When God answers someone else’s prayer and not our own, life can feel pretty unfair. Let’s say you have a friend looking for a new house and you are too. When God doesn’t answer either of your prayers, there’s something oddly comforting because we chalk it up to God’s sovereignty and will. But what if he answers someone else in the way we hope He’d answer us? We then have evidence that it’s possible. We have proof that He pours out immense blessings. And that sometimes leaves us with the question:
Why not me?
I’m not here to answer that question, but I do hope to offer some encouragement if you’ve ever felt that way before and if it’s been tempting to walk away from prayer.
When I was in the process of writing last week’s blog post on reasons God says no, I read the Parable of the Vineyard Workers (Matthew 20) in my reading plan and thought it taught a vital lesson when it comes to our prayers.
Side note: If you haven’t read that post, it is one of my new favorites because I think it answers a lot of our “unanswered” questions and can bring a new level of depth and understanding to praying in hard times.
Back to today’s post, I’ll give one big caveat with what I’m about to share. I’m not offering an alternate interpretation of the meaning of this parable. I don’t think this parable is suddenly about prayer. But I do think it shows the character of God and how God views things which are not naturally how we see things. All that to say, it helps us see the mind of God that is also 100% aware of what we’re walking through.
Here’s the parable:
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”
This parable always made me uncomfortable because I’m a justice girl. The math doesn’t make sense. And it still doesn’t to me. BUT that doesn’t make it not true. Me having a full understanding of something doesn’t determine its trustworthiness.
Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Proverbs 3:5 tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”
I think that’s a good preface to make because I normally get stuck on what looks like very unfair offerings from God.
I am not here to explain why God gives more to some and less to others. I’m not here to make sense of the fact that I’ve got a fridge full of food while others starve.
But I hope what you’ll take away from this is how much our expectations of God may not match what He’s actually promised. The very first chapter (or weight that we address) in Pray Confidently and Consistently is on faulty expectations because it can literally turn our prayer life upside down depending on what we believe about God.
What I see in this parable is that the master delivered as originally promised to the worker. My commentary said, the problem came in that he saw others paid before he got his fair wage, and with each person paid, his expectations of what he would get changed.
How does that make sense for us with prayer?
God delivers as promised, but as we see His generosity to others, OUR EXPECTATIONS CHANGE.
God has promised to be with us in the valleys. He’s promised to comfort us in our trials. He’s promised to bring peace as we fix our eyes on Him. He hasn’t promised kids that always behave. He hasn’t promised us the perfect job in every season of our life. He hasn’t promised prayers answered immediately every time. He hasn’t promised us a certain number of kids.
Ugh, BUT if we have seen God does this in the lives of those around us, it’s really hard not to start expecting that He is supposed to do that for us. And with that one new invalid expectation we place on God, our whole prayer life changes.
We now see a God who doesn’t care about us.
We now see a God who isn’t listening to us.
We now see a God who’s forgotten all about us.
And why would we keep praying if that’s the case? We’ve just been led to believe that everything we’ve been told is a lie.
In the parable, if the first worker had gone back to what the master originally said, he’d realize, the master never lied. He was truthful. Now granted, he still might not like what’s happening and we will likely still feel discouragement too, but what stays in tacked is our belief that God is trustworthy and faithful to His promises.
And it even helps us to know how to pray. We want to pray with confidence and the biggest part of being able to pray with confidence is knowing who God is and what He has actually promised.
I share often how encouraging it can be to see God work in the lives of those we love. But we have to remember that it’s descriptive, not prescriptive.
It’s an example of how God works. It reveals His character. But it’s not a formula or guide for how He works in every situation. We can be encouraged by being reminded that He is alive and active in our lives without faulty expectations that He will do the very same thing.
So today, if you have a very distinct prayer that you think about as I talk about this, something that God answered for someone else but not you, instead of letting it stir of feelings that God is unfair, let it instead remind you of His faithfulness and sink into what He’s actually promised.
He has promised so much! If you have Pray Confidently and Consistently, see p. 108 for a place to start on what God has promised along with verses.
If you’ve read God’s promise that He is with you through the valleys but then saw a friend moving into a fresh new house and seemingly escaping the valley you’re experiencing, I see you. We all have things in our life that have felt unfair and confusing.
One thing remains. God is good. We can’t always see it. And we don’t always feel it but I pray today that the Lord would bring a small victory in your life that revives your hope in God. That you’ll remember what He’s actually promised will endure.