This is a pretty complicated question, but here are a couple preliminary thoughts:
- We always want prayer to work like a vending machine. But it doesn’t. We don’t always get what we want, and that’s a good thing. The purpose of prayer is to cultivate a relationship with God. In the midst of that, we submit requests. And I mean that seriously: we “submit” our requests—we submit our desires to God and trust that He’s good. In his goodness he says one of three things: yes, no, or wait. To get the last two answers often makes us mad, but that’s what the walk of faith is at least partly about: will I trust God to be good to me, even when I don’t get what I want when I want it?
- Some of the hardest questions about prayer revolve around stuff that it seems obvious that God would want to say yes to: a sick parent, breaking free of something in our own lives that’s keeping us down, etc. But if God’s saying no or wait on those things, the challenge and the opportunity is to consider and ask what he might want to do with this in the mean time. I had a hard break-up sophomore year of college. I wanted to be free of my feelings for her right away, but God didn’t grant me that request. Instead, I learned how to develop guy friendships that walked me through that hard time in my life. So instead of God magically waving a wand to heal me, he taught me another valuable lesson—about community and really experiencing it in places where I felt vulnerable—and that lesson has stuck with me for the rest of my life. This is a small issue compared to what many others go through, but the principle applies to many, much harder situations. Sometimes God says no to something in order to say yes to something much greater that we cannot yet see.
My own prayer is that I might be able to likewise be fully submitted to the will of the Father.