Minding Our Own Business in Prayer

Rev. Chip Hammond

Five times in John’s Gospel Jesus says that if we ask anything in his name, God will grant it. Members of Bethel are witness to the incredible way God has answered many of our prayers, including those for physical healing.

How about your own prayers? Are they being answered? If you can’t immediately answer “yes” then something is wrong. What are the possibilities?

One possibility that we can immediately dismiss is that Jesus was wrong or misleading. It seems inconceivable that one who is called “The Truth” (John 14:6) could be misleading or wrong about such a thing.

Another possibility is that you are not really praying in Jesus’ name. When Jesus speaks of praying in his name, he is not encouraging a certain verbal formula to give your prayer “zip.” In fact, it is possible to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of a prayer and not be praying in Jesus’ name at all. Doing so is the very essence of taking the Lord’s name in vain.

James says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3-4). Asking for help in Jesus’ name is often appropriate. Asking for wealth in Jesus’ name seldom is (despite what the dominion theologians and peddlers of the prosperity gospel tell you). 

But there is a third reason you may not have. Or, more accurately, may miss that you have. God invites us in prayer to tell him our needs and even our desires. But he desires that we tell him what we need or want, not tell him his business. 

I fear that we too often do this. We say, “God, I have a wonderful plan for my life. Let me make it a matter of prayer in all of its details and pray in Jesus’ name so you will answer me.” 

If you pay attention you may find that God answers your wants and needs, but does not allow you to specify or dictate the means. Let me give you a biblical example. Second Samuel records the rebellion of King David’s son Absalom.  A man by the name of Ahithophel ,  a counselor of David’s, turned traitor and entered into Absalom’s conspiracy against David.  Ahithophel was a smart man, and David knew it. He posed a real danger to David, so as David fled he prayed, “O LORD, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness” (2 Sam. 15:31).

What did David really want? His desire was that he and those loyal to him would not be killed, but his prayer was a classic example of telling God God’s own business. It amounted to him saying, “LORD, this is the way you need to handle this.”

God answered David’s prayer , that is, the desire of his heart, but he did not allow David to tell him his business. Here’s how it actually worked out: “Absalom and all the men of Israel said, ‘The advice of Hushai the Arkite is better than that of Ahithophel.’ For the LORD had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom” (2 Sam. 17:14).

Did God answer David’s prayer? Well, yes and no. Yes, God gave David his desire (to be safe from Absolam). He did not, however, follow David’s playbook to do so. Ahithophel’s advice was not turned to foolishness. It was simply ignored by Absalom. The end result was the same, but God did not allow David to dictate the means of how he was going to get there.

How might this principle work out in our own experience? As a part of our building project, the Church had to put up a substantial landscaping bond to the county. Once the landscaping was done we could get the money back. A part of what was needed for completion was for the new grass to “be established.”

Now whatever good the county may do with that money, the church will do better. The county, even when acting at its wisest, will use that money for things that are destined to pass away. The Church acting at its wisest will use the money for what will last for eternity. You don’t have to be financial wizard to conclude which is the better investment. 

So we’ve  prayed. But what did we pray for (or more pointedly, what did I pray for)? I prayed for rain. In doing so I was telling God his business. Rain is good, but rain is not really what I was after. Even if I prayed for the grass to grow, that would not really be what I was after (although grass would be nicer than dust or mud). No, what I really wanted was for the country to release the bond. And that is & what I should have being praying for.

The next time you perceive a need in your own life or the life of others, be sure to pray about it in Jesus’ name (really, not just in form). But also be certain to pray for what you really desire. Mind your own business in prayer. Don’t pray in such a way as to tell God his business. Tell him your desire and let him answer that desire in his own wise way.

Does God regularly answer your prayers when you pray in Jesus’ name? I suspect that we miss many answers to prayer because we’re looking for God to comply with our dictating to him his business, rather than expressing to him our simple, child-like desires.