Ever wonder why your prayers are not answered?
In Christian circles we seem to believe ‘ask and you receive,’ yet we all know that this is not the way it happens. While God wants to bless us abundantly, there are some conditions regarding these requests. So some of our prayers go unanswered.
The book of Numbers may give us some clues as to why that is.
While wandering in the desert, the Israelites ‘asked’ for many different things. Some requests were granted, while others made God very angry and resulted in punishment.
Let’s explore what is a good thing to ask for, and what is not, and why that is.
First the Israelites complained about ‘adversity,’ or ‘hardship.’ God has organized the camps, gave people some things to carry, and then led the people visibly to the land He promised them. How did they respond? They complained. These former slaves who had just left miserable working conditions complained about the way God was personally leading them to a land of prosperity and freedom. Complaining about the work we have to do in order to get to our blessing is not the way to pray! God sent fire into the camps. He was not pleased.
Next we see them complaining because there is no meat. They are being fed miraculously with manna, for what is still supposed to be a short trip to the Promised Land. They are not satisfied with what they have, and want more. God provides them with so much they puke it out through their nostrils, and sends a plague. While it is Biblical to cry out to God when you are truly starving, it is not good to complain when He is providing you with what you need just because you think you deserve more.
Then we are told that Miriam and Aaron thought they deserved the position God gave Moses. Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses and explain why they believe that they, not Moses, should be the leader. Miriam is cursed with leprosy and forced to be outside the camp. In today’s society this would be like wanting to be the boss because you think you know better, so you do not follow the bosses instructions and do things your way instead. This also leads to ‘being outside the camp’ as you will not likely be promoted, but fired!
We then learn that ten of the spies come back and report that there is no way they can take the Promised Land that God has personally brought them to appearing as fire and a cloud and feeding them daily. They lose their blessing and God waits 40 years for their children to be ready. Prayer that shows a lack of faith that God will provide is not what God desires.
So what does this look like in real life:
God does not seem to like a life spent complaining about your current situation when, even though you do not seem to have all you want, if you currently have enough, God may be waiting on you to stop belly-aching to bless you! (It is okay to call out to God in scripture when you are truly suffering!). You are to be satisfied in your work, and not complain about what God has currently called you to do, so complaining about your job may keep you in it longer… You are not to go against leadership in ways that usurp their position. There are proper ways to deal with bad leadership; talking behind their backs, not respecting their authority and undermining the boss are not it. Remember, we are to do everything as if we are doing it for God, not man! Be the best employee you can and see what God does. (This is also a good way to get a promotion and be out from under your current boss…) And we are also to trust God to fulfill His promises. If you do not have a blessed life, rather than complain, make sure you are actually obeying God’s Word (because there are punishments for not doing so that you may be experiencing), make sure you are not being greedy (God may be waiting for your attitude change!) and make sure your desires are godly and not selfish. And make sure you are not missing His blessing by not recognizing the opportunity waiting for you, or by not being willing to do the hard work! (Remember, you won’t get into something like medical school without good grades and there is work to be done to get them! If God gave you the intelligence, are you using it?) Then sit back and trust God and see what He does!
So what type of prayer does God answer?
Within these passages are two requests that God is pleased with. One is the request of the people who are unclean who want to celebrate Passover. God is pleased and creates an alternate date for generations to come to celebrate Passover a month later. This group of people who have touched a dead body desire to be part of the community and to worship God corporately, but are currently unable to do so. God hears their request and grants them a way to participate, honoring their commitment. Prayers that keep you in community with God’s people, even if it not in the same way as others, are honored by God.
The second request is by the daughters of Zelophad. They wish that their father’s name not be lost in the community because he produced only daughters. God responds by saying it is right for daughters in cases like this to inherit, and again makes rules for others in similar situations. The daughters are demonstrating a few things here. One is that they trust the land will be successfully taken, something that the previous generation did not, so they are showing faith that what God said will be done, will actually be done. Secondly they are showing their willingness to be a part of the community and do the hard work of caring for the land even though they, as women, do not have to do this alone, outside a typical marital situation. They will be responsible for both the male and the female tasks of running a household and they are willing to do so for the sake of their family’s legacy, for the next generations. They also know their Bible, and are likely aware that Job’s daughters inherited land as well. As the book of Job is the oldest book of the Bible, this precedent is already in place and they are not letting Moses off the hook by ignoring God’s plan for women to have rights in Israel as well. Their request pleased God as it shows they trust that God will honor His promises, trust that God is the same God of those who came before (Job) and therefore will not change and go back on His Word, and a willingness to take on a more difficult role in order to preserve good things for their families. Trust and a willingness to do the work are a great combination. This is a selfless prayer. While they are asking for land, they are not asking for personal gain, and are trusting in God’s promises.
So, prayers that are not likely to be answered include: selfish desires/ greedy motives, complaints about hard work, desiring another’s position to the point of insubordination (not going about things the right way), and not trusting God to fulfill His promises.
Prayers that are answered: desires to be a part of God’s community, selfless desires that include a willingness to work hard to receive the promise, and desires that show you trust God to fulfill His promises and be true to His Word.
But remember, prayer is not a formula, but a relationship. We fast to draw closer to God, not to bribe Him into doing something for us- that is the way the pagans treat their gods! Satan quotes scripture, and when he tempts Jesus in the desert he uses a quote from the very scripture the people at the time believe should be repeated in order to keep him away! Vain repetition is not effective either. Just ask God for what you need with a sincere heart, be happy with what you do have, trust that He will be there for you, and obey His Word, repenting when obedience was not the option you chose… Remember, God asks us to approach Him as we would our earthly Father (a good one). Trust that He will do what is best in your life, but remember, there is typically a little work and adversity in everything too!
An ultimately, we must remember that God is in charge. He knows the beginning from the end and what is ultimately best. While some things seem to be so unfair, we must trust that there is a way and a plan and that He is ultimately in control.