“Faith,” it says, “is the evidence of things unseen.” Too often, we read this and only think of the word “unseen” in terms of our desired outcome: it isn’t yet visible, hasn’t come to pass.
This stops short of the point. The “unseen” must also be applied to the means by which God will work. To paraphrase: faith is our confession that something is going on behind the scenes under God’s supervision. Even if we’re not yet aware of the specifics, we fully trust His purpose for the outcome.
Too often we default to this shortcut: we simply identify what we see as the most likely means of our desire coming to pass and then ask God to bless it. Those in need of funds for a cause place their faith in the response of donors and ask God to spark their generosity. The sick and those who care about them place their faith in doctors and/or procedures and pray that God will maximize their effectiveness. The needy place their faith in the system, the lonely place their faith in a specific relationship, the unemployed fixate on a certain type of job (or level or compensation), purchasers place their faith in a particular item or specific seller…etc.
Hey, we’ve all done it, but there are at least two problems with this approach. First, when we place our faith in the means, rather than in the God who blesses, we set ourselves up for disappointment. We’re really only seeking one of two answers, either “Yes, you can have it the way you want it,” or “No, you can’t,” rather than pursuing the breadth and depth of God’s will. If that’s your norm, go back and check your spiritual junk mail: God really has been responding to you with intentions of blessing, they just didn’t always carry the subject line you were looking for.
God, the God of all universes, limitless in creativity, power and wisdom, isn’t always willing to be pigeon-holed where his manner of operations are concerned. His ways are higher; smarter; ultimately better.
Second, we’re missing the dynamic of what a relationship truly is. We’re supposed to be in an ongoing, growing, discussion and interaction with God as we walk through this life. Neither the vending machine approach to prayer (if I put the right amount in and choose what I want, I will get it – unless it gets hung up on the way down) nor the slot machine approach to prayer (if I invest enough in a compulsive fit of prayer, I should get lucky) are workable options over time – although God does humor us once in awhile.
I’m not suggesting we should reduce all prayer to “Thy will be done.” Save that for those moments when you discover a rift between what you want and what God wants; then it’s a perfect statement of submission. But in those moments when you should still be seeking answers, “Thy will be done” is too often the death of conversation with God; a spiritualized resignation that whatever will happen will happen, and that God will likely disappoint you.
Is that really what you want to settle for? Does it reflect the witness of those who have walked most closely with him? Is it possible that prayer is, after all, a greater adventure than we realized? Don’t stop short. Talk with God regularly and joyfully (it’ll come as you get to know him better), pray expectantly, and even pray hard on occasion. Bring your specific requests, but start with a consciousness of relationship (“Our Father…”), recognizing his vastness (“Who is in heaven”), remembering his faithfulness (“Hallowed is Your Name”) and then bring your willingness to let God adjust your focus, your perceptions, even your direction (“Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”). In such a context you can boldly come before his throne with every need and every request!