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Many of the deepest joys and most incredible gifts that God gives the human race come wrapped in painful packages.
So people ask the Father for things they long for because they want the complete joy He offers them. And they do not ask for trivial or fleshy stuff because they know what the Apostle James says in James 4:3: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” No, people pray for greater faith, love, holiness, wisdom, discernment, the experience of God’s grace, joy, and boldness in God, while praying for less satisfaction with worldly things.
His Unforeseen Answers
Such prayers and longings are sincere, and God loves them and loves to answer them. But humanity does not know themselves very well, the depth or pervasiveness of their sins, or what it requires to receive what they ask for. People can not help but have unreal, romantic imaginations and expectations about God’s answers to their prayers.
Therefore, humans are often unprepared for the answers they receive from God. His answers frequently do not look first-like answers. They look like trouble, loss, disappointment, affliction, conflict, sorrow, and increased selfishness. They even cause deep soul wrestling and expose sins, doubts, and fears. They are not what people expect, and people often do not see how they correspond to their prayers.
What To Expect?
What should humans expect to receive if they ask God for a greater, more profound love for Him? Answers give them a greater awareness of their deep and pervasive sinful depravity because those who are forgiven much love more, but those who are forgiven little, love little.
If one asks God to help him love his neighbors as himself, what should he expect to receive? Answers that force him to give incredible attention to a neighbor are inconvenient and irritating.
If a person asks God to make him living sacrifices, what should he expect to receive? Answers that break and humble his heart because the atonements of God are a broken spirit.
If one asks for his joy to be made fuller, to experience more happiness in God, what should he expect to receive? Answers that cause earthly pleasures he once thought gain but become empty, hollow, and lost. Thus, pushing him to search for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus.
What should you expect to receive if you ask God to satisfy Himself so that the world’s mud puddles do not so quickly meet you? Answers that cause you to be increasingly aware of the world’s evil, suffering, and injustices, because those who long for righteousness will be satisfied.
What should you expect to receive if you ask God for greater wisdom and discernment? A steady stream of mind-bending, confusing answers is difficult to understand and work through because your powers of discernment are trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
What should you expect to receive if you ask God to help you stop serving money so that you can serve Him more wholeheartedly? An uncomfortable amount of opportunities to give money away, expenses that deplete reserves you have been stashing away, maybe even a job loss — answers that push you to despise (ignore, turn away from, release) money and cling to God.
Expecting The Unexpected
When God begins to answer people’s prayers, they often find His answers disorienting. Circumstances might take unexpected courses, health might deteriorate, painful relational dynamics might develop, financial difficulties might occur, and spiritual and emotional struggles might emerge that seem unconnected. People can feel like they are backward because they are not moving forward. They cry out in painful confusion and exasperation when what is happening is that God is answering their prayers. They just expected the answer to look and feel different.
This being true, humans might be tempted not even to ask God for such things. This is because who wants unpleasant answers to prayers for joy?
Do not be deceived into this short-sighted thinking. Remember Jesus’s promise: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). Further, Judith Martin Alford, in her book, In The Hands Of God, shows evidence that God is still genuinely blessing as many people today as He did in Biblical times. Thus, if the path to complete joy is sometimes hard, and Jesus tells you it is, that is no reason not to take it! What do you want? Low, shallow, thin joys? No! Go for complete satisfaction!