This is part of a series of posts looking at your questions about theology.
Question: Have you ever found a good distinction between remaining faithful in prayer when something seems unanswered and knowing when God has answered “no?” I’m trying to find a balance between faithful prayer and not letting things consume my thoughts/time if God is wanting me to move along and realize it’s a no-go.
Jeremy Jernigan – Executive Pastor
I think the answer to this question stems from the way we pray. C.S. Lewis once addressed this conundrum we often find with faith, and with prayer in particular. He acknowledged two distinctly different methods of prayer we find in Scripture. He named them the “A Pattern” and “B Pattern.” Do we pray with a focus on God’s will (and a perceived “no” response to what we want), or do we pray with bold faith with a focus on our will (and a perceived “yes” response)?
Imagine a family member tells you they have cancer. You feel helpless and overwhelmed, yet your love for them compels you to do something. In desperation, you fall to your knees and pray. There are at least two ways you can approach this, and you’ve likely prayed them both at times. The first way, what Lewis calls the A Pattern, is to say something to this effect: “God, if it’s your will, I ask you to heal them of cancer.” The focus is on the fact that God’s will is most important, far above the actual request you currently ask of Him. A second way, what Lewis calls the B Pattern, is to say something to this effect: “God, I’m pleading with you to heal them of cancer.” The focus is on the current request and the hope it would become God’s will.
This invites a different faith experience between the two prayers. Because both models have Biblical examples for support, there is no easy answer as to know which one is more appropriate to pray at any given moment. We see the A Pattern in the opening of what we refer to today as the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done…” (Matthew 6:9-10 emphasis mine). But we see the B Pattern reflected in passages like this: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14 emphasis mine). Notice the will of God is mentioned in both passages but in radically different ways. So which is it?
I practice both of the patterns Lewis distinguishes. We have room to pray honestly and maintain a position of trust and dependence on God without needing to know how or when He will answer it. There’s a great example of this in Matthew 15:21-28. Notice the way the woman interacts in the conversation with Jesus. She’s not certain He will answer her request. Her first statement to Him is “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” This request sounds like the A Pattern with her focus on His will. She brings her situation to Him but in a less direct way. But Jesus ignores her. That’s a tough answer to get from God. After it seems His will doesn’t include answering her request, she boldly says to Him “Lord, help me!” Because she has just heard the will of God for her situation (Jesus ignoring her first request), the fact she asks this again looks like the B Pattern.
Far too many people approach faith as building their belief system about God and working toward feeling certain about it. Healthy faith will always include doubt. We don’t know what Jesus will do. But we know He is good. So we ask, we believe, we look to Him. We hope, and dream, and invite Him into the hurts and pains. We do this each and every time, no matter what the answer to our prayer was last time. Faith, like marriage, is about trusting in the goodness of the other person and committing to experience life with them. Which is a huge load off your shoulders if you’ve felt you had to convince yourself God would answer all your prayers or you weren’t praying right. Or worse yet, that God wasn’t answering your prayers because you weren’t certain enough. Jesus doesn’t play by formulas and He doesn’t guarantee you’ll get what you want. But He is always good. And that makes it always worth it to ask.
What are you carrying right now? What have you been praying for yet unsure whether God will answer? It could be a health issue, a financial issue, a relationship issue, or any number of the challenges we face daily. You can come to Jesus honestly and pray what is on your heart. You don’t have to pretend to be certain about it and you can keep praying when you are unsure of whether you should move on. Enjoy talking to Jesus about whatever is on your heart and move forward whenever you hear Him speaking.
Disclaimer: I’m providing you with my answer to these questions and what makes the most sense to me Biblically. There are numerous other Christians who would provide different answers. If you disagree with me, there’s no need to email me or any other staff member. I’m not making sweeping statements that define all views of Central and its leadership. The point is to create an environment where we go deeper in our understanding and experience with God. At the very least I invite you to consider thoughtfully the answers I give, even if they differ from your views. If you would like to talk through this post with someone please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.Click here for the photo credit on this post