One of the greatest mysteries of faith is the uncertainty of prayer. Many people around the world pray regularly for a variety of things. Some of us pray for wealth and financial security, while some pray for the well being of others. Some of us pray for supernatural intervention in tough situations that seem impossible for any human to fix. Again, there are some of us who want more peace in the world, or at least a little peace and quiet! Regardless of the need, our hope is that God hears and God responds.
The most disheartening element of prayer, however, is when we feel as if our prayers are either unanswered, unfulfilled, or flat out ignored. We somehow convince ourselves that God is not concerned, not involved in our affairs, or simply does not care. This leads to a variety of feelings toward God. “Maybe its not God’s will,” we ponder. “What if God doesn’t exist?” “What did I do to deserve this?” We sometimes feel as if God has failed us.
Why do we feel like this?
It is possible we feel God fails us because we view God like children often view parents. We believe since God created us, it is God’s job to give us everything we want. Instead of a relationship which requires mutuality, we really want someone to cater to our every desire. My son once told me, “Dad, its your job to buy me stuff. That’s how I know you love me!” What he did not understand (he clearly does now) , however, is my job is to love him unconditionally, ensure that all of his NEEDS are met (Phil. 4:19), and because of this relationship, sometimes I provide above his needs because I love him. Additionally, it is his responsibility to be faithful to the instructions I set for him, to represent himself in a manner that is pleasing to me, but more importantly, honors his parents and others. I often exhort my son, “Remember who you are and who you represent. You are a Jones. Act like a Jones!” Similarly, we must be faithful to who we claim to be, and the God whom we are in relationship with.
So does God fail us? I would say yes. God often fails to meet our expectations, God often fails to answer us as quickly as we would like, and God fails to be our on-call genie and benefactor. Yes, God fails us. However, more often than not, we fail God. We fail to love our neighbor as ourselves, we fail in devotion, we fail in charity, we fail in our stewardship of the earth, and we fail to uphold the sacred worth of all of God’s creation . We must understand how God desires a mutually beneficial relationship the same way we require mutually beneficial relationships among one another.
Am I suggesting that we should not pray? Of course not. Prayer should consist of more that just a series of requests being made with the anticipation of them being fulfilled. Prayer should be about communication to God. Am I suggesting not asking God for anything? Certainly not. What I am suggesting is we should curb our proclivity to simply ask for our needs and wants to be met without the willingness to evaluate if we are adding anything to the relationship. This appropriation will give us an adequate appreciation for God and God’s activity in our lives and in this world, which is a win for all.