“I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:23-25)
I tried it once.
A long time ago, like a Jedi, I stood at the base of a mountain and willed for it to be moved. I think I was in the Great Smokey Mountains. Nothing happened.
Did I lack faith? Was the mountain too big? Or was it the wrong mountain?
I prayed once for someone to get better. My grandfather suffered a terrible stroke, and in a moment his strength and intellect were gone. But nothing happened.
Did I lack faith? Was the stroke too serious? Or was I praying the wrong prayer?
I struggle with Jesus’ statements, “it will be done for him” and “it will be yours.” Will it, or won’t it? And if it will, then what was wrong with my prayers?
Some might say I lacked faith. In fact, there are those who are convinced if you just have enough faith, you will get what you want. There are two big problems with this assumption. First, the Bible tells us to pray for what God wants, not what we want (His will to be done), and secondly, our prayers are not a means of controlling God. He is in charge. Therefore, even though God has promised to answer my prayers, it has always been clear they will be answered in His way, and in His time.
I don’t mean to over simplify things, but here is my answer to this perplexing quandary: “it will be” must always be interpreted in light of everything else God has told us.
When I was small and my parents were out for the evening, they would tell me to call them if there was an emergency at home, and they would come to the rescue. I knew that didn’t mean they would run right home if I let them know there was a problem. They might do any number of things. They might tell me how to solve the problem. They might send someone to help me. They might tell me not to worry since I didn’t really have a problem. Or they might indeed rush home. I knew all of these scenarios and would have taken them into consideration when I called.
In the same way I can’t pray for God to answer my prayers without remembering all of the ways He has told me He will do so…many of which involve not getting what I want.
But there is one part of this morning’s passage that is immediate. When I am praying, if I need to forgive someone, I can do it. I don’t have to wait on God to forgive.
But it sounds like He has to wait on me.
Dear God, help me understand how prayer works. In Jesus’ name, Amen.