The puzzle of prayer – Hope 103.2

The puzzle of prayer

By David ReayThursday 14 Jul 2016LifeWords DevotionalsFaithReading Time: 0 minutes


Read Matthew 7:7-11

7 Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8 Everyone who asks will receive. Everyone who searches will find. And the door will be opened for everyone who knocks. 9 Would any of you give your hungry child a stone, if the child asked for some bread? 10 Would you give your child a snake if the child asked for a fish? 11 As bad as you are, you still know how to give good gifts to your children. But your heavenly Father is even more ready to give good things to people who ask. (CEV)

The Christian writer C. S. Lewis once wrote an article titled “Petitionary Prayer: the problem without an answer”. The issue he wrestled with was not so much that we don’t get what we ask for in prayer, but that the Bible seems to promise that we will indeed get just what we ask for. As that title indicates, there is no real answer to what this text and others suggest. But we can offer some perspectives.

One is that all our prayers are subject to God’s will, whether this is explicitly stated or not. Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane is an example: he didn’t get what he asked for because it was not God’s will that he be spared the cross.

Two, God’s nature is only to give good gifts to his children—our text spells that out. We are not always the best ones to decide what is and is not good. We acknowledge that he may have different ideas of what is best just as a loving parent may choose not to grant a child’s wishes out of love for that child and out of superior wisdom.

Three, we may well ask for good things and God may well want us to have them. But here we confront an uncomfortable reality: not even God gets his own way on earth. Babies die, the wicked prosper, the poor get exploited. God is not at all pleased but he allows it to happen, choosing rather to seek to work good out of it all. So it is sadly true that we won’t always get even the good things we ask for.

Still, texts such as this do seem to promise much more, which leaves us with a mystery. Speaking personally, I wrestle with the mystery but not for one moment does it ever stop me going on praying. I don’t have to make sense of the mechanics of prayer to actually pray. My Father hears me and loves me. That is enough.

David Reay