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The #1 Follower Trap

#1 Thinking of Prayer as a Way to Manipulate God
We’ve all done it.  Prayed a certain prayer and then when things don’t turn out the way we want them to, we let God have the full fury of our anger.

I’ve seen some deeply spiritual people fall into this trap (just claim it in Jesus’ name and it will happen!!), some well meaning people, and just about every other type of person you can think of fall victim to this one.  At some point, most of us spend time praying for a dying relative or a sick child or friend.  While illness and death are not simple to deal with, I’m honestly shocked at how many times people make the assumption that God somehow let us down because our prayers weren’t answered our way.

I won’t pretend for a second to trace out cause and effect — why some people recover and others don’t.  Do I believe that God can and does intervene and heal people?  Absolutely.  Would I suggest that it’s always a direct intervention?  Not sure.  Would I say that God directly willed the death of someone who didn’t recover even though they were prayed for?  Stated that way, and you can begin to see the problem with our thinking.

So what fixes this? Respect.  So many biblical writers and figures had a very healthy respect for God.  They did not pretend to be able to figure God’s every move out.  When they prayed, there was a deference to the wisdom of God.  When they prayed, their prayers were honest, gut-wrenching, real dialogues that laid out the whole array of human emotions before God.  (Read the Psalms for example.)  And at the end of it all, many were simply able to worship God in the face of their loss and worship God in the face of a healing.  They just worshipped God because they knew Him to be good.

But in our culture, God is good when He does what we say.  God is bad when He doesn’t listen to us.  Ouch.  I think we all long for a God who is far deeper than that. Thank God He is.

When have you been disappointed by the way God handled a prayer you deeply prayed?  How have you resolved that over the years, or have you?

8 Comments

  1. Phil on January 25, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Carey… I've been reading your blog for a couple of weeks now and I'm lovin' it! Thanks for sharing man! It's been a blessing.

  2. Phil on January 25, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Carey… I've been reading your blog for a couple of weeks now and I'm lovin' it! Thanks for sharing man! It's been a blessing.

  3. Joey on January 23, 2008 at 6:46 am

    That interesting: two Joannes posting on the same thread! Our name isn't that common yet here we both are. I'm from the Barrie campus so I just changed my name to Joey instead. Hope to meet you someday soon, Joanne!

    Anyways, Carey, your posting above makes me a bit sad. It is full of what you DON'T do for the church. We know that you DO plenty of wonderful things for the church but that your leadership responsibilies don't allow time for more traditional roles.

    I hope as we grow, there will be a Pastor in Orillia as well and I also hope that down the road we can set up congregational / volunteer care (hospital visits, etc.) for those who aren't in small groups, but I know all of that takes a back seat now to getting our feet on the ground in the two new campuses and all of the hard work and time that takes on all fronts (staff and volunteers).

    Anyways, Carey, just wanted to note that we value all that you DO!

  4. Stephanie on January 22, 2008 at 10:15 am

    I attend church at the Barrie campus and Carey and I might exchange a quick hi and smile as we go about setting up the environments. Everyone is just so busy and there are so many of us it would be impossible to connect with more than a few people and even then it would not be very meaningful. At Trinity my husband and I had even less connection with the leadership team because there were just so many people on a Sunday morning and we were not yet serving.

    I love the music and Carey's message on Sunday but I really rely on my small group to do life with me, hold me up and pray for me.

  5. Carey Nieuwhof on January 21, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    Glad the messages are connecting Joanne. As a preacher, that just makes me grateful to God.

    Thanks for sharing what it's like for you to miss having a "pastor" in Orillia.

    When we talk about this as a leadership team, we wonder what having a "pastor" means, since even in Barrie and in my previous ministry, all I really do is say hi to people and chat with literally a handful of people each Sunday. The rest of my job is directional leadership, staff and senior volunteer leadership and preparation for weekend teaching (and prayer). Oh yeah…and other communicating (like blogging).

    Functionally, most people at the Barrie Campus watch me on the screen there and 90% don't interact with me personally. I do virtually no hospital visitation and do zero home visitation for either campus. The "care" in the congregation is virtually all channeled through group ministry (don't miss Group Link this Saturday folks!)

    We do have an interim campus director in Orillia — Nadine Russell. She's a fantastic leader and I know how much I love working with her. Eventually, Orillia will have a permanent campus director, but the preaching will still be by video and that person will have primary leadership responsibilities similar to the ones I carry out overall and in Barrie.

    Anyway, I know that's a lot of stuff, but you're asking a question we've heard a few times Joanne, so I thought I'd respond. I appreciate that many people do go through an adjustment to the kind of ministry we're in, so thanks for sharing that.

    Because of our set up with video production, we had to make a commitment to me being at a single campus and that in fact is what's happening. Will I never be in Orillia? I'd never say never, but week to week the demands of our set up keep me in Barrie.

  6. Joanne on January 21, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    I am enjoying the preaching just as much as I always have – every message is so thought-provoking and really makes me examine my life and my faith. I must confess to feeling a bit "adrift" without a Pastor, however – you know, a real live presence, a shepherd for our flock, someone to start and end services. Any chance that Orillia will ever get to have someone in this role? Or that Carey may be coming to Orillia once in awhile?

  7. june stables on January 21, 2008 at 10:16 am

    In answer to that question; well, I must admit that when people have died after I have been praying for them to be healed and especially if I have loved them dearly, or when they are children or the very young, I have been angry with God. What I have learned from these very hard times and going this way quite a few times is, that God can take it, even though he never deserves it, because he understands our frame and our frailities. I think when we as humans experience deep deep grief, there is a propensity for us to blame someone and since we know God is able to heal us, we often blame him out of our disappointment.
    A sailor was quoted as saying in regards to a question of Faith in the midst of great grief. "It is very difficult to anchor a ship in a fierce storm, not until the storm subsides can we even hope to anchor it" I think this may be the same for many who have lost a loved one, once they have had time to grieve and talk with God they generally see things in a different light as God ministers his mercy and grace and comfort liberally to all who seek it, and like the early followers said – is forever good. Yes he is.

  8. Joanne on January 21, 2008 at 5:55 am

    In my twenties, when God didn't heal someone I loved when I had prayed earnestly for this, I was so angry at God that I stopped going to church for about five years. And during the few times when I would go, I just cried and cried because I felt so let down by God.

    I understand prayer and God somewhat better now. Oddly, the pain and disappointment I went through then somehow drew me much closer to God over the years and helped to build a deeper faith. Not sure why or how, but it did. God was still calling me to Him, despite my turning away.

    I also do know He answers prayers (I've seen some incredible responses to prayers as well and deeply believe in the power and value of prayer). It just doesn't happen when, how and in ways I may expect. And sometimes the answer is no.

    Connexus and Trinity before that, as well as Philip Yancey's book "Prayer" has really helped to better understand prayer. And my Christian friends and looking back on my life and seeing the hand of God where I hadn't seen it before. Sometimes, the "nos" and the "not nows" are still hard to accept, but I'm learning…

    I've come to know, more than any healing, it is knowing that God loves us so very much, and that He will never leave nor forsake us that really matters. But it was a long journey getting there.

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