Recently a friend asked me about prayer specifically about why some prayers are answered and others are not. And how should we pray? And what about God’s omniscience and sovereignty? And what does that mean for our prayers when a loved one has cancer or is seriously injured, or a young person is facing a frightening diagnosis? I know he is not the only one asking these questions. I have asked them. And so have you. I told my friend that I don’t have the best answers, but I have the Bible and that’s where we’ll find them.
Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). James counseled, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). And our Lord told us to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” He assured us: “For everyone who asks received; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). We have God’s approval to “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16). And nothing is off-limits – we are encouraged to pray about everything.
So what happens when we pray and the situation goes the other way? My confidence in God and in prayer was severely shaken when my Mom was diagnosed with cancer. I grabbed hold of Matthew 21:22: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” No one ever prayed harder than I prayed that God would heal my Mom, and no one ever believed stronger than I believed that He would do it. My mom died. What happened to “you will receive whatever you ask?” Was my whole-hearted-faith still not enough? Or did Jesus not mean what He said? The fact is, prayers don’t always get answered the way we hope. What do we do with that?
We go to the garden with Jesus. Just before his betrayal and death, Jesus prayed with deep earnestness for this cup of suffering to pass from Him. He knew His Father had the power to take it away. He said, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for You.” Everything – curing cancer, healing broken bodies, taking away suffering. But he came to the one prayer that God will always answer: “Yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). “May Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42). My friend shared that more and more, this has become his prayer too. I also have learned the value and peace that comes with this prayer. Because it is not a prayer of resignation – it is a prayer of trust and of confidence that God’s will, whether it agrees with my desire or not, is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
Sometimes we pray and God miraculously answers – this past year has been living proof for me. But sometimes we pray, and God says, “No.” which, by the way, is still an answer. My Mom’s grave is proof of that reality. I don’t know why. What I do know beyond any shadow of doubt is that I will continue to bring every petition to God, I will ask, and seek, and knock, and then I will put it all in His hands and surrender it to His will. And I will trust that He is good. For my friend and for all of us who pray the prayer of Jesus in the garden – may the Father’s will be done.