God Answers the Greater Prayer
I Cor. 12:1-10
There may, however, be another reason why God says “NO” to some of our prayers. Some of our prayers collide with each other.
Much of our praying is giving God directions on WHAT to do, HOW to do it, and WHEN to do it. We often try to advise God, by way of prayer, how he should accomplish our goals. But it might well be that if God chose to say “YES” to the means and methods we outline, we would not get the very thing our hearts longed for.
Let me tell you the story of Monica, the mother of the man we call Saint Augustine. When the story begins Augustine is no saint. He is a profligate young man. He has been dabbling in various cult movements of his day. He has tasted the dregs of his pagan world with all of its debauchery. And his mother is heart broken. But the good news for Monica is, that Augustine has stayed at home.
But a change comes. Monica hears that her son is planning to leave home and go to Rome. That place is the cesspool of the empire. It is a den of iniquity. And she is afraid for her son. A ship is in the harbour getting refitted for its journey back to Rome. And Monica in great anxiety goes to constant prayer. Her prayer is “O Lord, do not let Augustine take that ship. Keep my boy at home!” Early each morning Monica checks Augustine’s room to see if he is still there. Morning after morning she sees his slumbering form, heaves a sigh of relief, and goes back to her praying.
One morning, however, what she dreads the most has taken place. She has gone to his room, and the bed is empty. She rushes down to the harbour, praying feverishly, only to see the ship on the horizon. Augustine is on board ship on his way to Rome. She is in despair. God has not answered her prayer for her profligate son.
Some weeks later Augustine lands in Rome, a stranger in a strange land. He knows no one there, and in his loneliness he seeks out a friend of his mother’s, Bishop Ambrose. And shortly after one of the world’s greatest conversions took place. Augustine was converted in Rome when he would not be converted in his North African home.
Monica’s prayer was refused, so that a greater prayer could be answered. For years she had prayed for her son’s conversion, and to God also that was more important.
Some of our praying for health, for wealth, for safety, for success, for a job, or for a myriad other things may be refused by our kind Father because to answer those prayers might prevent a greater prayer from being answered.
Do you remember Paul’s prayer for God to remove the thorn from his flesh? Three times God said “NO” for there was another prayer that Paul had prayed longer and more deeply. It probably ran something like this, “O that I might know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” And that thorn was part of God’s answer to Paul’s greater prayer.
In the garden of Gethsemane, God says “no” to his own son who desired release from the cross, because Jesus prayed another prayer “Nevertheless, not what I want, but what you want” repeating another prayer prayed years earlier, “I come to do thy will, O God.”
Let me read you a poem that says substantially the same thing. It is anonymous.
I asked to be made like my saviour:
He took me right then at my word;
And sent me a heart crushing burden
Till the depth of my soul was stirred.
I asked for a faith strong, yet simple:
He permitted the dark clouds to come;
And I staggered by faith through the darkness
For the storm had obscured the sun.
I prayed to be filled with a passion
Of love for lost souls and for God:
And again in response to my longings
I sank ‘neath the chastening rod.
I wanted a place in his vineyard:
He took me away from my home;
And placed me among the wicked,
Where I had to stand all alone.
I wanted a meek lowly spirit:
The work he gave answered that cry;
Till some who had once been companions
With pitying smile passed me by.
I asked to lean hard on my saviour:
He took human props quite away,
Till no earthly friend could give comfort
And I could do nothing but pray.
But many a heart that was broken,
And many a wrecked blighted life,
Was made to thank God for my coming
And rejoiced in the midst of their strife.
I had prayed to be made like my saviour.
And the burdens he gave me to bear
Had been but the great sculptor’s teaching
To help answer my earnest prayer.
God chooses to answer the deeper prayers of our lives, and may say “NO” to those prayers that would short circuit the greater prayer.