An excerpt from Stop Asking for Stones and Serpents, by Janice Staab, PhD.
"We often treat prayer like a heavenly cookie jar filled to the brim with God’s sweet gifts. Endless blessings are inside just for us. We only have to ask and the jar will be opened for our grubby little hands to grab our fill. (Chocolate chip please, Father!) At other times, the jar seems empty. We drop to our knees daily begging God to mend our wounded hearts, heal a sick relative, conquer an addiction, provide a job, or money for shelter and food. We’re not talking about the icing on the cake, but the basic needs of life.
"We turn to God in full confidence that He is able to answer our prayers exactly as prayed. We know that God loves us and we want a deeper relationship with Him. But day by day, our circumstances aren’t changing for the better. God’s answer is nowhere to be found. The sick get sicker, the weak get weaker, the poor get poorer, and the pain gets deeper. We see no proof of God’s power working on our behalf, let alone any evidence of His love. If we can detect an answer at all, the critical voices in our heads muddle God’s 'Ask and it shall be given to you' until it sounds more like 'No. Not yet. You’re on your own this time. You haven’t been good enough to get what you’re asking for. You should have listened to Me a long time ago. Miracles are reserved for those who follow Me more closely.'
"In spite of their flaws, even human fathers won’t typically answer their kids like that. Most parents (to the extent that they can) provide what is needed for their children to thrive, protect them from anything that could cause them harm, and want to give them all good things. God has the same fatherly desires for our good and has promised to honor them. Even while we’re distracted by the voices in our heads, God speaks to us. “Ask and trust that I will give you all you need.”
"Yet when our prayers aren’t answered in the way we hoped or along our preferred timetable, it can feel like God is ignoring us. Worse yet, He may seem to be giving us stones and serpents. We’ve plainly prayed and asked for bread and fish, the things we believe will nourish us and improve our lives. Or maybe we’re unknowingly asking for cookies, empty spiritual 'food' that tastes good at first, but will not do for a steady diet. Whatever we’re asking for, God seems to be treating us like Charlie Brown and filling our candy bags with rocks.
"When God’s answers seem long in coming or it feels as if He doesn’t even hear us, we console ourselves with spiritual platitudes that wouldn’t convince anyone (including ourselves) of our faith. Rather than rethinking the way we pray, we justify our confidence in our prayers and reason as to why God might be delayed in heeding them. 'God will answer my prayer in His time. God’s teaching me something as I wait. God is testing me, perfecting my character. God is changing my desires, growing my faith so that what I pray for aligns with His will.' In each case, the focus is upon me, my prayer, my lessons, and my desires.
"It’s true that God’s timing is not always in sync with ours. God does teach us the subtleties of walking in grace as we wait on His plan to unfold. And many times, God will change the desires of our hearts so that our prayers give glory to Him and we become channels for His power. However, merely acknowledging these facts doesn’t make us patient with His timing, willing to be taught or open to His desires.
"What if the reason we are out of step with God’s timing in the first place, the reason it often seems like work or punishment to wait on the Lord’s answer, and the reason that our deepest desires need a spiritual makeover is far simpler? What if God is willing to give us anything we ask for, even when we pray for something that He knows isn’t good for us, but we don’t know what we are really asking for? What if we’re actually praying for the stones and serpents?"