prisoners who had promised to help him.
- Genesis 41:41 – Joseph is made ruler over the land of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.
God had been on the job all along, using these tragic circumstances to prepare his man for the pivotal assignment he had for him. Joseph trusted the Lord throughout all these ups and downs—mostly downs—and God exalted him.
At other times, we do not see the outcome of our faithfulness.
Think of Paul in prison in Rome. He has appeared before Caesar, on trial for his life, and is about to do so again. This time, he will not walk away. He says:
“At my first appearance, no one stood with me, but all men forsook me. Nevertheless, the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, that by me the preaching might be fully accomplished, that all the Gentiles might hear” (2 Tim. 4:16–17).
“God was on the job, right there with me,” Paul says. “So why didn’t the Lord bring him out with a mighty hand?” someone asks. Didn’t Paul have faith? Couldn’t he have rebuked the enemy and trusted that Christ was greater than the Devil? (This is how some of us reason with our poorly formed theology of prayer and faith.) But God was up to something, and Paul wanted to see what that was. The Lord wanted those pagan rulers to hear the message of Christ.
Caesar isn’t coming to our revival, Friend. So, the Lord needs someone to be arrested and put on trial and to appeal all the way to the top. Then, when old Nero calls the prisoner out and challenges him to “tell us what you’ve been preaching in the marketplace!” the Lord’s servant is ready.
That’s how the ruling class first heard the gospel.
What did the Father accomplish that day? What did Paul’s death purchase? Answer: God knows. Only time and eternity will reveal the answer to that.
If we cannot walk by faith and believe by faith—a redundancy, of course—we will stop praying.
Some have stopped praying.
“Men ought always to pray and not to stop” (Luke 18:1).
“We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).
Joe McKeever spent 42 years pastoring six Southern Baptist churches and has been writing and cartooning for religious publications for more than 40 years. This article was originally published on McKeever’s blog.