When You Should Not Thank God

If you attribute some to the result of prayer, how do you feel if a subsequent prayer is not answered?

This post is the matching ‘book-end’ post to our earlier one, “What to Pray For“, and represents an extension of the same logic.  If you’ve not yet read the earlier post, you might choose to read that one first, so we don’t need to repeat the reasoning contained within it.

Our basic point is that it is seldom appropriate to ask God for specific outcomes, because we never know God’s plan or why certain things – both good and bad – happen.  Things which appear to be bad to us might actually, in the broader scheme of things, to more people, be good, or at least, necessary.

The specific example we opened with in the earlier post was a hurricane that spent much of the last week approaching the east coast of the US.  At one point, it was expected to land with 160+ mph winds, and to dump over 10 trillion gallons of rain onto the countryside.  Between the flooding and the wind, incalculable damage and much loss of life was being predicted.

As so often happens, the hurricane – now Tropical Storm Florence – weakened substantially before reaching the coast, and while there are heavy downpours, the winds were about half the intensity forecast.  Substantial damage is still being experienced, but nothing like that earlier expected.

This has caused the prayer boards to light up with prayers of thanks to God for abating the hurricane.  The same people who were asking God to cause the hurricane to dissipate entirely are now thanking Him for merely diminishing its intensity.  That’s a great exercise in “glass half full” thinking, but we’ll wager that none of the people now offering thanks are actually within the zone of greatest wind and rain at present!

This also makes us wonder – what do the people now rapturously thanking God for (apparently and partially) answering their prayers feel, think, say and post when they next pray for something and their prayer is not answered?

While there is not really any harm in being abundantly thankful to our Good Lord for everything in the world around us, and everything that happens to us, all day every day; doing so contains a couple of subtle but serious “logic errors”.

Logic Error 1 :  God’s Control or Our Free Will?

The first logic error is that while God can control every last part of our lives, He chooses not to.  He gives us free will, freedom of choice, and freedom of action.

Much of what happens to us is a result of the choices we freely make.  Should you be thankful to God when it is your personal effort that created a positive outcome?  Well, yes and no.  You can and should be thankful that God granted you the abilities and opportunities within which you have yourself created positive outcomes, but the actual immediate linkage between what specifically happened and what specifically caused it should be understood to often be the fruits of your labors.

This is important, because if you give God credit for your every success in life, who do you then blame for your every failure and disappointment?  If God is entirely to be credited with everything good, doesn’t that imply that He should be ‘blamed’ for everything bad?  If you thank God for passing an exam, does that mean you blame Him for failing the next exam?  Surely, the reason you passed the first exam was that you made best use of your God-given potential, attended classes, concentrated, studied diligently, and passed as a result.  And equally surely, don’t you know, in your heart of hearts, that the reason you failed the next exam was because you didn’t study as hard as you had the previous time.

Logic Error 2 :  Why are Some Prayers Answered but Not Others?

The second logic error is similar to the first.  If you pray and ask for a specific outcome, and it happens, and then you thank God for answering your prayer; what do you think and do if you pray and ask for a specific outcome and it does not occur?

Do you then remonstrate with God for not answering your prayer!?  Or do you somehow manage to give thanks to God when you ‘score a win’ with your praying, but overlook your losses, a bit the same way as a gambler will tell you the story of how much he won last week at Las Vegas, while glossing over the much larger losses that saw him return home penniless?

There is a difference between having faith and practicing self-deception.  Don’t be like the Vegas gambler.  There is room for logic in our love of God, all the more so because He, Himself, sets clear rules and consequences for actions and events (particularly in the Old Testament) and has created a world for us largely based on science.

The logic trap in all of this is that if we give God too much credit for the good things in our lives and the prayers that appear to be answered, that risks us unfairly blaming Him when bad things happen and our prayers are not answered.

We should never need to feel awkward when our prayers are not answered, and we should never feel our faith challenged in such cases.  We need to understand, before making the request, what we can and can’t ask for (that is discussed in the earlier post, What to Pray For).

We need to understand, when we pray for good things and they happen, that may or may not be the result of our prayers.  From that positive understanding, we can then understand, when bad things happen, our prayers notwithstanding, why God did not answer our prayers.

So, for the tropical storm that turned out less deadly than initially predicted, what should we think, and how should we give thanks?  How about this :

Prayer of Thanks
Dear Lord, We rejoice in Your Plan, and its many mysteries, and lead our lives confident in Your Wisdom and Grace, even when Your Purpose is not clear to us.

We thank you for (eg allowing the tropical storm to abate prior to landfall), while accepting that its presence is also serving Your Plan, as we seek to do, ourselves.

We greet you, as always, with thanks for the gift of salvation and eternal life You so graciously bestowed upon us through the sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

And in the example of passing or failing an exam, how about these :

Prayer After a Successful OutcomePrayer After an Unsuccessful Outcome
Dear Lord – We wish to give thanks, today and every day, for Your Love and Your Grace.  We rejoice in Your Presence, and always seek Your Assistance and encouragement to best serve You and Your Plan.

Today, we are particularly thankful for Your Blessing and allowing us to pass our (whatever) exam.  We hope this will assist us to better serve You and renew our promise to do so.

As always, our thanks for the suffering and sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

 

 

Dear Lord –  We wish to give thanks, today and every day, for Your Love and Your Grace.  We rejoice in Your Presence, and always seek Your Assistance and encouragement to best serve You and Your Plan.

Men can not understand Your Plan for us and the world we live in.  We must simply accept it and live it as best You may reveal it, and we reaffirm our eagerness to do this.

And so we accept there is a purpose for our failing the (whatever) exam, and stand ready to serve You however You wish.

Our small sense of suffering is nothing compared to the sacrifice and suffering of Your Son, Jesus Christ, and for that, we shall always be accepting and grateful.

Amen.

Please note these forms of prayer are merely simple examples of possible approaches.  However you style your personal communications with God is between you and Him; the purpose of this article is merely to help you set your expectations correctly and to know how to interpret both positive and negative responses to your prayers.

We pray that the Good Lord shall smile upon you and your work, and that this article may help you on your path to better understanding and service.


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