Author: Ron Graham
False Expectations of Prayer
—and what rightly to expect
The Lord promises that he will hear our prayers (1John 3:22). He promises that all things will work together for our good (Romans 8:26-28).
When these things are misunderstood, people become disillusioned and disappointed.
In pointing out these three false expectations, I'm not going to undermine a proper faith in the power of prayer. I do truly believe, and the Bible clearly teaches, that prayer makes an enormous difference to our lives. We have to understand, however, the nature of this difference.
1 The First False Expectation
"Things will work out just as I plan or wish."
God never promised that he would answer all our worldly desires. Paul’s plans and wishes were not always realised (Romans 1:13, 1Thessalonians 2:18).
We must never assume that our plans will succeed (James 4:13-15).
Failures, frustrations, disappointments, are all part of life. God may not over-rule them but he ensures that nevertheless all things work together for our eternal good (Romans 8:28).
2 The Second False Expectation
"God will remove trouble and suffering from my life"
If that is what Romans 8:28 means, then what does Romans 8:35 mean?
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?"
God doesn't promise to remove tribulation from us. The above passage clearly implies that we are likely to undergo some kind of trial or trouble. However, God promises that no adversity can separate us from him. He promises that when we have gone through much tribulation, we will reach his eternal kingdom (Acts 14:22).
Some quote Isaiah 53:4 saying that Christ died for our sufferings and sicknesses. However Matthew tells us that this prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus's ministry of healing, not by his death on the cross (Matthew 8:14-17).
It was "for our iniquities" (not our sicknesses and sufferings) that Jesus was crucified (Isaiah 53:5).
God did not remove Paul's "thorn in the flesh" (2Corinthians 12:7-10). God did not remove Timothy's "frequent infirmities" (1Timothy 5:23). Why not, if Christ died for them?
Sometimes God can use our troubles "for our profit" in that we are strengthened by discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11).
3 The Third False Expectation
"God will prove he is with me by providing me with signs"
It is unwise to interpret events in our lives as evidence of favour or disfavour from God toward us. How wrong such an interpretation turned out to be! (John 9:1-3).
Some have turned aside from the promises. Instead of promise, they want proof. Not satisfied to know that God is answering their prayers. They have to have signs, hour by hour day by day, to sustain their faith.
This can lead to manufacturing events in our lives so that we have little miracles to live by. But they are not really miracles or signs, just delusions and inventions of our own making. Such faith is built on a false foundation.
4 The True Expectation
"I will walk by faith and not by sight"
We "walk by faith and not by sight" which means that we believe the providence and promise of God without him having to pepper our lives with proofs.
Our right standing with God can be ascertained from his revealed word, not by personal experiences which we attribute to God approving or disapproving of us (2Corinthians 5:7). We can suffer troubles without doubting our relationship with God.
Our main expectation is that God will bring us on our journey through this world to welcome us into our eternal home.
Questions for Discussion and Review
1. Will prayer always make things work out just as we planned?
2. Satan succeeded in hindering some of Paul's plans. True or false?
3. To what extent can suffering and tribulation befall the Christian?
4. Toward what end does God allow us to suffer?
5. Good fortune shows that God is pleased with you. Tribulation shows that God is angry with you. True or false?
6. What is the right way to regard the providence of God? Should we regard it as a sign?
7. What did Jesus die for? Was it to free us from sickness and suffering?
8. What can we expect as a result of prayer? Miracles and stunning signs? All our wishes come true? If not these, then what?
9. What did Paul ask God for and was refused?
10. What are your present expectations of prayer —what results do you expect in your life? Be as specific as possible.