Prayers come in many forms, and so do God’s answers.
David won an impossible-looking victory over Goliath, but do we recognize and applaud the young shepherd’s faith when we read how jealous King Saul chased him into the wilderness? David had to rely on God when he hid in caves just as much as when he fought the giant. Or consider the apostle Paul. God used him to change the world, but refused to remove Paul’s thorn in the flesh.
Prayer isn’t a spiritual vending machine. It’s more about aligning ourselves with God’s will than convincing him to do ours. We can’t have a relationship with a machine, but God-in-Three-Persons invites us to relate to him personally and conversationally through prayer.
Ask, Don’t Dictate
King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to burn Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to death if they refused to worship a 90-foot-tall golden image. Their response to the king affirmed their confidence in God’s omnipotence (he is all-powerful), his omniscience (he is all-knowing), and his providence (he does what is best for his people while pursuing a higher purpose). They said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it” (Daniel 3:17). God is able! His power has no limits except any boundaries he imposes upon himself. He is the Lord Almighty, “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
While we are free to present bold requests to God, we don’t dictate his responses. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego believed in God’s ability to rescue them from the fire, but notice the second part of their response: “But even if he does not . . . we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:18). These men clung tenaciously to their core values. Even if it meant death by burning, they would not give up their convictions because they believed that God knows best! Even if he didn’t answer the way they preferred, they still would trust the Lord’s wisdom.
We see this same two-sided coin in Hebrews chapter 11. By faith, heroes conquered kingdoms, escaped the edge of the sword, defeated enemy nations, and saw the dead raised to life again. But then the Scripture pivots and presents the opposite side of the coin. Other believers whose faith was equally strong endured torture, flogging, imprisonment, persecution, and violent death; yet all of these believers—both the obvious victors and the ones who looked more like victims—“were all commended for their faith” (Hebrews 11:33-39).
Our faith rests in God, not in our circumstances. We must learn to say, “God can heal my sickness; but even if he does not, I will trust him. God is able to change my circumstances and give me the job, home, spouse, and financial security I desire; but even if he doesn’t, I will never forsake him. God can move mountains; but even if he does not, I will keep climbing or tunneling until he tells me to stop.”
Daniel’s faithful friends illustrate how the power of prayer resides more in the one who hears than in the one who prays. And they remind us that a prayer truly has been answered even when our wise and loving Father says “no.”