After Jesus heals two blind men in Jericho he stops near the Mount of Olives and directs his disciples to get a donkey with her colt so he can ride into Jerusalem fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy for the Messiah (Zech 9:9). Everyone seems to recognize this and celebrates his arrival thinking he will save Israel. After chasing the merchants out of the temple, Jesus goes to Bethany for the night. The next morning, he curses a fig tree and it withers. The disciples are amazed, but Jesus tells them if they have faith and don’t doubt, they can tell a mountain to be thrown into the sea and it will happen (Matt 21:21).
Really? These verse and others about faith and receiving whatever we ask (John 14:13-14) are always puzzling to me. I know some people will look at them and quote them as proof that God will answer their prayers exactly the way they want. The truth is evident that more often than not, he doesn’t answer our prayers exactly the way we ask. We pray for the end of sex trafficking and it is still happening. We ask for a loved one who is 89 years old to be healed of cancer and she dies. We ask for world peace and wicked people to be destroyed and it doesn’t happen. What’s wrong? If we look only at Matthew 21:21, it is obvious I am doubting and that would be the simple answer. But John 14:13-14 doesn’t have a qualification of praying without doubt. It only requires praying in Jesus’ name so that the Father may be glorified. Wouldn’t God be glorified if an old person is healed? However, John 15:7 has qualifications of abiding in Jesus and having his word abiding in us. Bearing fruit in our lives looks like a qualification in John 15:16. Then there is 1 John 5:14-15 which tells us we need to pray according to God’s will.
I am compelled to believe that the reasons we don’t see pray answered more often in the way we ask is because of one basic problem. We are sinful people. Though the blood of Jesus Christ and has saved us and he lives in us by faith, we still have a sin nature that will not be completely eliminated until we reach heaven. That means we will always have a very small element of doubt when we pray. That means that we will not always be able to discern God’s will 100% when we pray. It means that though Jesus lives in us, we are not completely abiding in him. The fruit we bear in our lives is never “100 fold,” but is something less that perfect. It means that we have some element of wants that are simply sinful.
We can still rejoice and pray confidently. Some of these prayers simply are waiting to be answered. World peace and elimination of wickedness is going to happen, God has said so. When the Lord has said he will do something in Scripture like this, we know without any doubt it will happen. That kind of prayer is always answered, but not necessarily now. Where we aren’t confident, guess what. We have the Holy Spirit interceding for us because of all the weaknesses I’ve listed (Rom 8:26). He takes the imperfect prayers of imperfect people and translates them into prayers that are according to the perfect will of the Father (Rom 8:27).
Isn’t that great? I am imperfect, flawed, doubtful, and many other things that hinder prayer. However, when I pray, I can trust the Lord to make sure my prayers are what he wants. I shouldn’t be flippant about it and pray for things I know are against his will thinking he will do what is right anyway. That’s like sinning more to show his grace more, which is contrary to what God wants (Rom 6:1-2). We should try to pray according to God’s will and without doubt. We should be abiding more and more in Jesus and living fruitful lives. Many people see God working as they pray when they are progressing in these things because they are understanding God more and more and living according to his will.
Me? I have a long way to go and I won’t stop praying because the one to whom I pray is perfect, holy, omniscient, and omnipotent. He knows what is best and works that out in all our lives and the world. I can trust his answers.