If the gospel teaches us that God’s neither a vending machine nor an IRS agent, then what is He, exactly? That is, can we trust that whatever we pray for, we’ll get? There’s a good chance that you have a long list of prayer requests that have gone unfulfilled.
When God doesn’t say “yes” to your prayer requests, does that prompt you to keep praying, to stop praying, or does it make you distant from God altogether? Why?
If we return briefly to Luke 11, we see that Jesus follows the story of the friend at midnight with a familiar analogy
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13)
God’s desire is to satisfy our needs and even our desires. He’s good; we can trust Him. But Jesus also qualifies this by saying—later, to His disciples—that “whatever you ask in my [Jesus’] name” will be done (John 14:13).
If you’re skeptical, you might point out that there have been multiple studies on the effectiveness of prayer on the health of hospital patients. None of the results have been conclusive. So what does that mean?
It means we might be asking the wrong question. Maybe the purpose of prayer isn’t to get an answer as much as seek the Answerer. That is, perhaps the greater purpose of prayer isn’t to focus on the gift but the Giver.
If that’s true, then we can be confident that God’s perfect plan is greater than my desires. Stop and think for a second: have there not been things you’ve prayed for—yet not received—that would have had a negative impact on your life had you gotten what you wanted? Maybe it’s a job that you desperately wanted, but the company ended up going under within a year. Maybe it’s the hope for a particular person for a spouse—but God’s “no” spared you from a lifetime of regret.
God’s answers are according to his will and purpose, yet he invites us to engage with him in asking for things we need and desire. It’s a bit of a mystery, then—that God would be in sovereign control of human history, yet allows human interaction to weave its way into his eternal plan. That news should therefore not frustrate us, but encourage us, bolster us, and draw us further into his presence.