Our son came back from his Sunday school class at church. He was beaming from ear to ear and ran up to me as though burdened with some great secret which he just had to share with someone.
“Daddy, do you know what?” he said excitedly. “Teacher said that if we ask Jesus for anything, he will give it to us. Anything at all!”.
I smiled at him. I knew exactly what he was going to say next and, duly, he did.
“I’m going to ask him for three Lego sets”.
I took a deep breath and prepared to shatter his first elementary steps into the world of theology but stopped, for the simple reason that the Bible does indeed say that. Don’t believe me? “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – from Mark, chapter 11, verse 24. This verse, which set my son’s imagination aflame with the glorious possibility of an infinity of Lego, also appeals to followers of the Prosperity Gospel, that appalling betrayal of the Christian faith which states that health, money and happiness are but a prayer away if you have sufficient faith. Tell that to my friend Fi who prayed incessantly for her premature daughter to survive, only to watch her wither and die eight days later. So here we have a problem: this verse is in the Bible, which to an evangelical Christian like me means that it is true, and yet it doesn’t always happen. Many prayers go unanswered. Dealing with this inescapable truth is the first step on the path to Christian maturity.
So where do we go from here? We could look at similar verses such as 1 John 5: 14, which says “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” The key words, of course, are “according to his will”. An infinity of possessions are not his will for our life. More challengingly, health may not be his will for our life either.
I am inclined to go further and say that the prayers we make are indicative of our life’s priorities and of how much our faith reflects the personality of Christ. If our prayers are in line with the priorities of Christ then our will reflects his. Should we pray for money and possessions, or for his kingdom to grow in the world? For promotion at work or for greater wisdom in tackling the challenges of life?
God is not some cosmic slot machine whereby you insert a prayer and out pops a big bank balance or, sadly for my son, a new Lego set. If we stop viewing him as a heavenly version of Santa Claus and start viewing him as a loving, sovereign creator in the light of whose glory our present world is a temporary inconvenience then we may find our prayers are changed.
Try explaining this to a 6 year old, though…