We often want quick and myopic answers to our prayers. It’s in our nature. We cannot help being myopic – not knowing what we don’t know if perhaps the greatest of our weaknesses.
If God’s grace is boundless and it is his general will that we all prosper as our souls also prosper, does it mean that we only need to sit still and do nothing, and God will deliver a million dollars to us like a lottery ticket?
Or get lucky with a risky cryptocurrency we know almost nothing about?
Should we expect to go from an F to an A, without adequate study, by getting lucky in the examination?
Should we expect immediate healings from diseases?
Maybe. But it’s not the norm. However, there are nuances to this that will be of great encouragement that I must unpack.
Indeed God promises to provide even what the world hungers after.
“ … the Gentiles strive after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. “ (Matthew 6:32-33)
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:9)
In Christ is the fullness of God’s grace and glory. The Bible says this is the Truth, for Christ is grace AND truth tied together (John 1:17). In Christ, we have a firm foundation to experience the bountiful grace, the unmerited favor in Christ.
It is this grace that turned Joseph from a slave and criminal to the prime minister of Egypt.
It is this grace that turned Abram into Abraham, the father of a great nation with a legacy of wealth and blessing to his children.
In the New Testament, the Macedonian church connected to this promise given of Abraham, and while experiencing “poverty,” their businesses prospered “even beyond their ability” (2 Cor 8:3) so much so that they could send financial help to churches in cities of even greater social economic status.
In each case, God supernaturally blessed them with worldly blessing. However, the worldly blessing was only a small component of what God wanted to do with them. They were blessed to be a blessing. They were also blessed while they journeyed through tough times, and not in avoidance of those tough times.
So, can we believe in Grace and believe God will move money our way, like a lottery ticket, or a lucky “investment”?
Most cases, God doesn’t answer the prayer of your mind because He knows how limited your mind is. Instead, God hears what you say, but answers the prayer in your heart that you cannot articulate. We say, “God give me that guy as my husband!” because we cannot let him go even after seeing red flags. What God knows you are praying is, “God give me a husband that will give me deep satisfaction and help me live a life that is purpose-driven.”
So God ignores the prayer that comes from your mind, and directly answers the prayer in your heart because that is where the Holy Spirit is residing and is interceding for you because you do not know what the right words to say are and your eyes cannot see as far.
God might cause more heartbreak as you lose the “love of your life”, because He knows he isn’t the best for you, or that YOU aren’t ready for the next step. Giving you what you want in your flesh now is like giving your child all the candy he wants. The child cannot see how he destroys his future by mortgaging his present on temporary exhilaration.
For those who are cherished children of God, it’s unlikely. God’s blessing never really manifested in those easy-to-understand ways when we consider the grace journeys of God’s champions in the Bible.
What is more likely to happen, is instead of immediate riches, God might give you a great business plan and then set you on a journey of discovery to unpack it. You may have to meet people and go to places out of your comfort zone. You might discover allies you never knew existed. You might have to fail in your business once or twice. In the end, you will likely make even more than a million. In the chaos and unlikely victories in trying times, that’s when you will discover what lies deep in your own soul, be faced to face with the ugliness of the world and see God’s redemptive hand in ways impossible if you stayed bubbled in your comfort zone.
Why does God do it this way? Because God is ultimately more concerned with the state of your soul, the actualization of your heavenly identity, and the fruition of the gifts of what the Spirit seeded in you in Christ.
God doesn’t want to see us rich in worldly possessions, God wants to see us mature into children of God. Because God knows that the latter is what brings the deepest satisfaction. God knows us much better than we could ever know ourselves.
However, in order to bring us peace that “surpasses understanding,” in order to even set us up to appreciate the tip of his “mysterious boundless grace” that requires “supernatural power” to even grasp, we will have to go into situations that we cannot understand.
Think of the Israelites that God promised to deliver from their slavery in Egypt after hearing their cry. What do you think they were expecting to happen after? Most anyone would expect to go from their slavery and bondage straight into the Promised Land. Yet, they went into a place that was arguably worse, or at least they thought it was worse.
From slavery in Egypt, they ended up lost in the desert for years.
At least in Egypt, the Israelites had anchored themselves to some predictability despite their hardships. Now they were lost in the wilderness that was arguably harsher and more unpredictable. Their predicament didn’t make sense to them, so much so that they believed they were better off in slavery, even accusing God of leading them out of the desert to KILL THEM.
Have you gone through such darkness that is so unfair or so meaninglessly long that we cannot help but doubt the redemptive nature of God?
It happens to even the best of God’s favoured sons.
The prophet Jeremiah cried “cursed be the day I was born” (Jer 20:14)
David cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.” (Psalm 22: 1-2)
“Forsaken?” “Far from saving?” These are strong words.
Who was King David? This wasn’t a scrub. This is the man that beat the giant Goliath when no one else dared to try, and God himself called “a man after my own heart.”
Job eventually blamed God for his unjust sufferings, “… then know that God has wronged me… He has stripped me of my honor and removed the crown from my head… He tears me down on every side till I am gone.” (Job 19:7,9-10)
The calamities that hit Job in quick succession, the sores on his flesh, the loss of his entire family and business, would make anyone think that God was punishing Job for being unworthy or for having secret sins, or was living through the consequence of bad decisions somehow. Job’s friends blamed Job for his downfall. Job could not understand what he did to deserve those curses and could only blame God. Job’s friends despised Job even more for blaming God, unwilling to accept that God is capable of being unfair. A vicious cycle reinforced by the “winners”- those who were not experiencing Job’s Abyss.
The reality is the opposite. Job is the real winner although the world and even Job himself could not see.
Before the calamities, God singled Job out as a candidate to be tested by the devil. God calls Job “the greatest man in the East” and says there was “no one like him.” After the calamities, God bizarrely reproaches all of Job’s friends and vindicates Job, saying “… you have not spoken truth about me, as my servant Job has.”
God says that Job has spoken truth about God despite being forced to blame God for his downfall.
So God was not punishing Job by allowing Job to be lost in his “own desert.”
In fact, for both David and Job, going through those “desert” periods, their “Abyss” periods, were part of their journey into being used by God in a more significant measure. David would mature into his role as a king. Job was promoted to a new office, and from just a wealthy servant of God, Job became a kind of king and priest, a shadow of Christ to come. Not only did the wealthiest man in the East get restored double what he lost, including a new family that God would ascribe a new blessing and identity*, now, but God would also have Job’s friends having to go through Job in order to atone to God. Job became a peacemaker between man and God.
In both David and Job’s case, their promised land came, and it was “exceeding abundantly above all that [they could] ask or think.” (Eph 3:20)
Both saw God’s glory “in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:3), were promoted into a new office for service for God, and were blessed with the things the world hungered over and even more.
Both David and Job were prime examples of the redemptive process promised to us today.
Romans 5 tells us the guarantee that when we move in Christ, than any suffering will automatically lead to perseverance, which leads to character, which strangely leads to hope, and that this hope that the world could never understand will not disappoint.
I don’t take words likely. A promise not to disappoint is audaciously bold for it sets the bar for the rewards of our journey based on our subjective expectations. Whatever level we think would give us satisfaction, God promises to exceed it. However, don’t be surprised if by the time we finish the journey, what we find important in life will likely change as well. When I was 12 years old, I valued and idolized many things my 30-year-old self would frown upon. Why should the future be different?
Just like the Israelites, it is because God loves us that He doesn’t send us directly from slavery to the promised land, but allows the uncertain desert period, perhaps even an Abyss in between.
Why? Because it is the journey that is key, not just the outcome. It is the journey that transforms us, that reveals to us unsearchable things we cannot know if we never went on such a journey.
We already see even people in the world experience such things. Ask any entrepreneur that became a millionaire what they appreciated most, the million dollars they finally made at the end, or the journey to get there. I can guarantee from personal experience that it is a journey to get there.
What is true in the natural is also true in the spiritual.
For the Christian that is on the journey to discover God and who happens to go through even unimaginable difficulties, know that unimaginable difficulty is needed in order to reveal the unimaginable grace of God. How could we genuinely see the glorious brilliance of stars unless revealed by the contrast of the darkest night? When the day is bright, we cannot see the stars. Yet, know that the stars never needed or wanted the darkness, for they were shining bright no matter what.
1 There is a mine for silver
and a place where gold is refined.
2 Iron is taken from the earth,
and copper is smelted from ore.
3 Mortals put an end to the darkness;
they search out the farthest recesses
for ore in the blackest darkness.
4 Far from human dwellings they cut a shaft,
in places untouched by human feet;
far from other people they dangle and sway.
Job realizes that great treasures can be found in places men are too afraid to explore. Precious metals are also refined in the unpleasant fire. Finding these hidden treasures is part of our journey to mature into our kingly identities as God’s children. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to search it out,” King Solomon, the wisest king in the Bible, tells us. (Proverbs 25:2)
Do you become a king because you sought out the unsearchable? Or did God already put you on the path of kings, so seeking out the unsearchable is inevitable? I think it is more the latter. Because you are a child of God and God wants to mature you, He will push you to leave your comfort zone. You can see where the world ends, and God begins by stretching and challenging your limits and boundaries. Only when challenging the limits of our understanding of the world, can we have hope to appreciate truths that transcends it.
22 Where then does wisdom come from?
Where does understanding dwell?
21 It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,
concealed even from the birds in the sky.
22 Destruction and Death say,
“Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.”
23 God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells…
27 … then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
Job 28:20-23, 27
Job talks about the metaphysical biblical wisdom (chokmah) and understanding (binah) as the great treasure. This understanding is far above the knowledge under creation, leading to blessings far above what the world hungers after.
Christ Jesus is the prophetic person called Wisdom (Proverbs 8) and in Him is divine discernment and understanding that leads to righteousness and grace for us today. God mentions destruction and death as passers-by in our journey to discover and even walk with such wisdom, for in the shadow of potential destruction is what “tested it.”
In order words, only in the darkness can we see sides of Christ that cannot be seen in the light. Only in hardship can we see the help of God clearly. Only in lack can we see the resources from God better. When things are going normal, human nature will always try to find worldly rational reasons to attribute to explain our progress.
The harder and more unfair our situation, the more we see God’s grace in action.
The more we lose, the more we see the extent of God’s restoration when it comes.
“Where sin abounded, grace did more abound,” the Apostle Paul writes about the boundless, mysterious grace that we have through Christ.
This grace is more than just a conscience that can rest knowing we are forgiven or a ticket to a place called heaven when we finally depart.
This is the same grace that King David identified that was going to help him in his earthly struggle and victories. “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living… Be strong and let your heart take courage…” (Psalm 27:13)
Because God was going to provide much more than necessary such that we can fulfill every good work God intends us to do. God doesn’t tell you how or how much He will empower you or bless you but He promises that it will feel abundant, it will feel like you are abounding. Your cup will overflow.
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Cor 9:8)
So instead of boxing God and your own future by our limited vision, we should embark on a journey of discovery and transformation with Christ, being willing to go out of our comfort zones, be willing to walk in wisdom with new ideas that are not intuitive to the wisdoms of the world and detach our expectations of God from the limitations of past experiences.
For we have a God that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think, according to the power that works in us. (Eph 3:20)
Going to all the way back to our original question- if God is full of grace and desires us to prosper even as our soul prospers, does it mean that he could “award” a million dollars without effort or immediate healing of disease on the first prayer?
God could. But I suspect that because God wants so much more for you that He would rather you go on a journey with Him instead. He wants to see you exercise your wisdom and faith, as you make inroads in this world. He wants you to risk failure and embarrassment. He wants you to journey out of your comfort zones. God doesn’t just want to indulge you with luxury, He wants you to experience the abundance that can only come through walking through failures and victories with Him.
I suspect that God may not bless you the exact way you expected. How could He when His blessings are more than we can imagine?
I suspect that things might get worse before it gets better.
However, this doesn’t mean something is wrong with you if life seems harder than before.
It means God knows you better than you know yourself. God knows the ultimate blessing is knowing Him and uses the journey of self-discovery, the journey to victory, to reveal Himself. That is the biggest blessing that transforms us.
However, when it is all said and done, the Bible assures us that “it will not disappoint.”
And I won’t be surprised if you got even more than you initially asked for, in quality, quantity, or purposeful meaning.
So be of courage when you approach your Abyss, your season of being lost in the desert. Very often God doesn’t bring us from the season of bondage straight to the Promised Land, but the period of feeling lost in between. That Abyss, the desert period might seem even more unpleasant that where you thought you were initially. However, it is in these places that few want to go, and few can empathize with that you find hidden treasures and where you will be refined like precious metals.
The journey is the reward, not just the ending.
Don’t fear the fire when you have a master craftsman, God, that already has a plan for you and the ultimate safety net in Christ to ensure you will have all that you need to come out in victory.
You will go in immature but come out more of a king.
The spoils at the end would mean nothing if you didn’t become a king at the end of it.
So don’t expect God to give you a lottery ticket. God knows that only indulging our personal wants at all costs leads to misery.
Instead, expect good things from God that you don’t know about, expect God to have a plan for you that is good, expect Christ to empower you to do all good work, expect to know God better, expect to abound in all things and expect all your needs to be over-supplied.
Finally, expect to be “more than a conquerer” so take courage, use the wisdom and unmerited favor you have in Christ to progress in life and you might end up with much more than you thought, even after you might have given up your own personal wants.
One thought on “Why God doesn’t always answer prayers the way we want”
Thanks Kenneth. Prayers for you and Su always.Your article is deep and searching. Each of us will go through times of testings and even losses in our lives. One passage from Philippians 2:5-13 from the Apostle Paul speaks to the heart of our journeys in Christian discipleship. Theologians call this the “kenosis” principle. The emptying of ourselves, and God used Christ to illustrate the process. Verse 8 is the one that captures the trend of your article succinctly. God is humbling us and through that process, we learn obedience. Christ ‘s obedience and the suffering He went through, especially the cruelty of the crucifixion is beyond compare. Verse 9 reminds us that God who highly exalted Christ will one day exalt us, perhaps not to the same level as Christ Who Alone is God in parity with His Heavenly Father, but nevertheless He will bring us into His Glorious Presence.
The other day I was sorting out my personal effect, and came across your farewell tribute to your mom Amy. Your dad had sent me a copy after the passing of your mom, and I had kept it. Reading it again, I am touched by the depths of your love for your mom. I am sure she knows your heart and love. Your mom is a special and Godly woman. Even when she was fighting the cancer, she always radiate God’s Presence in her life. She reminds me so much of my Gracie who has gone home to The Lord since May 8 2004 exactly on Mother’s day.
Through suffering and losses of those dear to us, we learn in retrospect how God is preparing us.
“It is God Who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect”. Psalm 18:32-33 Love and prayers always, uncle john