Sometimes We Don’t Get What We Pray For

Sometimes We Don’t Get What We Pray For

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Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.

ENGAGED: The Call to Be Disciples

Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  Matthew 28:19-20

Prayer: Abiding in God’s Love—Part Twenty-Three

And when Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and He was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in His spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”  Mark 2:1-12

Good morning Prayer Team!

In our last reflection, we discussed how the most important reason to pray is because we love God.  We pray so that we can be with God.  One challenge to prayer is that we don’t always get what we pray for, and that can cause us to become discouraged, or even to quit praying. 

I believe that sometimes God doesn’t answer prayer on purpose.  What?  God intentionally does not listen to us?!  There are two reasons I believe that God doesn’t answer prayer.  The first is that sometimes what we are asking for is not good for us.  Let’s use an example that all parents can relate to.  If my son asks me to have French fries with every meal, I’m going to tell him “no” a fair amount of the time.  Why?  Because French fries are not healthy.  If I acquiesce to this request, I would actually be an irresponsible father.  So, God doesn’t answer our requests because what we are asking is not good for us.  Let’s say that every day I were to pray to win the lottery.  And let’s say that that prayer was answered.  It would actually alter my priesthood, and not in a positive way.  I would no longer be able to talk about struggle and sacrifice without sounding like a hypocrite.  Years ago, I prayed to win the lottery.  And I’m thankful that God never answered that prayer.

The second reason why I believe that God doesn’t answer prayer always is because His plans for us are sometimes different than our plans.  And His understanding of our needs is different than our own understanding of our needs.  When I got ordained as a priest many years ago, my plan was to serve near family on the West coast.  His plans were different.  I’m grateful to God for how my ministry has turned out so far, so I’m glad that long ago prayer went unanswered.  When I was a teenager, I had several medical issues and I prayed for God to take them away.  He never did.  I got discouraged.  I stopped going to church for a while.  I even came close to losing faith at a certain point.  But I didn’t.  Today I am thankful to God for the struggles I had as a teenager.  I think these struggles have made me a better pastor, and they have given me more empathy for people, especially teenagers.  I think it is no coincidence that I have been involved heavily with a summer camp for teenager for much of my ministry.  God answered my prayers differently than how I was asking.  It turns out He knew what He was doing, even when I didn’t.

Which brings up to today’s Scripture passage.  In today’s passages, we meet a paralytic who was fortunate enough to have four friends.  These friends had heard about Jesus, that He was healing people, and they decided to take their friend to Jesus, in the hopes that Jesus would heal him.  I imagine them walking on a hot summer day, carefully carrying their friend on his mattress, to the house where Jesus was preaching.  They must have had a sigh of relief as they saw the house and knew they were approaching their destination.  Imagine how their hearts sank when they realized they wouldn’t be able to get in the door.  Undaunted, they found another way to get the man in the house.  They hauled his mattress up the wall of the house, and onto the roof.  What a struggle this must have been, not only to lift the man, but to keep from hurting him worse.  When they finally got him on the roof, and cut a hole in the roof and let him down to Jesus, they must have though their prayers were finally answered—healing was about to happen.

Jesus looked down at the man and said to him, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”  Imagine the reaction of the paralyzed man.  He might have thought “I’m paralyzed, that’s my problem.”  Imagine the reaction of the friends.  It’s obvious what they had wanted.  They too, must have been upset with Jesus.  However, Jesus in His wisdom, knew that what the man needed was not healing of his body, but healing of his soul.  For what good would a healed body be with a wounded soul inside of it?  Jesus doesn’t do exactly what we want, but what He thinks we need.  For this man, Jesus knew first and foremost that he needed spiritual healing.  His real paralysis was that there was something in his past that he needed forgiveness for, something in his past that paralyzed his soul.  So, Jesus first healed his soul, and then healed his body.

Like the friends in this story, one of our tasks as Christians is to bring people to the Lord.  And the Lord will do for them, and for us, according to what He feels is best for us, according to what He knows we need.  Again, I know that my son will not have a long and healthy life if he eats fries for every meal, so sometimes I tell him no and disappoint him.  But this is out of love.  I believe that God does the same for us. 

The goal of prayer isn’t to get something out of it or to have a feeling.  We should ask for things for sure, but things aren’t always answered in the way we want them answered.  Many times people quit when they don’t get the answer they desire or the feeling they want.  But getting a feeling or getting an answer is not the most important thing.  The most important thing is being with God. 

Our job is to bring people to the Lord, like the friends of the Paralytic.  And when we are in the position of the Paralytic, and our prayer isn’t answered just as we have asked it, we need to trust in God that something good can come even out of unanswered prayer. 

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast!  I will sing and make melody!  Awake, my soul!  Awake, O harp and lyre!  I will awake the dawn!  I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord, among the people, I will sing praises to Thee among the nations.  For Thy steadfast love is great above the heavens, Thy faithfulness reaches to the clouds.  Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!  Let Thy glory be over all the earth!  That Thy beloved may be delivered, give help by Thy right hand, and answer me!  God has promised in His sanctuary: “With exultation I will divide up Shechem, and portion out the Vale of Succoth.  Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet; Judah my scepter.  Moab is my washbasin; upon Edom I cast my shoe; over Philistia I shout in triumph.”  Who will bring me to the fortified city?  Who will lead me to Edom?  Hast Thou not rejected us, O God?  Thou dost not go forth, O God, with our armies.  O grant us help against the foe, for vain is the help of man!  With God we shall do valiantly; it is He who will tread down our foes.   Psalm 108

Sometimes we don’t get what we pray for, and that’s okay.  God knows what He is doing, even when we don’t!

 

+Fr. Stavros

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”