Several years ago I met a man who was angry with God. Jesus had refused to answer his prayer. Curious, I asked the man about his unanswered prayer. He said, "I prayed for five years that Jesus would give me a new Cadillac and He didn’t." He wasn’t joking.
Seeing that he was rather bitter, I asked why he prayed for a Cadillac. He said, "I became a Christian after attending Brother Joe’s (name withheld) church about ten years ago. Over the years, I gave a lot of money to the church because I was led to believe that if I believed in God with all my heart, Jesus would answer my prayers. Pastor Joe’s favorite text was Matthew 21:22 and he offered examples each week proving that Jesus answered the prayers of believers.
After listening to Pastor Joe for a while, I thought I would give God a try. Pastor Joe said that the key to faith is that we must not have any doubts about receiving when we ask God for something. Taking the pastor at his word, I convinced myself that I would receive a new Cadillac.
After five or six years of believing and praying, I woke up and concluded that I could have purchased a new Cadillac with the amount of money that I had given to the church. So, I quit praying and attending church because I had been deceived." I asked the man if it was possible that he was praying for the wrong thing. He said, "I want what I want. If Jesus raised the dead and healed the sick, a new Cadillac should have been easy."
The man was not a fool – he was misled. To the best of his knowledge and ability, the man had done everything right. He had believed in Jesus and he had proven his faith by giving a sacrificial sum of money to his church for five or six years. The man believed that a miracle was coming and he refused to believe otherwise until it became obvious there would be no miracle Cadillac. By the time I met him, his bitterness with Jesus could not be "reasoned" away. In his mind, he had given Jesus a fair trial and Jesus had failed.
You may smile at this story, but watch out. Millions of Christians have been "set up" for the same bitter results. Please consider the following ten statements:
1. I believe in God.
2. I believe that Jesus died on the cross.
3. I believe that salvation comes through faith.
4. I believe that God hears my prayers.
5. I believe the Bible is the Word of God.
6. I believe in Heaven and Hell.
7. I believe that God works miracles.
8. I believe that God rewards the righteous.
9. I believe the Lord will take me to Heaven.
10. I believe there is a devil.
Do you believe these ten statements are true? If so, you are "a believer." Right? Now, look at the words of Jesus: "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." (Matthew 21:22, italics mine) For those people who insist on "proof texts" that require no interpretation, there it is in black and white. Jesus Himself said if we believe – we shall receive. Can you understand the man’s mindset: He believed, but Jesus deceived?
The Nitty Gritty
Many people today are praying "the Cadillac prayer" and, as far as they know, they are doing everything right and getting "no response" from God. The man said what he wanted very well, "I want what I want." Does God promise to fulfill our wants? James wrote, ". . .You do not have [what you want], because you do not ask God [for the right things]. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your [self-centered] pleasures." (James 4:2,3, insertions mine)
Does a wise parent give his child everything the child wants? No, of course not. Will a wise and all knowing God give His children everything they want? No, of course not. God is very careful about answering our prayers because He perfectly understands our motives and the carnal nature that lives within us.
The carnal nature is self-centered beyond measure: "It wants what it wants – and worse, it does not remain content very long – even after it gets what it wants!" The carnal nature is insatiable and human wisdom is always flawed. What makes us happy today makes us miserable tomorrow. (For example, it is often said that the two happiest days for a boat owner are the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it.)
Therefore, according to divine love and infinite wisdom, God is put in a situation where He has to say "no, no, no, no, no, and no" to millions of prayer requests each day because He knows fulfillment would be harmful. Note to self: If I ask and I don’t receive the answer I wanted, a long string of "no’s" does not mean that God is not listening, it just means the answer is "no" or "not now."
It took several years for the man to "wise up" and stop praying for a Cadillac. Then, the man made a huge mistake. He became bitter at God and abandoned his faith in Jesus. Of course, Jesus loves that man and the Holy Spirit is doing everything possible to bring him into truth, but the man needs to understand where he went wrong.
First, he allowed his pastor to mislead him. If the pastor had led the man to become a seeker of God’s truth, rather than a seeker of God’s gifts, the Cadillac prayer would have eventually ended without bitterness. Jesus knew the man with the Cadillac prayer would become bitter because the man had been led to believe that Jesus said something that He didn’t say! Jesus knew the man’s heart and his faithful giving (even though the man’s motives were selfish). Jesus knew the man and He sadly waited for the implosion. Now, Jesus waits for the man’s recovery.
A huge gulf exists between intellectual ascent to truth (believing something is true) and living by faith (reverent submission to God’s will). Of course, learning the truth about God is important because truth always deepens our faith in God, but intellectual assent (believing something is true, such as believing there is a God) is not enough. James wrote, "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder." (James 2:19, italics mine)
For the sake of discussion, let us surgically separate "believing" from "faith." For example, you can believe the moon is made of cheese if you want. But believing that something is true does not make it true. Moreover, believing that God will or won’t do something has no bearing on what God will or will not do! The antediluvians did not believe a flood was coming. Oops.
Faith in God involves reverent submission to God’s will. Faith means going where God directs, doing all that God commands, and being all that God wants me to be (go-be-do). If we want answers to our prayers, we must live in reverent submission to God’s will. Otherwise, we are going to face a long string of "no’s."
Consider His perfect example: "During the days of Jesus’ life on Earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission." (Hebrews 5:7) If the man with the Cadillac prayer had become a Bible student instead of a Bible spectator, he would have quickly discovered his pastor’s mistake. The pastor violated the meaning of Scripture by lifting Matthew 21:22 out of Bible context.
He took Jesus’ words and made them say something which Jesus did not mean. As a living author, I have had this happen to me many times. People who wish to prove me wrong on some point will lift a sentence of two from a paragraph and use my words to say something that is totally contrary to the point that I advocate.
This process is called academic dishonesty. When pastors and Bible teachers unknowingly make the Bible say something that is contrary to its truth, they put the Bible in a state of internal conflict. When they knowingly make the Bible say something that is contrary to its truth, they are spiritually dishonest and detestable in God’s sight. (Proverbs 12:22)
The man with the Cadillac prayer was led into false knowledge and ironically, his "faith" brought his bitter disappointment! When the man concluded that he had been deceived, he fulfilled the demands of the carnal nature. Unfortunately, he abandoned his faith in God, instead of having his knowledge corrected and his motives purified! I have shared his story because his experience will soon be repeated billions of times when the Great Tribulation begins.
The world is full of people embracing false religious thoughts and beliefs. Millions of faith-full honest-hearted people have been led to believe fiction. When God’s wrath breaks out on the world, people will suddenly awake and great bitterness will follow – for a while.
People will come to despise their pastors – when they learn that their pastors did not warn them or teach them about God’s coming wrath. People will hate their church leaders – when they realize that their church was full of spiritual inadequacy. People will also hate God when they grieve over loved ones who died in the mayhem.
God anticipates this coming bitterness and this explains why God will give the survivors 1,260 days to process their thoughts and feelings. His servants (the 144,000) will proclaim the eternal gospel, the Holy Spirit will lead millions into truth through Bible study, and the honest in heart will overcome their bitterness. Joy will eventually displace anger and frustration because this is what faith (reverent submission) does! Faith in God always makes perfect sense when observed in reverse.
Abiding in Christ
In closing, there is a huge difference between believing in God and abiding in Christ. Abiding or resting in Jesus means "letting go and letting God have His way in everything." Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you." (John 15:5-7)
The secret to asking for the right things and receiving the right things is abiding in Jesus! Many people have no prayer life because (a) they are too busy, and (b) they really do not want God to interfere with their plans, goals, or ambitions. The carnal nature has a theme song that everyone loves to hear (remember, everyone has a carnal nature).
The title is, "I did it my way." (My apology to the late Frank Sinatra who made the song so popular.) We have to be honest! The carnal nature wants what it wants and living in reverent submission to God’s will is a great challenge. Which activity is easier? Either going, doing, planning, buying, and selling or reverently waiting on God. You know the answer. This is why Jesus said, "Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Luke 18:25)