Abiding and Answered Prayer

At church this morning, the theme was prayer.  The pastor was commenting on John 15:7, which states (in the KJV): “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”

My pastor was saying what I’ve heard a lot of Christians say: that John 15:7 does not mean that God gives us everything we ask for, but rather that abiding in Christ influences us to desire and to ask for the right things, and God grants us those things. 

But this sort of spiel does not resonate with me, for it strikes me as an escape clause: If you did not get what you want, that’s due to you wanting the wrong things because you don’t sufficiently abide in Christ.  (My pastor did not say that, but I feel that conditioning answered prayer on abiding in Christ can eventually go in that direction.)  Consequently, if, say, you’re praying for a loved-one to recover from an illness, and the loved-one dies, are you supposed to blame yourself for the loved-one’s death, since God may not have answered your prayer due to your poor spiritual condition?  I hope God’s not like that!

Moreover, what exactly is the “right thing” to pray for?  I think that it’s appropriate to pray for a job or for healing, for oneself or others.  A person who abides in Christ can do this, as can one with a weak spiritual condition.  I think that a person who abides in Christ would actually be encouraged by her faith to do so, since Christianity teaches compassion for others.  So why would God choose not to grant such a petition?  In my opinion, it can’t be because such requests do not flow from Christ-like desires, for they do.

One may say that God knows best.  Fine.  But, if God knows best and will do what he wants anyway, why does Jesus go out of his way to tell us that God will answer our requests?  Why should we even make requests, when God will do what he wants?

Do I think that God answers the prayers of people who are especially righteous?  I’ve thought about this issue a couple of times lately.  First, I was watching the episode of Highway to Heaven in which Dick Van Dyke plays a hobo named Wally who loves people and gives to them.  Because of Wally’s continuous concern for others, God considers him to be a saint, and God answers Wally’s prayer to heal a sick boy.  Second, I saw a movie (for the second time) entitled The Third Miracle, which is about a debate in the Catholic church about whether or not to declare a woman to be a saint.  Part of sainthood is being so close to God that God hears your prayers for others and answers them.  That’s presumably why there are many Catholics who ask saints to intercede for them.

I’d like to think that God honors a person who goes the extra mile in showing concern for other people.  Do I think that God hears her prayers over those of others?  Part of me hopes not.  I know I’m not perfect, but I would hope that God loves me and listens to my prayers, plus I would not want to carry around a load of guilt if my prayers were to go ungranted and bad things were to happen.

I liked something that my pastor said in the sermon: He told about a little boy who asked if it’s all right to talk to God, even if he doesn’t want God to do something for him.  The answer was absolutely!  That’s one reason I pray: for the company.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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