God has blessed me with wonderful Christian friends from various faith traditions: Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic, Baptist, Charismatic, non-denominational, Wesleyan, and others. Although we all agree on the central issues of the faith – what C. S. Lewis would call “mere Christianity” – we sometimes have different “takes” on certain principles of Christian living.
A core issue for believers concerns how “demanding” we can be in prayer. Jesus himself promised several times that we can ask anything of God and expect him to answer as long as these prayers are “claimed” in the context of God’s sovereignty. After all, he is the God of the universe, and I’m not, so he may have outcomes I can’t see from my limited perspective.
But this raises a vexing problem. How can I pray confidently, expecting an answer not knowing if what I’m asking is really God’s will?
Some Christians stress our unfettered access to our loving heavenly father and boldly ask for miraculous interventions. If you extrapolate this position to the extreme, it can almost border on the “name it and claim it” false theology – insisting that God apply one of his promises exactly the way I want it to look.
Other Christians are more reserved and, following Jesus’ example in the garden, stress prayer’s “nevertheless, not my will but yours” aspect. Taken to an extreme, this position approaches “practical deism.” That is, although I ask God to intervene on my behalf, I really don’t expect him to do anything, so he more or less becomes a non-entity in my daily life.
How do we resolve this tension between perhaps being presumptuous on the one hand and being “of little faith” on the other?
There is no better Bible passage to address this than Daniel 3:17-18. Enemies of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego ratted them out to Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar for not worshipping the golden image the king had set up. The penalty? Incineration in a furnace hot enough to instantly kill the soldiers who threw the three into it.
Given one last chance to reconsider, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered:
“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it . . . . But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
That’s it! The perfect blend of believing God’s power and a willingness to continue trusting him even if his will doesn’t match my personal agenda. If God could make the Milky Way and the Grand Canyon, and if he could bring Jesus back from death, certainly he is able to suspend the laws of nature to preserve the three from the flames. But will he? I can and should ask for the miraculous, but God may be after other things. That’s his business. My job is to trust him even if my prayers are not answered precisely as I think they should be. So ask away, and rejoice regardless of the outcome.
Thank you for this transformational insight, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego!