Much of the reason we go to prayer is because we want something from God. And sometimes, we act as if there must be some kind of exchange involved: “God, if you would just grant this one prayer, I promise to (fill in the blank).” Surely you’ve prayed a prayer like that at least once. I know I have.
Probably at least twice.
As we’ve seen in previous posts, the people who sought Jesus out after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 wanted something from him: bread, bread, and more bread. “Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life,” he told them (John 6:27). They didn’t seem to hear the “eternal life” part, but keyed in on the word “work” instead: OK, then, just tell us what we need to do!
They were listening for what God wanted them to do, so they could get what they wanted. What they weren’t ready to hear was what God wanted for them, not from them. Jesus said,
Everyone whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and I won’t send away anyone who comes to me. I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but the will of him who sent me. This is the will of the one who sent me, that I won’t lose anything he has given me, but I will raise it up at the last day. This is my Father’s will: that all who see the Son and believe in him will have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. (John 6:37-40, CEB)
Here, Jesus mentions his Father’s will three times. He mentions eternal life once (as he had spoken of earlier), and resurrection twice. So here’s a quick quiz: in this short passage, according to Jesus, what is God’s will for those who believe?
It’s not a trick question.
But I doubt that the people listening to Jesus that day could have answered it.
In a terrible irony, the people are so caught up in trying to get what they want that they are unable to hear the much more amazing gift God actually wants to give them: eternal life, resurrection. All they have to do is believe. But they can’t believe what they can’t hear. And eventually, many of them will simply walk away, figuring that Jesus simply isn’t who they thought he was.
All of us, I imagine, have had disappointments in prayer. We asked; we pleaded; we bargained. And we didn’t get what we wanted.
Then we were told, “When we ask God for something, sometimes the answer is no.” Sometimes, that’s like saying, “Look, God is sovereign, and besides, he knows better than you. So get over it.”
But I wonder: maybe the answer isn’t simply “No,” but, “I want something even better for you, if you would only listen.”
Would we be able to hear it?