God's Answering of Our Prayers
Many people think their problems are literal when they are really
spiritual. They pray for the
literal answers they understand, not the spiritual answers they may not
For example, many of the poor pray for literal things, but literal
things are only temporary
answers for them, because they have the wrong spiritual values. The poor
often need better values
to enable them to get or handle things, but they pray mostly and
pitifully for things. They want literal
answers to their prayers, which is understandable, but God sees the real
answer to poverty lies in bad
values and, forsaking them, being spiritualized to a higher level of
God to be effective has to answer prayer on two levels: literal things and values. When those praying for literal things get spiritual answers, they may be confused. Often they are irate. But if God is truly to answer problems, He has to answer them on a spiritual level too. This is because many of our problems are on a spiritual level: in our attitudes or our values or our priorities or in an irregular relationship with God. (And when we practice charity we have to do so on two levels: literal giving but also the spiritual changing of values.)
When the Jews of the time of Jesus prayed for a Messiah to come to them, they wanted God to send a blood soaked conquering Messiah to lead them in hate, violence and war against Rome.
It is obvious to anyone that their real problem was spiritual. They were full of hate and bitterness and ugliness. Their problems were literal and their prayers were literal. God realized this. He sent a spiritually changing answer to the Jews in Jesus Christ, His Son. The Jews rejected Him.
God sent what the Jews needed, but the Jews were bitter because they knew what they wanted. They did not want a spiritually changing answer. They wanted a reinforcement of their bitter literalism and hatred. They wanted an answer of war and violence. Actually the antique Jews wanted God to come rocketing down from Heaven to do war. Of course this was absurd. But the Jews were not going to change their spiritual attitude and consequently their prayers for a bad literal answer. But God sent a spiritual answer in a literal world. He still does that now.
When we pray, we should remember WHAT GOD SEES as the answer to our problems is not necessarily what we see as the answer. God wants to spiritualize mankind by filling our nature with grace, our natural law with divine love, and our raw and angry emotion with more civilized and loving attitudes.
We humans, on the other hand, tend to want and pray for simple literalized answers to our literal problems, not wishing to go to side issues like looking for spiritual growth. For we are told to desire the Word, and to grow thereby. (I Peter 2:2)
What you think you want is not necessarily what God sees as the problem. So while you pray for what you want as the answer, God answers by what He knows is the spiritual problem. There is often a spiritual confusion, not always, but often. Do not expect God to answer your petitions to Him on the same level you make them. The tendency is for us to pray literally, but for God to re-structure and re-invent the problem and then answer spiritually.
That is a great source of the irony of God: that we are literal and He is spiritual, and we are impressed by the irony in His actions. We are impressed by the Way He takes up the literal problem to give it a spiritual slant. And we sense judgment, grace and love coming or going. Often grace is the best judgment. This is how Jesus says in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the light.”
So when you pray, don’t spell out what God is to do for you, but leave some room for the Holy Ghost to maneuver. He may re-invent your problem that He may raise you to grace through it. He can make your problem a means of grace.
Let us put it this way: When we pray, we tend to pray for things and those quite literally, but when God answers, it is usually by some choice enjoining you to move to a higher state of spiritual being. We desire things but God is trying to move us further than things to states of grace. A blessing is what is supposed to draw your nearer to God, but consider, do you really want to be blessed if it is a cross that raises you closer? (Truly everyone has some thorn in the flesh to be consecrated to Christ’s redemptive sufferings.)
My task is to have you realize what you are praying for literally may not be what is spiritually progressive or spiritual advancing for you. But what is spiritual progress? You will know it when you have achieved it Job in 42:3 said after his sufferings, he understood “things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.”
My advice is that you pray vaguely but sincerely for whatever may further your spiritual well being and that of others, Specifically what you should pray for is known best by God. That is why Jesus included in the “Lord’s Prayer,” the phrase, “thy will be done,” and Jesus says, as the time of His crucifixion nears, “not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22: 42) Also ask God as you pray that whatever happens to you may fall out (turn out) for the furtherance of the Gospel. (Philippians 1:12)
God wishes to spiritualize our flesh so that it may be channeled into godly usage like love into marriage. And any suffering you may undergo will be crowned by grace. So God may have to take the circumstances you present and re-invent them as a means of grace. In this way you may achieve spiritual wisdom and progress from whatever has happened to you.
Only God is not re-inventing so much as reinterpreting, to show you how He may use what has happened to you. He bestows grace for you to see things from His point of view. From literalism to grace involves a redirection of attention. But God often moves in a new way: He brings out the spiritual potential in a literal situation, and thereby wrings out grace from it. (Pray that whatever happens to you may be used by God’s grace to grace your life, or that of others.)
It is best to remember that a man on dope prays for dope, and he resents a spiritual side answer to his direct prayer for dope. A literal man prays for a literal solution, and he resents the fact God sees a spiritual problem and offers a spiritual solution. Man sees the spiritual solution as a side-answer of no importance. In this way the Jews saw Jesus; not a relevant answer but an off base spiritual side answer. (But we know differently. Jesus was the answer.)
A spiritual solution seems to a too literal person as off base as a non-dope solution is to a person hungering for dope. But God moves in a bigger, spiritual, refined and less literal milieu. Therefore I suggest God may be resented as a Maker of off base solutions, but, as you can figure out, the off base and offbeat “godly” solution is the truer solution, given the whole picture.
The problems of people are largely and often spiritual. The misuse of the material may often be traced to a sick spiritual condition. When we pray, we should not expect God to answer on the same literal level that we pray from. God sees both levels. He works hard at both levels, but the higher level is His spiritual level. The primary essence of God is the spiritual level. So it is not unusual for God to answer a literal prayer of what we want with an answer centered on what we spiritually need. (But this may make some people feel uncomfortable when their spiritual inadequacies are exposed.)
If you listen carefully to how the literal pray, you will find often they are praying only for more rope to hang themselves with. For being literal, they pray only for more literal things. Their answer to the inadequate is to get more literal. To see only one way, materially, is to hang yourself high for no value, because you do not see when more of what is literal is too much. But a spiritual person knows when enough is enough, because being a spiritually balanced person, you have a spiritually balanced faith. This gives you insight into the ironic truths of spiritual wisdom.
Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.