Prayer is a foundational part of the life of a Christian. It is how we maintain and deepen our relationship with the Lord, and so He wants us to pray and ask Him for the desires of our hearts. And He encourages us to pray with confidence, telling us in Scripture:
Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. – Mark 11:23
But recently a listener called in to Go Ask Your Father™ to ask about this passage. She said that she prayed fervently for a particular intention, keeping in mind the words of Mark 11:23, but the answer she received from God was ‘No.’ She told Msgr. Stuart Swetland that this answer was devastating, and left her feeling betrayed. She shared that she now doesn’t feel much trust in the Lord. So how are we to interpret this passage?
Msgr. Swetland responded:
“God does always our prayer. He always wants what is best for us and everyone else. So let’s use that example. If that mountain has 100,000 people living on it, I don’t think God’s going to answer your prayer to throw it into the sea and kill 100,000 innocent people.
So we have to look at the big picture. And I’ll be honest, many times in my own life the Lord has said no to my requests that I thought were legitimate requests. And it was only in hindsight that I see the wisdom of those no’s.
I don’t struggle as much as you do with the trust issue. I’m very confident that what Paul wrote in Romans 8:28 is true, when he says, ‘All things work together for good for those that love God and are called according to His purpose.’
Now, Paul is writing to a community he didn’t even found. He only knows about this community vicariously. But he knows that they know that what it means to be a Christian is to know, to have an intimate knowledge, that all things will work together for good. They may not work together the way we want them to, but they will work together for good, as long as these two conditions are fulfilled: that we love God with all our heart, mind and soul; and we’re following His will.
God does not promise that things will work together for good for those who do not follow His will. In fact, for people who don’t follow His will, He can pretty much tell them that it’s not going to end well. So it’s very important that we know God’s will for our life and we’re doing that as best we can, and loving Him as best we can. Then we can have total confidence that it is going to work out for good.
It’s a relationship, it’s not magic. He’s not the great gumball machine in the sky, that if we just get the right change we get our gumball. That would make God not personal. It’s relational.
And we see this most beautifully in the life of our Lord. He prayed earnestly on Holy Thursday that, if possible, the cup of suffering could pass from Him. And He prayed it three times, but He always ended the prayer the same way. He said, ‘But not My will, Your will be done.'”
Listen to the full conversation below: