If I said, “it’s very rare that God actually answers your prayers”, that would be controversial.
The Word of Faith or Charismatic types would clutch their pearls. Others who cannot reconcile their personal lack of breakthroughs and the existence of too many evils in the world but have a cursory understanding of the Bible would deem that statement reasonable.
But if I were to take a deep Biblical look I would have to rephrase that statement. I would say:
It’s very rare that God actually answers your prayers… exactly the way you wanted. In fact, He always over-answers your prayers.
Why doesn’t He answer my prayers exactly how my mind wanted? The reason is simple.
It’s because as humans we always have a tendency to think ourselves smart, but we are really dumb… relatively.
More exactly, I meant we are relatively dumb depending on what you are comparing with.
Just follow me here.
Compared to your 5-year-old self, you are a genius. Compared to an entity that has existed an infinity before you, you are as dumb as rocks. Trust me, this is a very good thing because that entity loves you with an everlasting love.
Have you ever thought back to when you were 5-years-old? I would think back to when I was 5 and realized that I said some pretty stupid things and thought some pretty stupid thoughts.
“So Ken, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Dad would ask.
“A cashier. Cause that’s where the money’s at!” I replied. So sure of myself and yet so mistaken.
Now at 40, every time I’m tempted to think I’m smart now, I realize I can’t even answer simple age old questions. What’s the cure for the common cold? How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Or how about my favorite – What do women want?
If you can’t figure that out, they’re not going to be happy. If they aren’t happy, you aren’t going to be happy either.
You’re laughing nervously because you know its true. The girl next to you is silent because she felt you didn’t figure it out yesterday.
Remember that time you’re discussing where to eat, she says “up to you”, you say “you sure?” … 3 times. She goes, “ok”. And when you finally get there, she’s disappointed. Or, how about this one? What sort of engagement ring do you like?
“Anything you choose, babe.”
“Really? You’ll leave it up to me?”
“Yes, I’ll like it because it comes from you.”
Then you get something that is meaningful. It’s not too small or too big. You got something that contrasts perfectly with her skin tone and size of her hand. You even got an uncommon gem that’s off white.
When a few months later … babe, all my friends have giant sparkling rings … I’m so envious. It makes everyone feel that their husbands love them so much. I also want.
So even at 40, I still don’t completely know the answer to that question, but, I’m an engineer. So, when we cannot derive exact solutions, we build workable models that approximate the solution so we can get things done. I think I have an attitude that if you follow, you’ll have a higher chance she will be happy. Want to hear it?
I know what girls want. Just assume they want Ev. Er. Y. TH. ING.
And, after you give them everything, give them 10% more than that and you’ll have a 90% chance they’ll be happy … for this week.
Next week, what they might want changes and falls outside of this week’s “everything” 😀
Why are women’s minds so clean? Because they keep changing it so often.
Just kidding, women are awesome. I married Miss Right. I just didn’t know her first name was Always.
Ok, I got to keep it fair.
Prior to a brain transplant operation, the doctor was explaining how much getting a new brain would cost. A man’s brain $500,000, a female brain $200,000. Why? Because the men’s brain is hardly used.
The point is if we can’t even solve this age-old problem, how smart can we really say we are about knowing ourselves let alone the world we live in?
And, I know that when I am 80, I’ll be looking back when I was 40 and realize just how shallow my understanding was about everything.
Try to quantify that big jump in understanding between an 80-year-old, a 40-year-old and a 5-year-old. The difference is vast, it’s a ginormous difference.
If a few decades of experience equates to vast differences to our wisdom, how much more God who has existed to infinity before you were even born. So much wiser is God that God’s “off day” is miles better than our best day.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. 1 Cor 1:25
The Extent of God’s omnipotence and timelessness
What’s more, we humans can only be in one place at one time. God is above time and space. He can be in multiple places at once and be in the past, present, and future at the same time. How much more data has He observed?
Yes, He is in the present and future at the same time.
In the book of Joshua, the 5 Amorite Kings were attacking the Gibeonites that were Joshua’s allies. Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army to defend them.
The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you.” (Joshua 10:8)
God speaks to Joshua as One who had already done the action and is speaking from the future.
Also see how God calls Gideon a man of valour when he was at present a coward.
“… and the messenger of Jehovah appeareth unto him, and saith unto him, ‘Jehovah is with thee, O mighty one of valour.'” (Judges 6:12, YLT)
Definition of Valour: (noun) great courage in the face of danger, especially in battle.
Soon after the Angel of the Lord calls Gideon greatly courageous, the Bible records Gideon doing what asked him to do… in a cowardly manner.
That same night the Lord said to him, “ … Tear down your father’s altar to Baal … Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God …” So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime. (Judges 6:25-27)
It would be much later that Gideon would emerge as someone you would say had courage. So God spoke to Gideon as he was in the future and not as he was now. This is why the more you touch God, through Jesus, the more you touch your destiny. He has already worked with you in the future and wants to let you know that.
For future thought, would you do things differently if you knew that God sees you differently from how you saw yourself? If you knew He speaks to you today knowing what He has already done for you in the future?
This was one big principle that kept me pressing on when everything, and I mean everything, gave me no evidence that my life on earth would ever see good days. On some days, where hope was dead, God gave me a brief glimpse into the future and then that peace that surpasses all understanding came for that brief moment. It was not an emotional moment, it was based on a real vision of a future that didn’t look like today.
See also Gen 15:18, 17:4, Gen 23:11, 2 Kings 5:6, Jg 8:19, Deut 31:18. (See Footnote 1)
Scripture reveals that God lives outside the bounds of time as we know it (Isaiah 57:15). We read that our awesome destiny was planned “before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2) and “before the creation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20, NIV).
So, if the 80-year-old you thought the 5-year-old you was really silly and ignorant, how much more an eternal God outside of time and space?
God bypasses our head and directly answers the prayer of our heart.
So when God hears your prayer of what you think is good for you or is best for you, I imagine if I were Him, I’d say to Himself, “this guy is really dumb, that girl He is asking for is going to cause Him much trouble in the future. That prestigious job as a doctor will actually limit how great he could be if did that.” He knows that we have no idea of what is truly best for us, so He does us a favor by bypassing our head and directly answers the prayer of our heart.
First, He hears all the prayers of His saints in Christ. His ear is always open for you.
1 Peter 3:12 – “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.”
1 John 5:14-15 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”
Second, God already knows what is in your deepest thoughts, and what you are going to say before you say it.
O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You understand my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down; You are aware of all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, O LORD. (Psalm 139:1-4)
Third, regardless of how we feel, the truth is: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”(Romans 8:26). Isn’t that amazing? He cares for you so much that even if you don’t know what to say, or when you’re too sad or upset to explain exactly how you’re feeling, the Holy Spirit intercedes on your behalf with things that you couldn’t express even if you tried.
So God hardly ever answers your prayers exactly the way you want it. Because we rarely know what is best for us. But the Holy Spirit does, and is interceding for us the right way even when our words are not. If you are under the covenant of grace, you have Jesus in your heart, and the Holy Spirit always lifts Jesus up, and so your heart is also lifted up the more your heart and Jesus’ heart are one.
The Bible says God always OVER-ANSWERS those prayers.
But let me tell you something biblical.
In the covenant of Grace, God will over-answer your prayer. He will do so because Jesus was an overpayment for your sin and went above and beyond satisfying God’s justice. Because Jesus paid that price for us and not of our own works, God is holy to bless us within His perfect plan for or else God the Father has to answer to the Son. This is why Scripture is filled with over and above language when describing what Grace does to you.
You have peace that surpasses all understanding. (Phil 4:7)
You can do everything through Christ. (Phil 4:13)
God can do exceedingly and abundantly more we can ask or think. (Eph 3:20)
We are more than conquerors in Christ. (Rom 8:37).
He anoints our head with oil and our cup overflows. (Ps 23:5)
Goodness and love will hunt you down (Ps 23:6)
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)
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. (2 Cor 9:10)
Even Paul says that the net result of all that abundant supply causes him to produce even better works than the people who thought following the Law alone would mistakenly appease God. (The Law was always meant to point people to Jesus. So now that Jesus is here, following the Law is obsolete. See Romans 4.)
But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Cor 15:10)
So if you are a child of God, trusting in the finished works of Jesus, and is allowing grace to transform your life, I cannot know exactly how God is going to answer your prayer. However, I know the manner in which He will do so. He will over answer your prayer, and it will be better than you expected, it will be for your good and it will accomplish His purpose for you and for the world around you and from it, you will have something even more precious, a real insight into the heart of God.
Sounds too good to be true. I can hear some objectors already. Especially those who are going through the hardships of life and who weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Don’t worry, I’ve been objecting for years. My body has been broken, my heart anguished and my mind tormented for years… until the time shown God to be faithful, and until I studied the Word intently and unto Jesus. Just hang on with me for a while longer.
Any sort of prosperity or favor with men is good. But it’s nothing compared with knowing God’s heart. If the prosperity or events does not do that, it’s empty. In the course of answering the hidden prayers of our hearts, revealing His heart is the biggest blessing. God knows that the pinnacle of human experience is revealing His heart to us, any health, wealth or restorative actions are a distant second. Paul eludes to it when he greatly wishes the Ephesus Church “may have power … to comprehend the length and width and health and depth of His love, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:18-19). The unbendable demanding Law was to point us to Jesus for us to have mercy (the punishment you deserve you don’t get), but included in Jesus is also Grace (the goodness you don’t deserve you get) and it is this “goodness of God that causes repentance” (Romans 2:4).
Repentance (Greek: metanoia): it literally means a change of mind. It is much deeper than a change in behavior which can be forced or can be originated with a lower state of motivation. We risk sacrificial behavior not because we will be punished if we don’t – this is the Old Covenant of Law or a form of low-level BK Skinner behaviorism which can never last long, but because God will and is giving us what the world cannot give, hence we can give even if we risk loss. We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19), the Bible says. We serve because Jesus first serves us (John 13:1-7). Low-level forgiveness says that you must forgive to release yourself from the hold of the other. It’s centered around yourself… it’s your own effort, and it’s to make yourself feel better. Biblical forgiveness forged in Jesus’ grace says we can forgive because no matter what the perpetrator has stolen or has broken your heart, God can restore and repair that heart. The focus is no longer on you, but on your journey with God.
The pinnacle of human experience is the fullness of God. God doesn’t just want you to be rich, healthy or have social status, He wants you to be FULL. He wants to use the discombobulations of trials, challenges, pains, failures, successes, prosperity, over and above redemptions and divine provisions called together into alignment by the prayer of the Holy Spirit from your heart to show you new dimensions of God’s heart that mere words on a page cannot possibly. You might have know God is love in your head, but truly knowing it in your heart requires a real experience.
For those who are under Grace in the Bible, God over-answers the prayer of a man’s heart. God always answers it in a way to teach you another dimension of God’s heart. If God answered in accordance to what our physical brains could fathom, we wouldn’t have learned anything new about God.
God can over answer your prayers in two basic ways. By quantity, which is the easiest to recognize, but has the lowest gain. Or by quality, which is usually the hardest to recognize because it usually takes time, and a method you wouldn’t expect. But, both of these blessings are a signpost to point you to the biggest blessing, a deep knowledge of His heart.
ONE: He overdoes it in the most obvious way (by quantity)
You ask God for help in finances, and your business blows up more than you expected. You ask God for help in your studies, and your grades improve much more than expected. You ask for relationships to be repaired, and all of a sudden, the other party asks for forgiveness.
This is the most obvious one and is frequently used as faith-building stories.
These are the more immediately comforting, more intuitive, and more palatable stories. God usually answers our prayers this way when we are infants-in-Christ because we need “spiritual milk” and according to Hebrews 5, “cannot distinguish good from evil.” So, God must make the “good” things He does very obvious so that even the most immature can recognize it.
When I was 17, I gave life to Christ. I gave up my prior ambitions and wanted to do well in school so that I could be a missionary doctor. My dad was a big businessman and my elder brother wanted to have the same success as my dad. But for me, I totally gave up that ambition. However, in Singapore at the time, being a doctor was the most prestigious thing old school Singaporeans believed we should do. In order to qualify to interview to go into medical school in Singapore, you need to get straight As and have the top 1% of grades. The problem is that I was averaging Cs and Ds, even 2 months before my actual Cambridge Advanced Level exam, which is the exam that would qualify you into university. No one believed I could do well enough to get to medical school… not my teachers, not even my best friend at the time.
I applied Bible promises as I started to discover them.
The Bible said “I could do anything through Christ that strengthens me” (Phil 4:13), and “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we already possess what we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14). The Bible told me to do everything unto Christ, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col 3″23).
I wanted God’s will in my life and I didn’t want to study to get As, I wanted to do it for God and I wanted what God wanted for me. So every morning, prior to the exam, I gave the first half an hour in devotion to God as I hit the textbooks that seemed impossible to crack. I would meditate on those promises as I prepared for the exam.
To keep the story short, in amazing fashion, even after not knowing the syllabus of the exam, I managed to get straight As for my Cambridge Advanced Level exam. It was so stunning that my best friend got angry with me when I told her my results. She was angry because she told I was lying and wasting her time by not telling her the actual results. When she finally saw my result slip, I asked her why she couldn’t believe it earlier. She said, “because you gave no indication in the last 2 years you were capable of it.”
in this case, I gave my life to God and asked for help in my studies, and I got “abundantly more that I could ask or think” (Eph 3:20). Furthermore, the reactions of my friends around me made me realize how God’s people felt in the Bible.
“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are” (1 Cor 1:26-28)
I felt as though Paul was talking directly to me. I was actually living out the grace economy in the Bible.
So I asked for God’s help and gave God my life. And, instead of going from Ds to Bs, I was in the top 1% of all students in Singapore.
As a young Christian, my faith in God and the Bible was cemented. I took the Bible even more seriously and would read even more of it.
These are the stories we all wish we had. Pastors like Joel Osteen do a great job focusing on such types of stories.
But what about those who prayed to God, followed Him and ended up in the rut instead?
What about those who prayed for healing of a major illness but it’s not coming? What about those who prayed for wealth and it did come? What about those who prayed for the perfect wife, and the best candidate went for someone else?
I hear you. I was that guy who needed all three for decades.
Some people are Cessationalists. They believe God doesn’t do miracles anymore. That’s not Biblical. There are no direct Bible verses that says God stopped. But I understand why it’s so easy to adopt such a position. The world is filled with disappointments and evil, it’s a convenient way to reconcile the existence of evil and personal disappointment with an all loving, powerful and knowing God.
I am going to say something very hard to accept to those who are either suffering unjustly, or who are self-righteous. Beware that we don’t our experience in this realm dictate your theology. Do not try to conform God’s word to fit your reality, but to place your present reality under God’s promises and see it change.
What the Bible says is that:
“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (2 Cor 1:20)
All the promises listed above we all qualify for because of Jesus and not of our own works, and this is of great comfort, because if we were measured by our own works, we would always be fearful that we don’t qualify.
TWO: He overdoes it by teaching you the deeper things of God in a longer story arc. (by quality of experience)
Those who exist on the level where they live comfortably lives never develop a depth of personal transformation or a deep understanding of God’s heart for the world.
When God doesn’t answer your prayer immediately in the way you wanted it could mean that:
A) We are spiritual infants and cannot discern what is really good for us and what is really bad for us. (Hew 5:14)
We live in a world today that tells you good is bad and bad is good. Furthermore, even what looks good on paper might not be good for you.
A girl was dating a charismatic youth pastor. She convinced herself that God wanted this to happen. The Holy Spirit was telling her to wait, but her emotions were too strong. Since she was the envy of her Christian friends, how bad can this be? Interestingly, there were some wise peers that felt something was amiss and asked her to wait. She did feel something was a little off with him. But she pridefully thought that she knew better and continued. Over time, the pastor went out of control, was addicted to porn and prostitutes and soon got booted out the church. The relationship ended with much shame and pain.
And, because she lost a couple years being entwined with him, how many chances to be with really great guys did she miss? How many trust issues and emotional scars will carry over into the next relationship?
In hindsight, she never felt God explicitly give her a great sense of peace over this. Her hormones won over the prompting of the Spirit in her heart.
Sometimes what looks like success is actually a failure.
Engineers Marc Chavannes and Al Fielding created bubble wrap in 1960 in an attempt to create a trendy new textured wallpaper. This was a total failure, as was a later attempt to market it as housing insulation. When the wrap was eventually used by IBM to package a newly launched computer during transport, it suddenly became an overnight success. Today, few people even realize that bubble wrap began as an abject failure.
Sometimes failure is necessary for future success.
If God closes the door on something “so obviously good”, it could mean that God knows more than you, after all, as I established earlier that compared to God, we are as dumb as rocks. However, I have also learned that if you keep pressing and pressing on God, we will eventually stop warning you and give in to your insatiable desire because He respects your free will. So always be humble to seek wise counsel and go with the peace in your heart.
B) We cannot see the end from the beginning. God knows that His BIG plans for you may require much short term, medium-term or even long term pain – even if that pain makes no sense to you or the people around you. He is over-answering your prayers to give you something worth more than what you asked for.
Remember how God used my “foolishness” to shame the “wise”? I went from the lowest tier in my school at 13 to the highest 1% in the world after I gave God my life and thought He wanted me to be a missionary doctor if not, then a pastor of a church.
In hindsight, I believe God over-answered me this way because I was a spiritual infant and so I needed each obvious lesson to establish my faith foundations.
The straight As made me believe God really wanted me to be a doctor. Why else would He miraculously give me 4As? If I wanted to be an engineer (which was my second choice), I only needed 3Bs.
A doctor is supposed to be a respected profession, it was supposed to be a profession that earned much money and it was to cure diseases.
BUT, soon after I got the opposite of what I thought God was preparing me for.
I got an incurable disease that stripped around my career and I became forgotten by society instead.
HOW CAN THIS BE GOD? HOW CAN THIS BE OF ANY GOOD? HOW CAN I LEAD ANY SORT OF LIFE or EVEN SERVE SOCIETY? I thought.
As I will mention later, even when my lips didn’t know what else to pray for, through this all, when it seemed that God didn’t answer any of my prayers, little did I know that the Holy Spirit was praying for me… from my heart, and not from my head. This kept my destiny intact even when I had every reason to leave the faith.
Yet, if it wasn’t for my years of isolation and neglect, having to really wrestle with the real idea of what is life, truth, and hope; I would never have had a deeper understanding of God’s heart, how truly fallen the world is, how weak and selfish we humans really are and how God’s purposes and heart were truly bigger than my imagination.
Cutting the story short, God used those years of painful isolation to reinvent me as a stock market trader and business analyst as I continued my studies in the Bible and apologetics. In hindsight, my life would have been worse if I had pursued medical studies because the pinnacle of medical knowledge could not cure me for years. Because I had to do engineering instead, a decade later after college I was able to move into quantitative finance and being a financial analyst more easily. So God knew what He did when He closed the door on medical school.
At the age of 44, I strangely find myself financial stable, strangely on the road to recovery using less medicines than before (doctors did not solve the problem… it was the timing and wisdom of God), strangely married to a girl in my dreams that I met 16 years ago but there were no sparks due to my overwhelming health problems. All the dreams I had lost decades ago I am strangely living them out now.
So why did God miraculously helped me to get straight As which was almost impossible if I wasn’t going to medical school and not to have any “conventional” high paying job? Why give me the academic qualifications to get any job, but then strip away any chance of a job due to health? Because God was trying to teach me that when the REAL darkness comes, He is still there.
Today, I don’t care about being a pastor of a church. But I write my heart for the church as well as for the people who would talk to me one-on-one because they need encouragement that they could not find, even in their own church. God was making me the pastor He wants me to be, and not the pastor I wanted to be.
So almost 20 years since giving God my life, I thought I lost it all, only to realize that God used a very unconventional way to realize those dreams. But it was that unconventional way that God used to teach me things that can only be taught in this way.
In those 20 years, almost everyone gave up on me.
How would I ever have the depth of such verses below if I didn’t experience how bankrupt the world can be?
“When my father and mother abandon me, then the LORD will take me up.” (Psalm 27:10)
But my story is not unique, that are so many stories like these in the Bible.
Observe the story of Joseph.
His father Jacob saw something special about Joseph. He knew God had a special destiny for Joseph. God himself gave Joseph dreams of how God would use him as a leader. His father loved Joseph the most and even gave him an ornate robe. I can imagine Joseph believing he was to have an outsized inheritance over his father’s Jacob’s tribe and to flourish as a productive member of society.
Yet, almost everything that happened after, in the eyes of the world, is the complete opposite to achieve that goal.
His brothers betrayed and sold him off as a slave, and lied to Jacob that Joseph was dead. At once, Joseph lost the resource of his family, his inheritance, and all of his possessions. If we didn’t have the benefit of knowing what comes next, we would surely ask what good can this possibly do?
Next, Joseph shows us that he truly was special and Jacob that really saw something divine in him, when he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife and he refused to do what was evil even when doing it was the easiest thing to do. How many more political favors could he have earned by engaging in those secret deeds? He has no family at all, why not engage and at least have the illusion of being wanted? After being served the bitter pill of his brother’s betrayal, he still didn’t succumb to the dog eat dog mentality of the world and held to what God placed in His heart. Amazing.
What happened after Joseph did the truly noble that only God’s grace could have empowered? He got thrown in jail to be forgotten.
If you were an outsider looking in, you would have seen a Hebrew loser that got tossed out by his family, and then after that, got accused of sexually harassing the chief guard’s wife. Your confirmation bias would lead you to believe Joseph must have been a real problem. Why else would his family dump him, and why else would a high and mighty civil servant’s wife (who could have had anyone) accuse you? Let’s just say that if Joseph was running for office like a politician, he would have had no chance. He had no position, no wealth, no status, no family and NO REPUTATION.
Knowing that God put into Joseph’s heart that Joseph would be a great leader, the world would have thought that every prayer Joseph offered was in the OPPOSITE direction. You would question Joseph’s humanity, and think his “god” is rubbish.
We find out that being in the useless darkness was PRECISELY where Joseph needed to be. It’s because Joseph was sold as a slave, and then falsely accused to be in jail that Joseph was in the right place at the right time. In fact, I can imagine even when Joseph was forgotten by the butler the first time that they were also in God’s plan. Just as God downloaded a lot of knowledge in me when I was isolated at home for 2 years, I can imagine God honing Joseph in terms of spiritual intimacy as well as his prophetic gifts so that when the opportune Kairos moment came, Joseph would be ready.
So God allowed every evil thing that happened to Joseph because God was going to turn it around for Joseph’s good as well as to complete the purpose God had to save Joseph’s family. Joseph is not the only example. God used Moses’s lowly 40-year exile in the desert as a wanderer to make him the best candidate to free the slaves. God used David’s lowly profession as a stone slinging shepherd to beat the unbeatable Goliath.
So far, I’ve shown 2 reasons things go opposite to what we prayed for. 1) What we think is good for us based on conventional wisdom is usually not what is truly best for us and we have problems telling what is really good or evil when we are immature. Even in the financial markets, how many people would have thought that Bernie Madoff, the ex-chairman of the Nasdaq, was the head honcho of the biggest Ponzi scheme to date? 2) We cannot see the longer story arc that God sees that places today’s evil events in its proper context as pieces of a more beautiful story. Instead, we are impatient as assume evil events are evil unto itself.
C) A final reason we can take from Joseph’s story is that “unanswered” prayers, suffering or hopeless moments is a prerequisite to experiencing the pinnacle of all human experiences – REDEMPTION.
Let me tell you what your heart is really saying when your lips ask for healing.
Let me tell you what your heart is really praying for when your lips ask for wealth.
You are actually asking for a life that’s “full” and full of meaning. It’s just that you think that health and wealth will get you that because you don’t know any better, just like a child thinks eating chicken nuggets are the bomb because he hasn’t tasted exquisite Kobe beef before. The best things in life are always things you have never experienced yet, and you cannot engineer by yourself. ALWAYS.
As I told famous atheist Michael Shermer who actually liked my response to the question of why a good God allows evil, that redemption is the PINNACLE of human experience. Health and wealth are what some people assume is the pinnacle of human experience because of our fallen nature, but it is a poor substitute for the experience of redemption. God wants to give you physical redemption on earth as a foreshadow so that we can extrapolate what it’s like in heaven. But, you can’t have redemption unless you have bad things occurring, and a God with a masterplan for your life. The better the distance between how low your lowest moments are, and how high the breakthrough is determined the quantity of redemption you experience. If you want the biggest redemption, you would have to go through bad events that will push you to your limits, injustices that will make you question God’s existence.
Hence for the believer, suffering is not the end, it’s the beginning of a more beautiful experience. Suffering is a prerequisite to experiencing redemption. The greater the suffering, the greater the redemption will be.
Imagine a king that combed his land in search of the tastiest meal. We had tasted all the finest wines and choicest meats and they have been forgettable over time. He heard of a legendary mystical chef in a particular village on top of a mountain and commanded the chef to prepare his best dish for him. The chef insisted that in order for him to present the best meal, the emperor must embark on a long journey up the mountain by himself. Initially irritated, the emperor grudgingly did so because of the promised of an unforgettable meal. After dismounting his horses at the base of the mountain, the king started his long 8-hour trek up the mountain on foot by himself. By the time he arrived at the village of the chef, he was parched, hungry and a little delirious. While in a weakened state, the chef cooked a meal for him. It was an amazing experience and the king had never felt such satisfaction after eating a meal ever. The king soon fell asleep, after his exhausting journey and his hungry finally satisfied. When the king woke, he went back to his palace. Days later, the king summoned the chef and insisted the chef cook him the exact same meal. The chef presented him with a very ordinary meal of rice and scraps of meat and water. The king was about to behead the chef at this “insult” until the chef explained that this meal was exactly the same meal that was presented days earlier. The chef explained that it was the king’s struggle and hunger that augmented the satisfaction and taste of ordinary food more than any fine food tasted during times of plenty.
Similarly, the tastiest, unforgettable drink is not the finest wine. It is a cool glass of plain water after you have been lost in the hot desert for a couple days. The most unforgettable experience in life is not health or wealth, but when God shows He can restore all those things and give you what you really need when the world tries to take them away.
We need adversity to shake and test the promises God puts in our hearts, for just as a great movie hero is defined by how great the villain is, so is the greatness of God’s promise for your life. How can we know just how great and unshakable is the redemptive power of God is, and by extension how that would blow our minds unless we see the world throw the kitchen sink at us and God’s purpose remained intact?
So if you have prayed what you thought was in God’s will for your life, and you are getting the opposite, God is setting you up to experience something wealth or health alone cannot substitute. Don’t let our bad experiences in this realm dictate your theology.
The path forward may be dark, painful and even lonely.
But it will not last forever.
And when it is all said and done, the complete story and meaning is worth more than the sum of the whole.
Joseph, Jacob, Job and Jesus.
All went through terrible unfairness that would make one think God has deserted them. All were under God’s grace, and so God restored all of them and used them to bless the world at the same time.
How amazing is it to experience God’s grace in the process of redemption? I like to measure how useful or effective something is by the results they can produce. This redemption allows us to forgive the unforgivable. Health or wealth alone can never allow us to transcend our human failings to reach that.
We see this when we revisit the ending of Joseph’s story.
Once God finished Joseph’s long story arc of redemption and the fulfillment of purpose, Joseph had a deeper maturity and a mind that transcended the pettiness of worldly hurts. Joseph could forgive the unforgivable. We see this in his revealing statement to his brothers when he finally revealed himself to them who bitterly dealt evil to him, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20)
This is true power. True blessing. The health, wealth and purpose God gave to Joseph after the world stripped everything from him was only part of the equation for Joseph’s spiritual maturity. God’s grace allowed the evil to happen but also turned the evil for good of everyone involved. It was good for Joseph and also for the good of the same people who did evil to him. This is Kingdom economy, not the economy of the world which is dog-eat-dog and all of us are selfish organisms competing for scarce resources and slaves to our immediate carnal desires.
Today, Paul says that we too can partake of the same grace that empowered Joseph through his arduous story arc.
“And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:27-28)
God says that He will make ALL things, what the world calls good things and bad things, to work together for your good. And, God does us because He is answering the Holy Spirit’s prayer who is in your heart and not just the words coming out from your lips that was generated by your head.
God, in His exceeding love and wisdom, bypasses our heads and answers the prayer of our hearts. That’s why He doesn’t answer our prayers exactly the way we wanted but over-answers them instead.
If God answers your prayers and you abound in obvious ways, I rejoice with you. Bless others as you have been blessed. If you have a challenge and God helps you overcome that challenge, rejoice.
But if God seems to allow evil to you when you have prayed for good, it is not because He doesn’t love you. He knows you are ready and can take it. You are on an even higher path to learn the deeper things of God. You are being set up to experience a greater measure of God’s heart which will transform you in ways that God is going to use to build a legacy.
This is why I like to say:
If you are struggling, God can help you overcome it. But if God allows you to struggle greatly, unrelentingly, unfairly, then God is setting you up to build a legacy.
The Holy Spirit prays for you, from your heart, even when your lips cannot find the right prayers. God bypasses your head to respond to your heart, so remember to stop assuming we know the HOW, WHY and WHEN God should address our prayers.
Let me tell you what your heart is really saying when you ask for healing.
Let me tell you what your heart is really praying for when your for wealth.
You are actually asking for a life that’s “full” and full of meaning. It’s just that you think that health and wealth will get you that.
The pinnacle of human experience is to know God’s heart. The greatest expression of His grace is in redemption. How can you experience redemption without the need to have saving? You have to go through bad things in order to experience redemption, it’s a prerequisite.
Hence for the believer, suffering is not the end, it’s the beginning of a more beautiful experience. Suffering is a prerequisite to experience redemption. The greater the suffering, the greater the redemption will be.
So if you pray and you are getting the opposite, God is setting you up to experience redemption. It can also be that God is going to show you a different paradigm of what is important as He subverts what YOU think is good for you.
When I was younger … but after years of maturing and losing it all, I realize that fame is empty, and we should spend our time building foundations in things that last … a mind that is experienced, skills that make us more useful in society… learning to love and serving people because of our transformation by keeping our eyes on Jesus instead of fame and fortune. I had to lose my fame to learn all these things. Sometimes, we have to die to the things we hold on to before we realize those things are taking us the wrong path.
Brushing with death and suffering cause us to think about the deeper things in life and comfort makes us stay in a limited world, like a frog in a well.