When I was a young Christian, Dave Skaret was one of the coolest guys I knew. In my mind, he was one of those iconic characters, like James Dean, Steve McQueen, or Paul Newman, who loved muscle cars and motorcycles, and had the stories of building hot rods and drag racing to go with them. Dave was a skier and would often tell me of helicopter ski trips out west that he’d taken with his brothers and friends. He was a carpenter by trade but was particularly known for being a phenomenal cabinet and furniture maker, often described as an “artist in wood.” In my eyes, Dave was a man who had been everywhere and done everything. It seemed that every time I talked with him, I learned something new that somehow made him even cooler. And on top of all of that, Dave was a Christian man who loved the Lord and was an incredible example of faithfulness.
After seminary graduation in 2007 I received my first call to ministry, to serve at Bethany Lutheran Brethren Church in East Hartland, Connecticut. I was excited for my first call into ministry, but I was also excited to serve at Dave’s home church. I was looking forward to serving with him, to spending time with him in his cabinet shop and maybe learning a thing or two from him about woodworking.
But in September of 2007, Dave was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. In the weeks and months following, Dave endured surgeries and treatments with the hope of curing him. Now, as an “official” pastor, I took to prayer with complete confidence that God would answer my prayer and cure Dave. I had it all laid out just how God ought to do things: He would heal Dave, and Dave would become the incredible mouthpiece who told everyone about our powerful God who is able to work miracles, and people would find themselves believing in Christ and his grace because of it.
Yet despite my constant and fervent prayers, in August of 2008 Dave went home to be with his King. I grew frustrated and angry with God because he didn’t heal Dave. Throughout Dave’s battle with cancer, I expected that God would hear and answer my prayers for Dave’s healing. Each day I told God again of my great plan for healing Dave and worked to convince God (and myself, for that matter) of how great it would be for his Kingdom if God would just do things my way. But when it didn’t happen my way, I withdrew from God, wondering what good it did to pray in the first place.
The Bible encourages us over and over again to come to God in prayer. Through faith in Christ, we are invited before the throne and told, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13, ESV). With all that this verse says, we often focus mostly on the first three words: “Whatever you ask…” These words invite us, indeed, to ask for anything, even what seems to be the most impossible of requests. After all, our God is all-powerful and everything in heaven and on earth is subject to his authority! In the beginning God spoke all things into being, and still today “he commands even winds and water, and they obey him” (Luke 8:25). He is able to do whatever we ask. Physical and emotional pain, stress, anxiety, depression, broken relationships, and any other ways in which we may need to be healed—he is able!
So, when God doesn’t bend to our will and answer our prayers precisely, what are we to think? If he is able, but doesn’t do what we want, then maybe he just doesn’t like us. Or maybe he doesn’t really care. Or maybe, worst of all, he doesn’t really exist. Haven’t we all been tempted by these thoughts at one time or another? When we want something so desperately, yet he doesn’t answer the way we want, we might question everything that we know of our God and find ourselves completely discouraged.
Listen again to the whole invitation: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” It’s not that he doesn’t care about our requests, rather he answers those requests that are asked in his name. In other words, he answers those requests that are according to his nature, to his character, and to his will alone. Francis Pieper wrote, “…we must not forget that the will of Christians, as far as they are Christians, coincides entirely with God’s will and that accordingly they ask God to give them not what their whim dictates, but what accords with his command and promise.” Even Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). In Jesus’ humanity, he prayed that the Father would stay the pain that he was about to experience. That prayer was not answered. If Jesus’ life had been spared, how would our salvation have been won? So, the Father’s will wasn’t to spare his Son, but to win salvation for all. His will has eternity in sight, not simply time on this side of glory.
I thought that I knew how best to affect eternity with my prayers for Dave. I thought that my will would be the most effective. At the end of my prayers I would just add the magic formula, “In Jesus’ Name.” But God, through my “unanswered prayers,” was simply revealing to me that he had a different plan. He was inviting me to follow his lead, even if I didn’t understand where God was leading.
In my own life, I see how this seemingly unanswered prayer for healing is used for his glory. My understanding of prayer is not the same as it was and my prayer life has changed. God has taught me to watch where he is leading and to see where and how he desires to work, not simply how I want him to. In this, he has helped me keep eternity in sight and opened to me the eternal, where Dave resides today, healed not only from cancer but from sin that clung to him throughout life on this earth!
God’s will is good and he invites us to pray in faith, knowing that he is working. Our prayers, therefore, are best offered when we remember that he knows best how to bring people into his Kingdom. As we trust him for our own salvation, we also trust that he is working to bring about salvation for others, and through prayer we allow him to show us where he is working. To understand this is to pray in faith that our Father is good and his love endures forever.
Rev. Evan Langlois is Pastor of Praise Christian Fellowship in Barkhamsted, Connecticut.