One mistake we often make in our prayers, is expecting all the wrong things. We pray for faith and expect a boost of confidence, and instead we meet with a confusing passage that causes us doubt. We pray for patience and peace and expect a calm tranquility of soul to settle upon us as we magnanimously treat others in our life; instead we are presented a bombardment of chaos and crashing of schedules. We pray for joy expecting laughter, and find sorrow instead. We pray for victory over sin and are immediately presented with the meatiest of temptations we’ve yet faced!
One mistake we often make in our prayers, is expecting all the wrong things. It must be clear that our Father in heaven gives good gifts to His children; He is not abusive and “up-to-something.” When we ask for bread, he doesn’t give rocks, He gives bread (Lk. 11:11). Yet, when we see our prayers being answered differently than we expect, this does’t mean that God is failing to meet our request for bread, but that the Holy Spirit is praying and interceding on our behalf and “translating” our prayers. You see, we think we are asking for bread, when we are really asking for gravel. God, in His great love for us, sees fit to look beyond the stuttering and stammering and misguided requests we often make, and by His Spirit transforms our imperfect requests into precisely what He knows we should be asking for. As we mature, we become less likely to ask for our circumstances to change, and rather we ask that we would be changed through the circumstances God’s Providence has sent into our lives.
Thus, we must be more daring in our prayers, and grow in maturity. We must not ask for stuff, when God would have us to seek Him and His kingdom (Mat. 6:33). One entry from Robert Murray M’Cheyne‘s journal exhibits mature praying:
Nov 21 – If nothing else will do to sever me from my sins, Lord, send me such sore and trying calamities as shall awake me from earthly slumbers. It must always be best to be alive to thee whatever be the quickening instrument. I tremble as I write, for oh! on every hand do I see too likely occasions for sore afflictions. –R.M. M’Cheyne (Memoirs)
Notice that his desire to be “severed from his sins” (i.e. sanctification) was converted into prayer not by asking directly for the temptations for sin to be removed, but that God would send “sore and trying calamities” which would “awake [him] from earthly slumbers.” Would you dare to pray as M’Cheyne did, “God send me the sort of trials and temptations which are sure to pry my grip off of worldly trinkets?” Or like David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psa 139:23-24).” All too often we ask for what God might give to us, rather than asking for Him, and that He would bring about the sort of circumstances that will reveal the wiliness of our sinfulness. If nothing else will do to sever me from my sins, Lord, send me such sore and trying calamities as shall awake me from earthly slumbers. R.M. M’Cheyne
Asking that God would expose our sin and proclivities to sin is not a “kill-joy”. Rather, it demonstrates that one loves God and therefore hates sin. When we pray, we must ask according to His will, and His will is our sanctification. Meaning, when we ask for faith, for instance, we are entrusting ourselves to His sovereign decree of what He knows will result in the greatest strengthening of our faith. In many cases, this will look like a peculiar cross to bear or trial to face; which are, of course, incomparable to the glory which will be revealed in us, as a result of the pruning work of these trials and sufferings. As the old hymn well instructs us: “Behind a frowning providence, He hides a gracious smile.”