When you grow up as a pastor’s kid you learn how to pray out loud pretty quickly.
You start out with the repetitious prayers, like “God is great, God is good,” or “Now I lay me down to sleep,” but over the years your prayers age with you. As time has passed, and the prayers have changed, one habit has remained consistent for me- closing each prayer by saying “In Jesus name we pray, amen.” No one ever told me I had to close my prayers that way, I just learned by listening to others.
By my estimation, there were at least 10,000 people praying for my mom to be healed of cancer. Our family is part of a church network that stretches all over the world, so I’m not exaggerating when I tell you prayers were being prayed in Europe, South America, and Asia. If it was the quantity of prayer that determined outcome my mom would have been healed, but she wasn’t. She died at 49.
You begin to doubt prayer when you pray hard and come up empty. I’m not throwing a pity party about God not coming through, and I don’t mean “empty” like my life had no meaning. My point is when you believe God will provide a certain outcome and 10,000 people worldwide agree with you, you’re left with questions walking away from the graveside, mainly, What kind of prayers does God answer?
As a pastor, I’m asked to pray for people’s requests often. Honestly, more prayers don’t get answered than do, at least so far. There are some prayers I don’t expect God to answer while I’m praying them, like the time a woman stopped by the church and asked me to pray for her to win the lottery. The whole time I prayed with her, I was hoping no one around me could hear me. But I pray for genuine, earnest, prayer requests on a regular basis. Whether it’s healing for friends and family, jobs for families about to lose their home or salvation for spouses and kids, at least for now, we’re left wanting more than celebrating.
That’s what makes what Jesus said so confounding. He said, “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” It can’t be that simple. If so, God would have answered my prayer to be 6’4, and I would be in the NBA. Obviously, I can’t have anything I want, so what can I have?
When my daughter was 5 years old she asked for golf clubs for her birthday, probably not the most common request for a 5-year-old, but it made perfect sense to me. I love golf. It’s not just a hobby it’s an addiction passed down several generations in my family. I hope at least a few of my kids will love it as much as I do, so when I heard Sadie say she wanted new clubs, I almost cried and shouted at the same time. Honestly, I was more excited than she was.
I think God is like that. There are things God wants for me more than I want them for myself. I think that’s what Jesus meant when He said “ask in his name.” It’s more than attaching “in Jesus name” to the end of my prayer, it’s praying for things God would attach his name to.
There are also things my daughter could ask for, and the answer would be an automatic no. At seven years old, requests for ponies and makeup are not happening. That’s probably how God the time I prayed to marry my middle school girlfriend. Evidently, those things were not what he wanted for my life. I’m glad doesn’t answer every prayer I pray.
But what if Sadie asked for something I wanted for her, it’s just not the right time? What if she asked for a new car for her 7th birthday? The answer is “no” for now. We will get her a car, but not for another nine years.
It seems like God answers a lot of my prayers with “not yet” but it feels like a “no.” He knows if He said “yes” now I would wreck it because I’m not ready.
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