Several months ago, a fellow blogger posed the above question to me in the comments of one of my posts.
I was very unsettled by such an inquiry. As if the hallmark of a child of God is perfect wish fulfillment from On High!
Now, how did I answer him? With the truth: God always answers my prayers.
But, looking back on the encounter, I wish I would have clarified my statement. God always answers my prayers, but you neglected to ask how I pray to Him.
I try to approach prayer as a way of life. It is my ongoing, unadulterated conversation with God about my thoughts, my fears, my dreams. As a disciple, I am called to follow. How can I follow if I am not tuned into His voice? And so my prayer takes on a life of its own– me speaking to God and me quietly giving God a chance to respond. I cannot say that my prayer changes my circumstances, but it certainly changes how I perceive them. In that way, my prayers are always answered.
I’ve been reading Selected Sermons of Schleiermacher. Friedrich Schleiermacher was a brilliant German theologian and philosopher living at the turn of the 19th century. In his sermon titled “THE POWER OF PRAYER IN RELATION TO OUTWARD CIRCUMSTANCES”, Schleiermacher has this to say:
“Do not attach any special value to occasional apparent answers that we may receive. There seldom elapses any considerable time in which our health, or our outward prosperity, or our relations with those who are dearest to us in the world, are not threatened by various dangers; and I hope there are few among us who do not make such things subjects of prayer. But whatever may be the issue of these critical circumstances, beware of asking in your prayers for the reason of them, or seeking to know how far God has been pleased or displeased. Besides that this is dishonouring God, as we have already seen, it utterly corrupts your judgment of your own and of other men’s merits, and teaches you to attach importance to things that have none whatever.
And yet on this judgment, if you are intelligent and consistent with yourself, depends your whole mode of life and action. And this holds good even as to the fulfilment of our purest and noblest wishes, that is, those which are concerned with the progress of good, whether in general or that in which we are instruments and fellow-labourers. Rejoice if your righteous undertakings are successful; rejoice if God makes use of you as direct instruments for the increase of good in the world; rejoice if at last you are specially successful in what has long been the chief object of your efforts, your anxieties and your prayers; but let not those things lead you to the proud belief that they are a distinctive sign of God’s satisfaction with your spiritual condition. Many a one with whom nothing succeeds, and whose work in the world seems to be in vain, not only purposes as honestly, but certainly does his duty as zealously and is as thoroughly devout as you. To measure human merit by such things is a dangerous imperfection of faith, and one of those for which very specially Christ became the Mediator between God and us. See how even He seemed to fail in everything, and yet how God made use of Him in the noblest way! How His request was not granted, and yet He was at that moment, as always, the Son in whom the Father was well pleased.”
I had to share this excerpt here, because it is so incredibly relevant to issues in Christian theology today. If Christ’s wishes expressed in prayer in Gethsemane can go ungranted by the Father, don’t take it personally when the same happens to you!
The rest of the sermon can be accessed here (for free!). It’s well worth your time!