Is it Presumptuous to Expect Straight Answers When We Pray?

Like many Christians I have reflected on prayer over the years, though in fleeting spurts. What it means and what to expect when we pray. But my thoughts on the subject were heightened when my son, then in his early teens, interpreted an “answer” that seemed the opposite of what he had prayed for. And with that non-answer answer, a slow crisis of faith started, which remains unresolved a decade later.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11325
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this is such an excellent essay…i’m looking forward to the sequel…

for me, and i think for most, if not all, singles, prayer is almost second nature…it’s hard to imagine life without it…it isn’t just about asking for something specific, or thanking god when something good happens, although obviously that is part of prayer…but there’s also an almost reflexive reaching out that happens from the moment you open your eyes in the morning until you lapse into sleep at night…it’s a constant affirmation and awareness that you aren’t alone, even though everyone thinks you are…i’ve noticed that i pray even when i’m watching the news on TV - when some disaster is being reported, for example - or when i’m talking to someone on the phone, or even in person, or when i’m on a walk, and see something particularly thrilling or inspiring…

this kind of praying isn’t the get-down-on-your-knees, formal kind of praying that goes on in church…it’s more along the lines of fleeting thought prayers, that you can feel resonates with what you don’t see…sometimes you feel amazing peace and joy as a response to these thought prayers…

i think prayer is a gift you cultivate constantly, just like so many other aspects of the born again life…it’s a constant trajectory that you’re on…there’s never an endpoint…and it’s a personalized journey…it’s what you actively make it…

it would be amazing to be able to store all of these prayers, and return to them somehow after a few yrs have past…

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Thank you, Matthew, for a straight-up discussion of the foibles of praying. It is a mystery to me, prayer is. I pray constantly at the same time I’m asking myself (and God) what it means. I’ve learned that opening myself to “God as a friend” means that God gets all my doubts as well as hopes. I’ve concluded that prayer is really for me and my understanding and trust in God. I’m looking forward to your sequel.

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Is it Presumptuous to Expect Straight Answers When We Pray?

Easy answer: IF one assumes that prayer is about talking and asking questions, then yes, prayer is very presumptuous as it assumes one can tell the all-knowing something it does not know.:rofl:

If one knows that the opposite is the case and that prayer is about listening, the answer becomes self-evident.

Prayer—combined with acting on what one learns while in a receptive state—is the answer.

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Good points, Jeremy!

But I’ve been married for almost 50 years and would just like to point out that you don’t have to be single or Canadian to have similar prayer experiences!:rofl:

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Thank you, Matthew, you bring up many good points that need thoughtful consideration. Too often our children’s stories teach bad theology, and then we follow it up with “romantic” tithing, Sabbath keeping, miraculous healing stories. Yes, at times God does intervene, even when we lose our keys, but when we ignore that some of the worst of Judah and Israel’s kings lived the longest, and some of the Godliest died early, etc. we set people for failure.

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I don’t really understand prayer, but I pray. Sometimes I ask for miracles, but mostly I just say thank you.

I am comforted by prayer because I believe God is listening. Sometimes we cry together and sometimes we laugh together.

My prayers are simple now. “Lord, hold my hand.” “Lord, help me to love.” “Lord, talk to my children, family, and friends.”

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Thank you Matthew for approaching a perplexing topic with honesty and candor. I too have grappled with this over the years as friends and family I have prayed for to experience healing and restoration have eventually died, sometimes not without intense pain and suffering.

While I knew the meaning of the word presumption I went to the dictionary. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary presumption is “the act of believing something that is true without having any proof . . . the act of believing.” Other reference tools went further, defining presumption as “behavior or attitude that is boldly arrogant.” (Free Dictionary). Or this “the arrogant attitude of one who confidently assumes a thing to be true and then acts upon it”. (Bible Tools)

Right now families I know are struggling to cope with intense pain and uncertainty: The 6,000,000+ families who lost a loved one to Covid-19 . . . a 5-month old baby dealing with seizures and a rare form of retinal cancer . . . a college student of promise in a car accident that has forever changed his future plans. I can go on, as most readers of this essay can.

But we continue to pray and hope, taking courage from Paul’s counsel in Hebrews 4:16 “Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need.” (NASB)

We must approach God with confidence, yes, with arrogance and boldness . . . if not, why bother. Yes, I will pray and expect straight answers . . . even if at times I am met with silence.

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These are the sort of questions that really test Christianity and faith and the fact is, unless God answers, no one can really explain. I am a Christian myself and I believe in God, but these are the comments that we as Christians need to seriously address. So how do I see God?

Yes, God has been good to me in many ways and many times, but then there are instances when I wish that He could have done more for me in certain areas of my life. This is not a put down of God, it is the way I feel. It is real and yes there are times when I have tears in my eyes when I look back at some of the things, I wished God would have done for me, but did not do. It hurts to the core and yet I am grateful for the things He has done also/

When I think about all of the suffering in this world, thousands who die in all kinds of ways, the question is fairly asked, not Where was God?’ but why didn’t God do more to stop suffering, death etc. To me, each life is valuable, no one in this world is a number or a statistic, and for me if one person dies, then shouldn’t there be at least God on hand explaining why this has happened? I recall the words of a very prominent scientist who made a very telling comment about a child suffering in West Africa from a worm which would not only penetrate his eye but cause him to be blind. In this case, I believe that God can do more- that is, find other ways to achieve His objective without so much human suffering,

We as Christians say that God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent and yes these are wonderful attributes of God, but unless God acts and is seen to act in ways where we can see and experience these qualities, it makes no difference whatsoever. Saying that God has power to provide food does not mean anything to a man or woman , boy or girl who is starving. It is when God provides the actual food, that they experience the power of God. That is when God’s power becomes meaningful!

Just as marital counsellors and others state in a relationship, that there must be communication between both parties, I think this is what we need in our relationship to God. It is not enough for us to pray to God and somehow try to discern what He wants or what He doesn’t want, I think God should be able to tell us in the same way that we speak face to face with a friend, If I pray to God, audibly or using my thoughts, God should respond to me in the manner in which I pray or speak to Him. I should be able to speak to God directly and He should be able to reply to me directly as well.

If I am hurting for example, God should be able to say to me Andrew I understand you are hurting, and I am still here with you. Trust me in this matter and don’t give up. I can remove the source of the pain or the hurt. However,if I do not move it, it is because I am still here with you to show you or teach you something . This does not mean that I do not love, you, don’t care for you, or respect your feelings, but I am doing/allowing this for this reason or that reason. This is what God can or should do for us. If I dont think it is enough for us just to pray and wish that it will go away. I think these are times that God must show he is not only present in our lives, but He must act meaningfully- so that we can understand what is happening, why it is happening and what we can do.

I think this is where we as Christians cannot understand these issues. These are real and serious questions which God alone can answer satisfactorily. It is the least God can do. We should have the right to say to God: Lord I am hurting; I do not feel happy about this or that and God should be able to respond to us by explaining what is going on.

The closest to an answer to these issues may be found in the Bible- where God says that He does not willingly afflict or grieve us. This is in Lamentations 3: 33. And that gives me hope that I can still trust God even though I wish He would do more to help. I also found this verse in 1 Peter 5: 7- Casting all your cares upon Him, for He careth for you: Also, in Matthew 10: 31 we have an instance where Jesus addresses an audience telling them that they are of more value than many sparrows.

Inspite of the way I feel, I should be able to trust God and leave all my concerns in His hands. So, I still say to all here to accept Him as Lord and Saviour- inspite of all that you experience. Yes, there is real suffering , real pain, real hurt, real misapprehension of God and death which is very real! I live it and so do all of us here: Still I trust in Him though I have tears, pain, and in the past have contemplated a few times of even taking my own life ! Yes, I have !Yet I know He is there. I cannot understand why I go through all these things neither do I always agree or like the things which He may cause or allow, but I still trust Him. Hope this can help someone in some way.
Thanks
Andrew.

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This subject, if we are honest - and most who have commented are - is a source of mystery, pain, disappointment - and maybe occasional bright spots. Many of us are baffled. We limp to tentative conclusions based on our worst experiences with prayer. But the possible answers are always somewhat unsatisfactory.

My tentative thought is that we live in a sinful, destructive, deadly world. And every human experiences the full range of experiences and consequences, including Christians. It is the norm, not the exception. And in my reckoning, God doesn’t often intervene to alter the outcome of life on this planet. Maybe we shouldn’t expect him to do so. We are not usually the beneficiary of a divine Santa who responds with good gifts to the good children. But so many preachers/teachers/biblical authors/commenters have said otherwise, creating unrealistic expectations.

How’s that for a jaundiced view?

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This is a thought provoking article. I think the best presenters on Prayer, is, Pastor Pavel Goia ,Pastor Joseph Kidder and the Books written by Roger J. Morneau, The Incredible Power of Prayer , and Incredible Answers to Prayer…They have helped me greatly.

This is a great article to promote an honest discussion on the subject of prayer. I like the examples given of Pastor Goia, Roger Morneau and such to those miracle answers to prayer but it certainly makes one wonder about one’s relationship with God. I can’t say for certain I’ve experienced miraculous answers to prayer but have experienced unexpected results from undesirable events in my life. But I think I can believe certain aspects of my prayers are answered such as forgiveness of sin, peace beyond human understanding, wisdom from reading the Bible and SOP, and acceptance from things I don’t understand. One of the most important things I’ve learned about God is He isn’t our personal concierge and He can’t be manipulated.

With all that you so honestly shared, why do you still trust God? It honestly seems that you feel that he is non responsive more than he is, not only in your life, but in the world at large.

Frank

A realistic view. 12 step programs talk about learning to live life on life’s terms. Maybe that’s how we need to view God, healthy spirituality, and prayer, instead of a magical view that sets people up for disappointment and disillusionment.

The son of God himself prayed for deliverance from pain and death, yet committed himself to God even if and though deliverance from it didn’t come. It seems his prayer and connection with God enabled him to go through it, and even through the overwhelming feeling of despair that God had abandoned him, while still remaining committed to God. Maybe this tells us something about prayer that is different from how we often view and practice it?

Also, the Lord’s Prayer acknowledges God, asks for his gracious rule to be established on earth as it is in heaven, then turns to daily necessities along with the ability to be forgiven and forgiving people. Somehow, Jesus seems to point his followers first and foremost in prayer to being aligned with God’s big purposes in the world, of the restoration of all things, before our personal concerns. That doesn’t negate our personal needs, but it puts them in a bigger perspective.

Life is hard. It often downright sucks! Prayer doesn’t change that. The expectation that God could and should intervene to soften the blows, while possible, and sometimes does happen, doesn’t seem to be the norm, and I don’t think is even the purpose of prayer. It wasn’t what Jesus seemed to live or teach. Maybe it’s more about learning to lean on the source of power that enables us to live life on life terms. Prayer can be a way of doing that.

Thanks…

Frank

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Hello Frank and thanks for the question and the comment. The reasons why I can still trust God are , as I mentioned based on my understanding of the Biblical texts I quoted: Lamentations 3: 33, 1 Peter 5: 7 and Matthew 10: 31.

I would most certainly welcome a God who chose to communicate more with us and I think many people would welcome this also. It truly makes a difference when there is communication between individuals, but could we imagine ourselves communicating with God, telling Him what we feel, and He in turn responding to us? Let me give you a brief but powerful example: Remember the dialogue Cain had with God after God stated what His punishment would be ? Note Cain’s comments about the severity of His punishment and what He feared would happen to Him. You can also note God’s response to him.

The frequency and the degree of suffering in this world is truly staggering and I do believe that many people, especially those who do not profess Christianity or ascribe to any religious views would appreciate a God who is there- who speaks and helps us to understand the reasons for the suffering we experience in this world.

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I lean toward thinking that the purpose of prayer is for the benefit of the one who is praying. The one who is prayed to, God, already knows what is going on in our lives and what our desires and petitions are. We aren’t telling Him anything new. But it is important for us to acknowledge that He is the source of our life and His power upholds the universe, i.e. show gratitude for what we have and to the One who provides it. We need to know our place in relationship to God as an inhabitant of a cosmic speck in the universe and at the same time so valuable to God that His Son would have come to redeem us if we were the only one to have sinned in the universe.

However, in the area of intercessory prayer, praying for God to act in someone else’s life, I believe God waits for someone to give Him “permission” to work on someone’s heart. Our gracious God never sends His Holy Spirit to coerce anyone but woos and draws them to Him. But He wants us to ask Him to do so. At the same time, I believe that God is not a magician that we can call on to routinely interfere with the laws of nature, yet there are times we all know about when He has intervened. And the Bible encourages us to pray for all things as Matthew points out above. My personal solution currently (it may change in the future) to this seeming dilemma is to keep my expectations realistic (aka modest) and realize that all prayers are answered but I just may not see that answer in this life.

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this reminds me of an egw text i’ve thought about a lot:

“It is a part of God’s plan to grant us, in answer to the prayer of faith, that which He would not bestow did we not thus ask.” GC:525.

i think of this in connection with 1Jn 5:16:

“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death.”

some yrs ago, i was in Toronto for work…my dad was living in Toronto, so i had visited him in the hospital, where he was sick from a number of age-related ills that had no apparent cause…he seemed to be doing well, and i was glad to see him…

that night, in my hotel room, i was wakened by a hand on my shoulder…I then heard a voice say “pray”…my thoughts instantly focused on my dad, and for some reason i knew he was dying, and that i needed to intercede for him before it was too late…that was a night i’ll never forget…the next day, my brother called me as i was driving to work to say that dad had died…

there’s no way to know if the intense praying i did that night saved my dad…there’s no way to know if the HS urged him one final time to repent, and whether he did…i suppose we’ll see in the resurrection what that hand and voice, and my prayers, really did…

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To say that perhaps prayer functions as meditation does is as much as I feel comfortable admitting. Meditation, apparently, has been shown to have verifiable benefits. To have a sense of certainty about one’s contact with a largely silent God, to make excuses for or explanations about or to claim to understand this noninvolvement are, for me, many steps too far.

Prayer is problematic in terms of asking and expecting an answer. But when deciding to stop praying, we end up doing it anyway. Maybe we misunderstand whom or what we are addressing and whether the information is being exchanged in a different way than we expect it to be.

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In the recent collapse of a Miami beach condo high-rise hundreds of unsuspecting tenants died buried in the rubbles. One young 12 year old girl whose father was a Doctor was among the victims. This little girl told a reporter before the rescue team found her father that she believed he was going to come out alive. She believed that her Dad was a great human being. She believed that because her father as a doctor had helped countless people in his life, deserved to live. She believed that God would spare her father’s life and she prayed every day for that to happen. I would have to say that the understanding of prayer often leads to more pain and disappointment than any other experience in our spiritual journey. I am sorry for your son and for this 12 year old young lady and for the many children and adults who have had to accept the loss of a loved in spite of their pleas to God to save them. Yet when not a single person in this world can give you the answer you expect prayer ushers in the ability to open up our hearts to the unknown, to the monologue, to the God we hope with every fiber of our being is listening. No matter what the outcome prayer puts into perspective and creates the ground for a dialogue, for negotiation, for facing reality, for seeking answers, for discovery of who we really are. Prayer has taught me that I don’t get what I want or even what I need but I get to understand the mysteries of life a little better even it hurts so much. Your son and this 12 year girl will survive the loss and will learn a great deal about God.

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