After really searching the Word for verses on prayer, I’m beginning to believe that God doesn’t just answer prayer based on how much faith we have and on whether or not we claim that it will happen ahead of time. Yes, we need faith. That is a necessity. But it’s not about “performing” or about jumping through hoops to prove how much faith we have. It’s about the condition of our lives and hearts, about our relationship with Him and with others, and about how closely we are walking with Him and living in His love. Do we have faith in Him to handle our request? And no matter how He chooses to answer, do we have enough faith in Him as a good, loving Father to remain close to Him and to praise Him?
Summing up all that I’ve learned so far, I’d have to say that our prayers are most effective…
- when we are living righteously,
- when they are in line with God’s Will and are unselfish and are in Jesus’ name (according to what He wants),
- when there are no un-confessed sins blocking our relationship with God (meaning that we need to clear the air with God and others, seeking forgiveness from God and those we have wronged and forgiving those who have wronged us),
- when we (especially husbands) treat others with consideration and respect,
- when we are doing the good we know we need to do,
- when we are living and acting in accordance with our faith and not doing anything that doesn’t come from faith,
- when our hearts don’t condemn us (because we have actively searched them and we have righted any wrongs, and not just because we are ignoring any conviction),
- when we obey His commands and do what pleases Him,
- when we believe in Jesus and are loving one another,
- when we are remaining in Him and His words remain in us,
- and when we are living for and bearing fruit for His glory!
This is a lot to consider. It is very sobering. But we need to resist the urge to make this list a formula to get what we want or a check-list that we have to do before we can approach God in prayer. Notice that nowhere in the list does it say anything about having to pray the “right words” in the “right position” and with the “right tone-of-voice” and when you have made yourself “good enough.”
It’s all about our heart’s sensitivity to God and our desire to live life with Him, doing our best to continue transforming ourselves to be more like Him. And this will take our whole lives. So we should never let a “check-list” come between us and God. More important to Him than the particular words we pray or how we pray is that we draw near to Him in genuineness and humility, that we are needy for Him, dependent on Him. And this is why and how we should pray. Because we need Him and because He wants us to let Him near. He can handle anything we bring His way; we just need to learn to be willing to accept His answers. And this becomes a lot easier when we learn that He really does love us.
Now, no matter how “righteously” we live, we will still struggle from time to time with our own desires, some selfish ones and some for good things that He is not willing to grant for His own reasons. But the longer and closer we walk with Him, the “easier” it gets to refocus and to allow Him to answer the way He wants. But it takes remembering His goodness to us and His love and His displays of power in the past. It’s so easy to get discouraged when we take our eyes off of Him and what He is capable of. So we need to be immersing ourselves in Him daily if we want to have the greatest amount of peace and joy possible. Peace and joy in the midst of unanswered prayer do not come to us apart from abiding in Him daily.
And I think that’s what I’m learning to do, through all of the unanswered prayers and waiting. I’m learning to not let my faith in Him hinge on how He chooses to answer. I’m learning to let Him be God! In the name of transparency and dependence on Him, it’s okay to pray for something specific. I believe that He can do what I am asking . . . if He chooses to. I have no doubt that He is capable. But in the name of humility, I have to allow Him to answer as He wants. (And sometimes, this is not easy to do, even though it should be when you realize what a good, loving, wise God He is.) I need to be sensitive and moldable and to allow God to purify my request and change my desires to be more in line with His Will. When I get hung up on a specific answer or on what I think I “need” then I get tunnel-vision and I lose my ability to see what God may actually be doing in response to my request.
But to be honest, it is hard sometimes to lay our requests down before the Lord - to place them in His hands fully - when the answer is so important to us. And it’s especially hard when the Lord seems to be taking His time, and we want our answer NOW! (And I realize that I cause stress for myself because there are many times that I want my answer early – earlier than it needs to come. I want the assurance that it is already there, when instead God is telling me to trust that the right answer will be there when it is the right time.)
But these times are very teachable moments in our lives. And they can either be times to get bitter and angry, or times to draw near to God and experience enormous growth in our Christian character. Maybe that’s part of the reason why God seems so silent, hidden, and unresponsive most of the time – to force us to decide if we will turn our backs on Him, if we will remain half-hearted “what’s-in-it-for-me” Christians, or if we will commit to Him fully, even though He is a mysterious and confusing and sometimes frustrating God.