Sunday, November 1, 2009

Garth Brooks' Theology: Are Some of God's Greatest Gifts Unanswered Prayers?

Garth Brooks once wrote the following lines in his canny love ballad Unanswered Prayers,

"Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care
Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers"

This song deals with a guy who prayed consistently for God to "give" him the girl he liked. Turns out, God didn't answer his prayer. Now, obviously Garth wasn't trying to spark some deep theological discussion when penning these words; he's just a good ole fashion country boy who was wondering why God didn't grant him the sincere desire of his heart.

With that being said, does GB have a valid point? Are some of God's greatest gifts unanswered prayers?

Undoubtedly, the New Testament--as well as the Old--is full of powerful verses like

"And I will do whatever you ask in my name" (John 14:13);
"For everyone who asks receives..." (Mt 7:8);
"My father will give you whatever you ask for in my name." (Jn 16:23)

However, if the Christian is truly honest with himself he must admit that God does not always give us what we ask for, no matter how consistent we are. One example from a daily life experience might suffice: If I am praying for my team to win the soccer game, and somebody else from the opposing side prays for his team to win the game, this automatically puts God in a bind. Obviously, He cannot answer both prayers, for this would be logically impossible; the two teams can't both win. One of those prayers (or both), if thought about correctly, does not get answered.

Sometimes Christians put God into presupposed categories prior to bringing their requests unto Him; that is, if we pray about a situation in our daily lives, God is required to either give us a "yes" or "no" answer.

Is God obligated to answer our prayers? How, then, is the Christian to interpret the verses cited above? Are there obstacles to answered prayer?



Anonymous said...

the "asking" in Matt. 7:8 refers to asking for salvation.
as to your question, God gives us what we want when it aligns with His will. "ask in my name," i think, refers to when we ask and our hearts are the same as since our request and his will are equivalent, it is given.


tyler m taber said...

I can't agree that this passage deals with salvation.

I do think God grants us our desires when it is in alignment with his "will," but that also doesn't negate the previous premise I made whether or not God is obligated to answer our prayers.

Anonymous said...

Okay so in John 14:12-14... So it says whoever believes in me will do the works I do. Once again this idea of salvation is played out. but I think the way it puts it in the ESV makes me think to one who isn't saved this is a call to salvation. But to one who is saved what once was a call to salvation is now a statement of faith.

The one who believes (of has complete faith and is all trusting) <- note that the Bible doesn't say this but I try to make a point through this... Whatever he asks in my name, this I will do,that the FAther may be glorified in the Son.

First off whoever believes (trusts completely in the Lord) and whoever asks in My name (Jesus's name). This idea of Jesus's name is not merely words 'in Jesus's name amen'. It is much more then that. Jesus is the way the truth and the life. I think it indicates if you walk with God and your ways are seen as right to God being you in the way that is Christs name. It is the idea that your entire life is dedicated and completely sold to Christ. You live the life Christ lived.

Of course not many have this.There are some who are in this state... I surely am not but I digress. If we are in this position of dedication then we will not ask GOd to do this or do that unless we think it will give glory to God. Yes at times a holy man will say Lord heal this person, he is real good and can be used for youe glory... But hten the man dies... Well didn't Christ say ask in my name? Yes but at the end of this mans prayer there will be but your will be done, thus God lets it be done.

tyler m taber said...

I believe there is a lot of truth in your post.

But what about praying to God concerning matters not related to salvation? Is He obligated to answer our prayers?

jon_gilliland said...

God is not, by any means, obligated to answer our prayers. Let us not forget that we did not create God, but that He created us; and because of this, we rely solely on His existence and not the other way around (i.e., He doesn't need us, but we need Him). Therefore, I do not believe He is obligated to answer our prayers. With that being said, however, I firmly believe God answers every prayer.

*Now many would disagree with that statement. "Every prayer? Really? What about the man who asks for a million dollars? Tell me about the one who asks for the use of their legs after being paralyzed. Explain how one prays to find love in a mate, but never does." Well, let me explain.*

Would you not agree that God knows the desires of our heart better than we do? (Psalm 38:9; 1 Chronicles 28:9) Well, assuming you do, let's first take the example of the million dollars. God hears a man asking for Him to please provide a million dollars; however, God sees the man's heart, and knows what he is really asking. The man, in all probability, is really asking for security, happiness, or possibly peace of mind/spirit. The man feels that money is the answer; however, God would know that money would just corrupt the man and bring more harm than good. Thus, God answers the man's prayer, but not in the way the man had expected. God provides security, happiness, and peace through other "things" (i.e., school, work, reading, family, friends, sports, church, music, etc.). The man's prayer, in the end, was answered - though it did not come in the form in which he had asked.

jon_gilliland said...

Now, the second example I gave of the physical disability is a little more complicated, but can be answered in the same form. God hears the person asking for the healing, but knows that what the person is really asking for is fulfillment, a sense of worth, happiness, ect. - the person might feel that it was the strength of their legs that brought about these feelings/emotions (possibly by playing sports, walking, running, and so on). God then answers the prayer by providing fulfillment, a sense of worth, and happiness through other "things" (i.e., writing, speaking at conferences, teaching, singing, ect.).

*In some instances God actually heals that person in the way the person had asked - this then would be classified as a miracle, but in yet natural for God. Also, I must add that I am no expert on the subject of pain/physical disabilities by any means. Why God allows pain I do not know, nor does any theologian with multiple PhDs (God is silent on this). We can, however, look at the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through the pain and suffering of the cross, came the glorious resurrection of our King and Lord - bringing hope, and a new life to the entire cosmos. Though Christ prayed, "Take this cup from me," God knew what His son's desire really was - to answer the prayer, God had to lead Him to the cross. On this topic, I recommend "Where is God When it Hurts?" - Philip Yancey.*

jon_gilliland said...

The same model as the previous two examples can also be used with the example of the loving mate. Garth Brooks was praying for a certain woman to be his, yes. However, his prayer was answered with someone even better. What he was really praying for was a woman that would meet his needs (i.e., be loyal to him, laugh with him, love him dearly, bring warmth to him, etc.). He thought it was the girl at that time who was going to provide those emotions/feelings, but God knew his desire; and because He knew the desire of his heart, He still answered his prayer – God just used a different woman in which Brooks had expected). As far as the prayer regarding the sporting event/game, I would not classify it as a prayer in most instances. Cultural Anthropologists would tell you that there are things known as "rituals" that culture's practice. Take a baseball player for example. He decides to smoke two cigars, and eat a PB&J sandwich before his game (odd, I know) - he ends up having the best game of his life. After the game, he comes to the conclusion that it must have been the cigars and sandwich - he then does that ritual before each game from there on out with wishful/magical thinking that it will provide the same result as before. Now in that sense, in my opinion, prayer is treated as a ritual in this setting - "If we have a higher being on our side, then surely we'll play better/win...right?" I'll firmly admit that for me, praying before a sports game was treated the same as stretching - my mind was focused on how I was going to perform for the crowd that night, instead of my heart and mind being focused on God (thanking Him for just the ability, pleasure, and experience of playing the actual game). Any legitimate prayer with regards to a sports game, once again in my opinion, would not be focused around winning or losing. Even a decent coach knows that the game is not about winning or losing! I would have to say that most "prayers" thrown up before a game are more ritual acts than anything - some kind of wishful/magical thinking, instead of an honest prayer.

All in all, God is not obligated to answer our prayers; however, because of His undeniable grace, love, and mercy...He does.

tyler m taber said...


I did not mean to negate your lengthy post with my short, stubborn one.

You and I are definitely in agreement with most of your post. God's will for humanity is so deep, rich, and pure that our minds can only speculate.

Do you have anything else with regards to this particular post?

tyler m taber said...


I think you really hit this issue square on the head.

All of the examples you used had very relevant, practical implications; that is, if a man is asking for money, God will provide the underlying desire for the man--not necessarily the money itself.

I especially liked your sports analogy.

From the very last paragraph of your very last post, you seem to be advocating the position that God does answer our prayers all of the time. Do you think it's logical to say that God only answers our prayers if it's in accordance with His perfect will?

Stephen V said...

Tyler, in regard to your question "Do you think it's logical to say that God only answers our prayers if it's in accordance with His perfect will?" I would direct you to how Jesus taught us to pray...not my will, but Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. In addition, we are to be going to God asking for things He has already done for the believer, "give us this day" - providence, "forgive us our sins" - forgiveness, "lead us not into temptation" - deliverance from the bondage of sin.
Our prayer ought to rest in believing and trusting in who God is...that He is all we need, and whatever He has willed, is for our ultimate gain!

Oh, and God can and does answer prayers that aren't in accordance with His will..."no".

tyler m taber said...

Hi Stephen, great to hear from ya.

My attitude in this particular topic is not nearly as pessimistic as it may come across; I do believe in God's pure and perfect will, as well as the believer's responsibility to pray as Jesus did.

1. Do you think God always answers the person praying, but not necessarily the request?

2. What about arguments from Scripture that seem to admit God doesn't always answer prayer? Paul prayed 3 times for God to take away his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7) God didn't honor this request.

3. Do you think living in unconfessed sin would alter the prayer?

Stephen V said...

I think very plainly put that, throughout scripture, the "effectiveness" of someone's prayers can be tied to the state of their heart. If the heart of the request is in line with God's will, then it will not matter if you receive whatever you're asking, particularly if your chief desire is for God's will to be the ultimate goal. The entire point of saying "not my will but yours be done" is to say to God that you are humbly asking Him to act, but only in accordance with His will.

There are greater things at work when God denies us a request like Paul made. It would be similar to a God-fearing Pastor serving his church and finding out he has terminal cancer...It is not God's responsibility to "honor" the request by removing pain/suffering. It is His character to work all things out for good, even if it hurts. Even if God answers a specific request with a "no", in this instance not removing the cancer and letting the man suffer and die, the ultimate view of the Christian is to see the will of God brought to earth, even if it involves suffering...Matt Chandler has some amazing stuff on this topic in particular; he talks a lot about suffering well/honoring God through suffering.

Stephen V said...

Living in unrepentant sin clearly affects the effectiveness of our prayers...There are plenty of OT examples of how people rejected/rebelled against God, and came back to Him to plead for mercy and guidance to find that He would not honor their requests. The way this works itself out is that if I'm living in unrepentant sin, then my ultimate goal is to remain worshiping whatever that thing is instead of God. When we repent of sin it is a reorientation back to God, whereby we stop focusing on what we want to do and focus on God's will.

Ultimately God answers prayers that affirm His will. That is not to say that we cannot intercede in prayer for miracles or pray for healing/monetary help simply means that we must be able to accept that the answer He gives, even if it is "no", will be for our own good!

tyler m taber said...

Stephen, I think we agree on a lot of things concerning prayer.

I especially like your mentioning of God's character to work all things out for good. That is certainly a very key point to remember in all areas of theology I believe.

It's interesting you mention Matt Chandler. He's definitely one of my favorites.

What are your thoughts on this situation: OU (my team) and OSU (your team) are playing each other. We both pray for victory for our teams. How is God to answer these prayer requests?

(I realize God does not concern Himself with worldly matters like college football, but the scenario is still an issue. Feel free to use your own example.)

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