Saturday, September 07, 2013

Are there kinds of prayers that God never answers?

Lately I've been thinking about prayer, and specifically about the kind of prayer in which we ask God to help us with something specific. Are there kinds of requests that God never grants? I'm trying to think of a Biblical basis on which we would know the answer to that, and I think the main basis we have is the nature of God.

When two of Jesus' disciples suggested calling down fire from heaven on certain sinners, Jesus said no. It is similar to the time when Sarah, Abraham's wife, asked for God's judgment on Abraham. The ancients noted that Sarah died first, and saw that as a caution that whoever called down judgment would be judged first. (I wonder whether Jesus' first listeners would have thought of Abraham and Sarah that when Jesus taught, "Judge not, lest you be judged.")

I think most Christians do not pray to win the lottery, and maybe not for sports team victories, since that is seen nearly as an insult to the holiness of prayer. Back in my student days, I remember that there was a kind of prayer etiquette among Christian students about what we might pray for concerning tests: we would pray for calmness or focus, but not for an undeserved score.

Any thoughts on what kinds of requests God would not grant just on principle?

8 comments:

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Sure. God will not grant you anything He knows would not be good for you, even if you think it would. He may not even grant something that would be good for you, if it conflicts with what is BEST for you.

Weekend Fisher said...

That's a good point. I remember someone I knew in college -- we were all just scraping by, in college, part-time jobs and all that -- and someone offered him money to do their coursework for him. He thought it was a gift from God; I didn't. (He wasn't raised religious, but he was more a believer in a generic God, I suppose, & didn't have specifically Christian thoughts about all that.)

Wouldn't God help him? But he could have tutored to get the extra money, & it would have been better for everyone involved. Just saying.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Anna Ilona Mussmann said...

This is a question that occasionally nags at me ("should I be praying for this?..."). I also wonder if it's OK to pray for an outcome to an issue that has already been resolved, even though I don't know the answer yet (i.e., if the doctors do a biopsy on someone, the answer already exists even if they don't know it yet; or if a storm swept through an area, people are already safe or not even if I don't know it yet).

Perhaps the key is not what I pray, but how I close. If I end with something along the lines of, "Thy will be done," it leaves me with a more Christian attitude and reminds me of how I should approach requests made to God.

Aron Wall said...

Anna,

Since God knows the future, surely he knew about your prayer before the event happened, and could therefore take it into account then? I pray confidently in the situation you describe, because I believe that God is outside of time.

(Of course, I assume that if God knows that granting my request would create a time-travel paradox, then he won't do it!)

WK,

If we made a list of things which Christians are never supposed to pray for, I think we would probably find a substantial overlap with the Psalms! Sometimes we just have to pray where we are and let God sort us out.

Doesn't the impiety of praying to win the lottery consist of the craving to get rich? If we have this craving, we shouldn't hide it from God, but should bring it into his presence and allow him to destroy it. I think everything we want should come before God in prayer, one way or another.

Anastasia,

You make a good point.

On the other hand, I am reminded of the numerous perplexing passages in the New Testament which seem to promise that we will get whatever we ask for, if we believe and do not doubt.

This suggests the frightening thought that God wants us to eventually reach the point of maturity in prayer where we ALREADY KNOW that certain of the specific things we ask for are God's will, and can therefore can ask confidently knowing for sure we will get them (even if they seem impossible, as in the case of the mountain jumping into the sea).

Does anyone have any thoughts on how this works, practically speaking? Are there kinds of prayers which God always answers?

Martin LaBar said...

Perhaps God always answers prayers that ask that He be glorified.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi all

Thanks for the comment; I hadn't meant to be away from the blog all week.

Anna - I expect we've all been in that position, wanting something but it's doubtful whether it's a good or godly thing. And when I already have that thought in mind, I know I don't pray the same way as I would for something I was sure was right. (I suppose the one part of the Serenity Prayer isn't too far off for that part: "grant me ... the wisdom to know the difference.")

Hi Aron -- I wouldn't imagine we'd hide a sinful wish from God (e.g. greed), but I wouldn't want to encourage myself in my greed by praying to win the lottery. Not that I think God would change his answer, but some desires are better confessed than petitioned. (And, yes, I think those who pray best are those who are so far along walking with God that they know God's will that well.)

Aron & Martin - Actually "what prayers will God always answer" is something I've mulled over & was thinking of posting on soon. Keeping in mind that we see even Jesus got a prayer declined -- which he had anticipated, adding "not my will but yours".

I wonder, though, how much God is concerned with being glorified. That's something I've never traced all the Scriptural references on. I know that in Abraham's famous prayers for Sodom and Gomorrah, he appealed to God's goodness in not destroying the wicked and righteous together. Moses, in a similar vein, when it looked like God might destroy the Israelites, appealed to God's reputation -- what would the Egyptians think after that dramatic exit, if they were all destroyed in the wild?

Still mulling. :)

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Anam Cara said...

I know I'm late to the conversation, but another type of prayer that might not be answered is for someone else to change. God may prompt, but He will not go against the other person's free will. The change is in the other person's hands, not God's.

Weekend Fisher said...

Good point. God doesn't hijack somebody's soul. It would defeat the purpose of making a soul.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF