I wonder how many cancer patients believe that God can and will heal them only for it not to happen? Or from a more worldly perspective, who here hasn't prayed for some level of success only to have victory elude you? (I pray to win the lottery all the time, but I haven't yet. Of course, it might help if I buy a ticket)
So there must be some fine print in there somewhere.
We can imagine Jesus, agonizing at the garden, praying that "this cup [would] be taken from [him]." (Matthew 26:39) Here was the Son of God, who taught his disciples how to pray, asking God for something fully believing God could answer that prayer. But he added this caveat, "yet not as I will, but as you will."
God's will is like a "get out of jail free" card for prayer. God doesn't answer your prayer? Not God's will. Things aren't going your way? Must be God's will.
Tell that to everyone in Colorado or Oklahoma who recently lost their homes.
Needless to say, citing God's will can be unsatisfactory for some. So we need to dig a little deeper. Why isn't it God's will? What else does he have planned? We answer those questions by saying God is refining our faith, or there is something he wants us to learn, or there is something better out there than what we are praying for. The last one is clear in Jesus' case. The cross was a better outcome for humanity, if not necessarily for Jesus, than any other alternative.
Remember the country song "Unanswered Prayers" by Garth Brooks? He sings, "Some of God's greatest gifts, are unanswered prayers." In the song he reflects on a girl he like that he prayed would like him back. But then he looks at his family, and recognizes that if God had answered that prayer he wouldn't have the blessing he has now.
We can all relate.
So let's look again at Jesus. In John 17, we read about three of Jesus' prayers.
- The first, for Christ to be glorified for finishing the work God gave him to do. (v 1-5) I think we can all agree that God answered that prayer. Two thousand years after the cross, we still praise Jesus' name.
- The second prayer was for the disciples, that they should remain faithful to the end as they are sent out to proclaim the Gospel. (v 6-19) History shows us that each of the disciples, with the exception of John who is believed to have died under house arrest, died a martyr's death.
- The third prayer was for you and me, Christians who would come along later after hearing the word passed down from other Christians. Jesus prayed that we would be unified in our faith. Look around. Has God answered this prayer? (v 20-26)
Jesus left this earth with one unanswered prayer. Why? Was it to increase our faith? Is there something we need to learn? Is there a better answer in God's will?
Jesus prayed for unity. I look around and I just don't see it. Maybe Christ's prayer needs to become my own.