Trying to explain to a small child why they can’t have their wish granted of having candy close to mealtime is an exercise in futility. They have no concept of how a sweet treat can ruin the appetite for more nutritious, though less tasty, food that they’ll be required to eat. Often the child reacts to the denial with anger, maybe even a temper tantrum, walks away in a huff, or at the very least displays sadness that drops the lower lip to the chin.
It seems to me this is much the same issue we frequently have with God. Our wishes and His ways often seem to clash. My prayers have often not been answered the way I had wished. As a pastor of nearly 40 years I prayed a multitude of times for a certain resolution of a situation that turned out differently. I witnessed many prayers of others that weren’t answered the way they wanted. I suspect your experience is similar.
The response to our wishes being in conflict with God’s ways can be as varied as the child who’s denied candy before mealtime. I know people who have turned away from God because they didn’t get a major prayer request answered the way they wanted. Others may not have overtly turned from God but distanced themselves from Him, permitting the denial to cool the relationship.
When it comes to the child being denied candy as an appetizer there’s another response, the ideal response, from a parent’s or grandparent’s perspective. That’s for the child to shrug their shoulders, get on with their play until mealtime, and even come back to the adult for some attention or to extend an invitation to enter into a playful activity.
Our response to God when our wish is not His way can be similar to that of the obedient child, if we so choose. We, too, can accept His ways over our wishes. In my own life I’ve experienced what were, for me, disappointing and even painful denials by God of my wishes that I had made known to Him. Looking back, though, each has been an opportunity for me to resist being angry and, instead, express acceptance, to move beyond disappointment to a dependence on God in helping me navigate His different way for me.
There are times I wish God would answer all my prayers the way I pray them. But upon further reflection, I realize I’d be paralyzed from praying almost any prayer if I knew He would automatically give me my wish without first passing it by His all-discerning and wise judgment. Instead, I’ve come to realize that I can, in child-like enthusiasm, make my wishes known to Him but, like an obedient child, be willing to accept His ways over my wishes.
“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” Isaiah 55:8-9