Daily Devotional By Desiringgod Ministry – John Piper Ministry 9 May 2024 | The Prayer You Don’t Want Answered - Faithwheel.com
John Piper Ministry, desiringGod.org

 Daily Devotional By Desiringgod Ministry – John Piper Ministry  9 May  2024 | The Prayer You Don’t Want Answered

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The Prayer You Don’t Want Answered

The prayer you don’t want answered. Fascinating topic today, coming up because we meet it soon in the Navigators Bible Reading Plan, later this weekend. On May 12, we read Psalm 106:15 together — a text we’ve been asked about by a listener. “Pastor John, hello! My name is Amy, and I live in Lincoln, Nebraska. As I read the Bible, I see that there are times when we ask God for things wrongly, and he mercifully just says no. We see this in James 4:3. And there are times when we ask God for things wrongly, and he says yes. That seems to be the case in Psalm 106:15. Can you explain this verse and Israel’s ‘wanton craving in the wilderness’ in Psalm 106:14? I presume it’s for food. What about this prayer is evil? Why do you think God responded by giving them what they wanted? Why also the ‘wasting disease’?

“I’m confused here, having a hard time understanding the principle, one I find in other texts — namely, in Psalm 78:29–31.” Yes. And I (Tony) am going to add a pair of other texts into the mix here too, and interject them — 1 Samuel 8:7, 22 — because those are verses we just looked at in APJ 2029. “So, can you explain this,” Amy asks, “and tell me whether this should inform how we ask for things today and what we ask for? Are we liable to have a wrongfully asked prayer get answered by God for our own undoing?”

When I lived in Tennessee for a year, I discovered that there were two hiking routes up the back of Stone Mountain. One was about twice as long as the other, but the short one was really rugged and steep. Now, suppose I had a nine-year-old son with me — I didn’t at the time, so I had to imagine this, but I tried both of them myself, and I know what would happen — and we hiked the mountain, say, once a week on Saturday for fun, for exercise. And suppose every time we got to the fork in the path where the two hiking routes diverged, he complained and he complained and he begged and he begged to “go the short one, Daddy. I want to go the short one, because the other one took so long.”

Now, there are two ways that I could seek to teach my son to trust me for my wisdom in this life. One is to say, “No, that’s not a wise decision. We’re going to do the one we can do. So, we’re taking the long route. It takes longer, but we can do this. We can handle that, and you need to learn to trust me.”

“The sinful prayer for a king becomes the means by which Jesus enters the world as king.”

But there is another way. You might choose to teach this kid a thing or two. You say, “Okay, let’s do it.” And halfway up, he’s utterly exhausted. He’s looking at these rocks in front of him, looking like a straight-up cliff, and he’s saying, “I can’t do this, Daddy.” I’m saying, “Yes you can, and you will. You prayed for it; you got it.” That’s the wasting disease, right? This rock face and his misery. And the point is to teach my son, one way or the other, “Trust me, son. You need to trust me. I know what I’m doing when I make decisions in this family.”

Sinful Prayers, Sorrowful Answers

Psalm 106:13–15 says,

[Israel] soon forgot [God’s] works;
     they did not wait for his counsel.
But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness,
     and put God to the test in the desert;
he gave them what they asked,
     but sent a wasting disease among them.

God had met every need since Israel left Egypt. But these people grumbled again and again and again against the Lord. They were hungry for meat. Psalm 78:19 says, “They spoke against God, saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness?’” That was how they tested the Lord. They doubted him. They challenged him.

This prayer for what they craved was not a humble expression of trust, which is what good requests are. It was a skeptical expression of anger. God could have kept supplying their needs, the way he was doing all along. That would be a lesson: amazing grace and provision. “Learn to trust me. Trust me.” That wasn’t working. Or he could teach them a lesson this way: “I’ll grant your doubting, challenging request, and misery to go with it.” Lesson: “Trust me; don’t doubt me.”

“God is amazing in the way his providences twist our sins, so that they actually can work for our salvation.”

So yes, I think God does that today. It’s never right today to forget God’s works and then fail to wait for his counsel. It’s never right to think that we know what’s best and become demanding and challenging to God. He just might give us the car we demand, or the spouse we demand, or the rising stock price that we demand, or the child we demand. And then five, twenty years later, those answers might come back with great sorrows in our lives.

Twists of Providence

That could sound fatalistic, but here’s the twist. There’s a twist of providence in this peculiar way that God disciplines us by giving us what we ask for and then misery to go with it. We can see this twist if we look at the other example that I think you mentioned, Tony, at the beginning, with regard to the demand for a king. The twist is that they should not have demanded a king the way they did, and yet God gave them a king and then made their ungodly desire serve his eternal purposes of grace. That’s the twist. And it’s so hopeful for those of us who have made stupid decisions and have asked for terrible things — or asked for things that seemed good, and we were all wrong in the way we asked for them. God can work this for good.


So, here’s the way it worked. In the transaction in 1 Samuel 8:5, the elders of Israel say to Samuel, “Appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” Now, that’s the sin: We want to be like the nations. But it says in 1 Samuel 8:6–7, “The thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Obey the voice of the people . . . for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.’”

And then Samuel seems to give them one more chance to change their minds by telling them all the miseries that the king is going to bring into their lives (1 Samuel 8:11–18). The king’s going to take your sons and make them soldiers. He’s going to take your daughters and make them perfumers and cooks. He’s going to take your fields and your vineyards. He’s going to take your flocks. And then it says in 1 Samuel 8:19–20, “But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, ‘No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations.’” And then in 1 Samuel 8:22, God says, “Obey their voice and make them a king.”

Now, here’s three hundred years later. This is Hosea, the last prophet who prophesies before Assyria destroys Israel. Here’s Hosea 13:10–11: “Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities? Where are all your rulers — those of whom you said, ‘Give me a king and princes’? I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath.” So, God answered their request, and it did not go well for them.


And I pause and say, “But wait. Wait. There is something else going on here.” In Psalm 2:6, God says, “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” God set his king on Zion, his holy hill. And Isaiah 9:6–7, “To us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder. . . . Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom [forever].” His kingdom forever. In Luke 1:32–33, Gabriel says to Mary, “The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Here’s the upshot, the twist. The sinful prayer for a king becomes the means by which Jesus enters the world as king to die and rise and forgive the sins that they brought upon themselves by asking for a king. I just think God is amazing in the way his providences twist our sins, so that they actually can work for our salvation.

So, the twist of providence is this. If you are, today, in a situation of God’s discipline in answer to an unbelieving, angry, misguided prayer, don’t despair. Don’t despair. Repent, accept your sin and your guilt, turn to Christ’s mercy and blood, and ask God to twist this situation into something good and God-honoring. I have seen him do this in my life. I have seen him do it. I know he can do it in yours.


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