For some people, prayer must be like a trip to the amusement arcade; they slide a coin into the prayer machine, pull the lever, and see what happens. Maybe once in a while they win, but more often than not, they’re just yanking on the lever and waiting to see what happens. Such people see God like a powerful casino owner who occasionally gives you a pay-out to keep you coming back.
But God doesn’t look at us with the calculating eyes of a businessman. Rather he looks on us with the love of a Father for his children; and like any good father, he wants what is best for us. He is committed to helping us become the best possible version of ourselves. So we should feel confident that when we don’t get what we ask for, it’s not because God is cruelly withholding it. It’s because his plan for our lives doesn’t end with earthly riches, but with a much deeper and more persistent sense of fulfilment. God’s plan and his intentions may not always be clear to us, but we can be confident that they are infinitely better than any ideas we come up with on our own.
Of course, we can ask God for anything we think we need, even for those things we just plain want. God accepts every prayer we offer him, if only because it’s another opportunity for us to come into his presence and for him to shape us. Every time we come to him in prayer, he gently and gradually shows us what we really need, what our hearts really cry out for. We bring him our desires and our hopes and our dreams, and he transforms them. He shifts our priorities and preoccupations and helps us learn how to long for those things that truly are good for us.
We always need to remember that God sent his Son into the world not to condemn us, but to save us. We are precious to him, and he wants nothing more than to make us happy. And really, at the end of the day, only God knows how to do that.