Why is Having Some of Our Prayers Answered Not Enough For Us?

This is a question that was asked during one of our conversations at my church. Think about that for a moment. Such honestly allowed at church?!

It led to some good insight and some science that I am passing on. Even though this question was asked during church, this pastor (me) did not have the answer. Yes, I did have some sort of an answer but the answer that came out of the conversation around the question was the answer.

But first, I start with a question I asked the church family:  What kind of monsters would we be if our prayers had immediate answers? How shallow would our lives be?

Ponder that question to yourself. What would you be like if God answered every one of your prayers?

Okay, so maybe we don’t want all of our prayers answered but we do want some of our prayers answered. Why are having some of our prayers answered not enough for us?

The education science that was brought up in response to this conversation names that when you receive the reward every time you then need bigger and bigger rewards to feel satisfied. This is called satiation. Satiation creates expectation transaction monsters.

The flip side is intermittent reinforcement–which has been found to be the strongest maintainer of a behavior. (Isn’t that an interesting fact?) This is when you randomly receive candy for doing well on a school quiz, for example. It’s not every time you complete a school quiz because then you expect it every time and that one piece of candy is not enough. But on the random, that’s a nice metaphorical fist bump. When it comes to your prayers, aren’t you encouraged for quite a while when one of your prayers get answered? Same thing.

It gets hard when there is a “ratio strain.” This means I need to work harder than I want to get the results that I want. So when it comes to our prayers we start praying, “God, I want you to do this but I’m jumping through too many hoops.” Or, “God, I’ve been praying for a while now and I haven’t received my candy yet. What is going on?”

This is not relationship and it is exhausting. This is all about viewing your prayers as a transaction with God.

The question was then asked at church,

“Are we looking too much for the transaction which is why it feels more like ratio strain as opposed to the conversation with God?”

(How crazy great is it that this question was asked at church?!)

Yes, answered the wise teacher (who is not the pastor). Because this means it is almost implicit that our prayers are prayed to get what we want. I am praying to get what I want and thusly I’m not satisfied until I get what I want.

There is a pattern here, noticed the wise teacher. We are treating God like a vending machine that if we push the right button we can release exactly what we want from the vending machine.

Prayer is not a button to be pushed. It is a relationship to be pursued. Prayer is how we live out our relationship with God.

The wise teacher added, the ultimate prayer is “Thy will be done.” It takes out the control. It takes out the expectation. It takes out all of the weight.

We sing this song at our church, “Thy Will Be Done.” You may know it. It has been thematic for us for nearly a year. We have lots of uncomfortable conversations and end up back with this song as a benediction. Because this is the ultimate prayer when life doesn’t make sense. Remember this prayer takes out the control, expectation and the weight of the problem you are praying about.

The words of the song open with:

I’m so confused

I know I heard you loud and clear

So, I followed through

Somehow I ended up here.

I don’t want to think

I may never understand

That my broken heart is part of your plan

When I try to pray

All I’ve got is hurt and these four words

The words only get better. Especially for those of us who pray with trust issues.

This is our version of it from our church. I’m partial to it. Pray this song. Again and again and let’s see if your prayer life becomes less exhausting and frustrating.

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