Do you ever feel like you pick and choose your prayers depending on what you really want answered? Recently, I have caught myself doing this. I’ve been basing my prayers on those things I want the most. My mindset is that if I ask for too many things God will only answer some of them. Or, sometimes I will categorize prayers depending on importance or how big of a request it is. It’s as if I think there is a limit to what God can and will do. I know in my head that’s a ridiculous notion. However, the pattern of my prayer life reveals that I have a skewed view of God’s character and ability.
I was struck by my wrong thinking this past week as I was praying on my way to work. I suddenly realized what I was doing and the gravity of what it revealed about my understanding of God. I am a huge proponent of God’s powerful sovereignty and complete control over everything. Yet, here I am limiting his power by the way I am praying. And, I have a feeling I’m not the only one who has fallen into this trap.
Scripture is very clear on how we should pray and God’s power in answering those prayers. Philippians 4:6 states that we should not be anxious, but let all of our requests be known to God. Christ also tells us in Matthew 6:25-33 to not to be anxious for anything and to trust that he will provide all of our needs. Again, in John 15:7 and I John 5:14-15 we are assured that all of our requests are heard and answered. And Matthew 21:21 states that if we have faith and do not doubt we can ask anything and it will happen. The list goes on and on of accounts in God’s word that promise all of our prayers are heard and will be answered. There is no limit to what we can ask and what God can do.
Of course, we can also go too far the other way and view God as a genie granting our every wish. This is a just as wrong as limiting God’s power. While scripture is very clear on us asking anything in prayer, we also see that there is a requirement on our end. In John 15:7, Christ says, ‘If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.’ Also, Matthew 6:33 states, ‘But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.’ In both of these passages (and many others), there is a clear directive for us. We must abide in Christ and his word. We must seek the kingdom and righteousness.
I John 5:14 puts it another way: if we ask according to his will he hears us. A lot of times we see that as a catch. ‘Oh sure, God answers prayers, but only those that are in line with his will. So, I’m not really getting what I want.’ Actually, it’s both. When we seek Christ fully and chase after righteousness, we can be confident that our requests and desires line up with his will. Think about it. It’s extremely selfish and out of line for us to think God owes us anything when we are living outside of his will. ‘Yes, God, I know I’m not really living for you, but I still think you should give me (fill in the blank).’ That sounds absurd. In fact, even when we do seek Christ and surrender to his authority it’s absurd to think we are owed anything. It’s an absolutely gracious and overwhelming thought that he chooses to bless us and answer our requests at all. It have to remind myself of this everyday. Prayer is a privilege. Therefore, we must not be motivated to live for Christ simply so our prayers get answered. First and foremost, our focus in life (and prayer) should be to submit to the Son for the glory of the Father. If it’s anything else, we ought to repent and refocus. When we do completely surrender to Christ, we can be confident that our prayers are heard and will be answered according to his will.
There has been such a bold awakening in my understanding of God’s gracious character. My hope is that I will no longer limit him in my prayers. He is all powerful and completely sovereign. There is no request too big for him. There is no limit to what I can ask him. He has promised in his word that he hears all of them. May this overwhelming truth lead me to ‘pray without ceasing’ (I Thess. 5:17) in the confidence that every single word is acknowledged by the one who has the only power to answer.