why we should still ask, even if God might say no

I’m praying bigger prayers these days.

Over the past few years, my prayer life has felt very repetitive–at least, it’s been repetitive in the “big things,” and especially related to infertility. It’s not that I ever stopped praying for a pregnancy, but I got into a rut from asking regularly for the same thing over and over, and I got discouraged by what has been a continual “no” (or a “no, not yet”). I didn’t stop asking, but it’s like the asking became more of an unconscious habit as opposed to a conscious and persistent and hopeful asking.

And, to be honest, I stopped believing it could actually happen. I stopped allowing myself to picture what it would be like if God said “yes” because I doubted that he was willing to say yes.

Something shifted for me recently, and I don’t quite know what to attribute it to other than God’s grace in changing my heart. My prayers have moved out of the rut and into new faith. And not only am I praying with more faith that God can and God is willing to answer, but I am praying for more specific things, related to infertility as well as other areas of my life. I’m not just praying for the bare minimum, but I am asking God to do more than that.

I often approach God with a beggar mentality, asking for the smallest morsel of bread, not wanting to impose on him by asking for too much. I approach him expecting him to be critical, deciding whether or not I present myself in a way that inclines him to answer, so I try to pray in a way that spiritually justifies what I am asking for. I approach him timidly, as if I might ruin my chances if I am not careful.

As I reread the paragraph I just wrote, I can see wrong-thinking. I know that those aren’t accurate descriptions of God’s posture toward me. I am begging God for one breadcrumb when he has all the bread in the world! And yet, I wasn’t aware until recently that I was relating to God that way.

When our focus is first on our circumstances instead of on God, we tend to unconsciously craft an image of God that makes sense in our circumstances. What I saw when I looked at four years of infertility was a god who was withholding from me, a god who was critical of my pain and my continued grief, a god who might have been present but who was indifferent, lacking compassion, and impatient.

As I have begun praying differently, and as I have been looking to Scripture to know the truth of God’s character instead of being swayed by my circumstances, I’ve identified three ways that praying bigger prayers solidifies the portrait of God and the truth of his character–no matter how he ultimately chooses to answer those prayers.

1. Praying big prayers pushes me to recognize that God is all-powerful. I have to believe that he is able to do what I am asking him to do.

In Matthew 8, a Roman centurion comes to Jesus to ask for healing for his paralyzed servant. This is obviously a big deal because this guy is not a Jew, and is in fact disliked by the Jews because of his rule over them. When Jesus agrees to go to his house and heal his servant, the centurion proclaims that he is not worthy for Jesus to come to his house. Instead, he states that he knows Jesus has authority and doesn’t even have to go to his house; he knows Jesus can just say the word and his servant will be healed.

His view of Jesus’ authority and power is big, and it reflects in his request and his confidence that Jesus will do what he is asking him to do.

In Mark 9, I am struck by Jesus’ encounter with a father whose son has an unclean spirit. The disciples were unable to cast the spirit out of him, so the father approaches Jesus himself. When Jesus begins to talk to the father about his son’s condition, the father says, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus responds, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”

That “if” statement is exactly how I often come to God. “If there’s anything you can do about this…”

How this reflects the unbelief in my heart! Jesus is saying not that all things will happen for the person who believes, but that faith means believing that God can do anything. You will be willing to ask for anything because it’s not out of the realm of possibility that God would choose to act in that way. You won’t ask ‘if it’s possible’–you will pray, ‘it is possible, you are capable’

The father cries out in response, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

God is able to do more than we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). But are we willing to ask for the big things? Do we really believe that he is able? What do our prayers say about our view of God, that he is incapable or that he is all-powerful?

2. Praying big prayers requires me to have confidence in God’s generosity and goodness.

We often ask of others on the basis of knowing what they are willing and/or able to give. You don’t ask someone for too much if you know he doesn’t have much to give. You don’t ask someone who is stingy for more than you need. You ask cautiously if you don’t know how he will respond. In my prayers, as I asked God for breadcrumbs, I revealed that I didn’t think God was willing to give me more, and I would be lucky if he would give me the bare minimum.

Then, when I thought I didn’t even get “the bare minimum,” I concluded that God either isn’t good or isn’t willing, because how could he deny me even just a little bit?

By praying big prayers, I have to believe that God is not only able, but willing to answer. In Matthew 8, a leper approaches Jesus and says, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” The leper has no doubt in God’s ability, and even though he isn’t quite sure of Jesus’ willingness, he is sure enough to still state his request. Jesus’ response confirms the leper’s unspoken question: “I will; be clean.”

In Mark 10, Jesus encounters a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. Bart is making a commotion by loudly crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Though the people around him tried to quiet him, Jesus doesn’t ignore him. He stops and asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bart’s request is for his sight, and Jesus heals him based on his faith.

What strikes me about this conversation is that Jesus asked what Bart wanted. Sometimes I feel guilty praying for what I want instead of something more spiritual, like God’s will to be done no matter the implications on my request. Some might consider Bart’s sight a selfish request when he could have asked for so many other things. Jesus could have told him to be content in his blindness, blooming where he was planted. And yet–the way Jesus asked him what he wanted stirs my heart toward understanding Jesus’ generosity.

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

Changing my prayers on the basis of God’s goodness and generosity doesn’t mean that he will do what I am asking–and that, in turn, doesn’t mean that he isn’t actually good and generous. But as I have been praying with conviction that he is good in his posture toward me, it changes even how I experience his “no.” My heart is more settled in the fact that he is good in all his ways, whether he answers “yes” or “no,” and I am able to trust the bigger picture of what he is doing in my life.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

3. Praying big prayers reminds me of my dependence on him to answer those requests. It reaffirms my need for him, and prepares me to give him the glory in what he does because I am praying for things that I cannot feasibly take credit for.

Praying bigger prayers has made me more aware of how much I need God to intervene in my life, both in the big requests and in my day-to-day situations.

In every instance of Jesus healing people and answering their requests in Scripture, we see that the person was desperate, and they saw Jesus as their only answer, and they were affirming that there was nothing in their control to make things happen in their life.

The bleeding woman in Mark 5 has been my example of desperate faith. Scripture tells us that she “had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” She had reached the end of herself and anything she could do, and when she heard that Jesus was coming, she dropped everything and went to find him.

Her faith in what Jesus was able to do was so big, and her situation so desperate, that she believes, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” What an amazing statement about her belief in Jesus’ power, that just getting close enough to run her fingers through his fringe will bring about the healing she has been so powerless to do for herself!

The scary thing about praying for big things is knowing that God still might choose to say no. There’s not a secret formula in praying with faith that guarantees we will receive what we ask for. We can’t manipulate God in that way. We can’t see how his plans are going to play out, and at the end of the day the posture of our heart should be surrendered to his will. Praying big prayers puts our heart on the line; it’s riskier.

As I have prayed bigger prayers in our infertility, I’ve had moments of wondering if I should pull back. I’m daydreaming about what would happen if God answered these requests, as I pray and recognize what he is capable of doing. But each month that he chooses to say no, my heart breaks a little, because it’s been a long time since I really believed it was possible to get pregnant.

I believe it’s worth that risk–and as I process what God is doing even if he says no to my big requests, I am falling back on him, learning to see him for who he really is. He is all-powerful, he is good and generous, and he is my only hope–and, as I pray, I am drawn to desire God himself as the ultimate answer to my longings and my prayers.

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