Expectancy in Prayer: Faith or Presumption

While on retreat several years ago I was reading one of the daily reflections from A Minute of Margin by Richard Swenson, MD. It was one of those experiences where God heightened my awareness and said you need to pay attention here. The title to the reflection was Expectation Overload and it pointed out the fact that the affluence of our society has created within us an expectation for more, of everything. “We expect health, wealth and ease- and are discontent if more doesn’t come, no matter how well off we are.” Swenson opened the reflection with the following. A medical colleague bounded up to me, announcing, “I have finally discovered the best way to get through the day. In the morning I say, ‘This is going to be the worst day of my life.’ Then when the day is only half horrible, I’m happy!” It was offered tongue-in-cheek, but along with the humor comes a dose of wisdom; our happiness and contentment are dependent on the expectations we bring to the experience. It is easy to see the truth of what is being suggested here. Never has a society been as well off as we in America today and yet many are discontented with their station in life, preoccupied with only what they do not have. This is an important truth to live out if we are going to experience genuine contentment in life. But the Lord gave me an unexpected insight in that this same principle can apply to our prayer life as well. You see we can in a very real way suffer from Expectation Overload when we pray. It is something I think that we slide into unawares as we seek to be faithful in prayer and God delays in His answer or answers in a way we do not expect. Let me explain what I mean. Throughout the Scriptures we are admonished to pray and to pray expectantly. James, the Lord’s brother writes, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:5-7). Jesus in his teaching on prayer also speaks of the importance of believing, or praying in faith. “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you” (Mark 11:23-24). What is the problem then you might ask? The problem is this, that we many times unconsciously move from faith to presumption by assuming that we know, or should determine, how, when and in what way God will answer our prayers. This presumption is often strengthened when God gives us a confirming verse of Scripture that addresses our situation and we assume that the verse confirms the method or timing instead of His promise to answer our request.