Sunday, August 24, 2014

Biblical View of Prayer!

            John 15:7:  “. . . ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
            Mark 11:22-24:  “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered.  ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’“   

            One of the most damaging things to a young or weak believer’s faith is not having an important prayer answered the way they expected.  When a desperate prayer is not answered the way we want, it can destroy our faith in God.  All of a sudden, we question our faith, our God, how He views us, how we view ourselves, etc.  We feel like our faith was weak, like God didn’t care, and like He let us down.  And many people end up retreating from God in confusion and bitterness. 

            Trust me, I have had disappointing answers to prayer, too.  And these were times I was praying earnestly and with great faith that God could do it.  And yet, He did not.  The adoption never happened.  My young aunt and my mother-in-law still died, even though I was sure that healing them would help unbelieving family members believe in God.  Families still broke apart.  Most people I pray about salvation for still refuse to acknowledge God.  I prayed for years and years about financial strain, only to have years and years of continuing financial strain.  (It has only just recently relaxed a little.  Thank You, God.)  I know how it feels to have many important prayers go “unanswered.” 

            (And of course, when I say “unanswered,” I mean “not answered the way we want.”  God always answers, just not always the way we want Him to.  Yet, to be fair, I am sure that more prayers are answered the way I want than I realize.  I just don’t take the time to see them.  I pray every day for safety for my family, every time they drive anywhere.  And every day, they come home safely.  Every fever or illness we get, I pray for healing.  And we have always gotten healing within time.  But how many times do I forget to count those as answered prayers?  I need to open my eyes more and count the blessings.)
            But the problem is not prayer or our God; it is our understanding of prayer and of God.  We will all have disappointing and confusing times.  None of us are immune, no matter how strong our faith is.  So this is not an issue just for the weak or new Christian, but for all of us.  But if we can get a clearer, biblical picture of prayer and of God, it will help our faith survive the disappointing and confusing times.
            First off, remember that prayer is not a magic formula to get what we want.  Even Jesus and Paul did not get an important prayer answered.  Jesus asked for the cup of death to be taken from Him, if it was possible.  And Paul asked for the thorn in his side to be removed.  And neither of them got it.  And yet, I don’t think we would doubt the strength or purity of their faith.  They didn’t get the answer they wanted because it wasn’t God’s Will, because God knew that “no” was the best answer.  In Jesus’ case, it was best for everyone.  And in Paul’s case, it was best for humbling him and for the development of his faith, for helping him learn to truly know and trust the sufficiency of God’s grace. 
            Those are two incredibly important lessons to remember when prayers aren’t answered the way we want.  Jesus poured His heart out in prayer and requested what He wanted, yet He added, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”  Above all, Jesus knew that God’s Will is more important than any request of ours.  God’s Will takes precedence.  Jesus models for us the proper way to end all prayers.  When we pray, we are not placing an order with God.  We are sharing with Him our heart and our deepest desires, yet we still need to seek His Will above ours.  We need to be willing for Him to say “no” if He has a better plan, even if we don’t understand it and it hurts.  Not my will, But Yours be done!  He is God and we are not!
            And Paul shows us that when God says “no” to our desperate prayers, it is the perfect time to truly learn how sufficient God and His grace is.  By not always getting what we want, we learn humility and that God is enough for us.  For most of us, we live from one “happy thing” to another, asking for more and more things to make our lives better and to keep us fulfilled.  Our satisfaction and fulfillment is found in things. 
            And I think we will all face discouraging and confusing answers to prayer to move us from finding satisfaction and fulfillment in things to finding it in God alone.  It is generally only in the pain and the “no” answers and the long waits that we stop playing with our toys and start wrestling deeply with the things of God.  It takes our eyes off of temporary things and puts them on eternal, spiritual things.  It shifts our focus from the condition of our “nice, little lives” to the condition of our souls.  It humbles us because we learn that “it’s not all about us and what we want.”  It tests what is really in our hearts and forces us to choose: walk toward God or away from Him.  Make Him Lord of our lives or be our own god.  And if we cling to God through the pain, even if we don’t understand, we find out that He is indeed enough for us.  We learn to desire Him above what He can give us.  And this is far more important and valuable than any particular answer to prayer.  (But it does really hurt to get to this point!  Great pruning and spiritual growth always hurts!  But it’s eternally worth it!) 
            Verses like the ones above can make prayer sound so neat and tidy, like a blank check or order form.  Until you look deeper and at Scripture as a whole.  Because there is so much more to prayer than “ask for what you want and you’ll get it, if you believe.”  And so, I want to (as briefly as possible) sum of my Understanding God’s Will posts on prayer.  (The full version is in the UGW Q9 posts of 2013.)

            1.  First off, I think Mark 11:22-24 is best understood when we bring it all back to what Jesus said at the beginning: “Have faith in God.”  Our problem (at least, my problem) is not with how much faith we have, but with what we set it on.  And according to the “name it and claim it” version of Mark 11:22-24, it’s our level of faith and the absence of doubt that will make whatever we say happen.  But our faith shouldn’t rest on our faith’s ability to get things done, but on God’s ability to work things out His way. 
            In fact, sometimes God shows me what a big God He is by not answering my prayers as I think He should.  And I come to realize that I have been trying to manipulate Him with my “strong faith,” like saying,  “See how much I believe in You to do this?  So now You can’t let me down.”  I am putting my faith in the strength of my faith to get God to do what I want, instead of putting my faith in God to lead me to do what He wants.  Does that make sense?
            But this is not “having faith in God.”  It’s faith in my faith.  It’s faith in myself to get something accomplished - based on what I do or don’t do, or believe or don’t believe.  And this is misplaced faith!  “Name it and claim it by the strength of your faith” is not a godly way.  It’s a spiritual-sounding, super-subtle way of elevating ourselves over God, of turning God into our errand boy.  We act like we are in control and that we get it done - by our prayers, beliefs, and level of faith.  But God is so much bigger than that.  And Jesus says, “Have faith in God!” 
            Does our faith rest on our own presumptuousness about how God should answer prayers or does it rest on Who God is and His wisdom, strength, and timing?       
            I’m learning that I need to focus less on my faith and if it’s “strong enough” and more on the God who is in control, less on the answer that I want and more on what God is trying to accomplish and to teach me through the trial.  Genuine faith in God is not one that says, “I asked for this and I believe that You can do it, so I’m claiming in faith that You’ll do it.”  (Unless it is in reference to a clear biblical promise God has given us, like for wisdom.)  That’s presumption about what God wants and about how He should answer. 
            We say, “I have faith in You that You can do what I am asking You to do.”  But God might just be saying, “Yes, but will you still have faith in Me if I don’t do what you’re asking Me to do?”  Because a genuine faith in God is a faith that says, “I can’t see what’s ahead and I may not get what I want, but I still believe in You.  I believe that You can do what I am asking.  But if You don’t, I know that You are good and that You will work all things out for good.  You are God and I am not!”  That is putting our faith in God.  That’s humility. 
            It’s letting God be God, while we are the children at His feet.  We can ask, but we have to let Him decide how to answer.  We can desire and plan, but we have to include Him in the planning and be willing to let Him interrupt and change our desires and plans.  And when He wills that a mountain moves, it will move when we pray.  But in His time and in His way!   

            2.  Another problem comes when we “claim” answers to prayer that He hasn’t given us.  And I think we need to not be claiming specific answers or blessings as much as “instructions” or “help along the way.”  (We definitely need to ask for what we want and need, with thanksgiving, according to Philippians 4:6-7.  But it says nothing of claiming a particular answer.  We ask.  God answers.) 
            Sometimes, the problem is just that we are focused on the wrong thing.  We are focused on the end when we should be focused on the journey.  We are asking for what we want instead of seeking what He wants for us.  We are waiting for a particular answer instead of accepting the one that God gave. 
            We cannot expect Him to give us whatever we ask for, if we are asking for things that He has not promised in His Word.  But if we ask for the things that God has promised us in the Bible (like wisdom and peace and forgiveness), we can expect Him to give us those things.  And the Bible is full of promises to guide us and help us on our journey through life.  We should look for and cling to those, not to what we think He should give us.  We need to be less about leading and demanding and more about following and submitting!  And we need to remember that God doesn’t often reveal His answers ahead of time, no matter how much we plead.  Because it’s the journey and the struggle that build godly character. 
            If He’s making us wait, there are reasons.  Sometimes it’s that there are issues inside of us that we need to discover and work through.  Sometimes it’s to help us go deeper or higher in our walk with Him.  Sometimes it’s that we are unknowingly blocking Him by our own sins or desires.  Sometimes it’s that our desires need to change because we are asking for the wrong things.  And sometimes it’s just because He’s working on the answer, but it’s not ready yet.  (And sometimes, like in Daniel 10:12-13, it’s because of the heavenly battle that is going on.  Daniel had to wait three weeks for his answer.  Yet, it’s important to note that what he was waiting for was godly wisdom and knowledge, not just something he wanted for selfish purposes.  And while he was waiting, he humbled himself.)
            But we are hasty.  We are impatient.  And we think everything hinges on us: on our prayers, our strength, our resourcefulness, and our faith.  And so we get discouraged with ourselves, our faith, and Him if we have to wait too long.  We feel that we let ourselves down, that we let Him down, and that He let us down.  All because our prayers “didn’t work.”  But it shouldn’t be this way.  Our “faith” should not hinge on how and when God chooses to answer.    
            I should not be limiting God by my expectations and putting parameters around Him and how He works in my life.  I cannot determine how He will answer.  I cannot know how He should answer.  And so I should not be overly focused on “the answer.”  I should be focused more on how I am walking with Him on this journey through life, while still pouring out my heart and my desires to Him in transparent, humble honesty, like Jesus did.  This keeps my heart open to Him. 

            3.  In order to best understand verses like Mark 11:22-24, it would be wise to do a quick review on other “prayer verses” to see what they add to our understanding.  This will help us see some of the pitfalls in the “name it and claim it” interpretation of the Mark verses and the dangers of isolating verses.   
            1 John 5:14-15:  “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him.”
            James 4:2-3:  “. . . You do not have, because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
            John 14:13-14:  “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
            Yes, this last one sounds like the Mark 11 passage:  Ask for anything and Jesus will do it.  Wow, that sounds great!  What an awesome power - to be able to get anything we ask for.  But!  I don’t think that’s what Jesus really meant.   
            I cannot just ask for what I want and believe that my faith will make it happen.  Because it also says that it has to be in line with His Will.  Sure, we can ask for whatever, but He “hears” the things that are in line with His Will.  And when He hears the prayers that are in line with His Will, we can be confident that He will do them. 
            And those verses also say that we won’t get what we ask for if we have selfish motives, and that we have to ask in Jesus’ name, for the glory of God.  But this is not a blank check.  We can’t just add “in Jesus’ name, Amen” to the ends of our prayers and expect God to give us what we ask for. 
            So what does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name?  I like to think of it this way.  Let’s say that I work for a company, and I go to an office supply store to get some supplies that my boss wants.  Now, I am going there in his place - in his name - to get the things that he wants.  As long as it’s on his list and in line with his needs and what he wants for his office, then it’s in his name.  (And if I don’t ask for it, I won’t get it.)  But as soon as I ask for something off of the list - something that I want, that I think he wants, or that’s out of line with what the office needs - I am asking in my own name.  And I can’t put it on his tab or claim that it’s his will.
            When we consider all of these verses together, it weeds out a lot of the requests that we make.  How many of our requests are in our own names, for our own desires and purposes?  Even prayers for healing or blessings can come from our own desires and our own thoughts of what we need.  God doesn’t promise to give us whatever we want, but He will give us what He wants for us.  And God often has important things to teach us during the wait and during our struggles with unanswered prayers - if only we will take our eyes off of our requests and put them on Him.         
            We want to lead and have control by our prayers, whereas true faith in God says, “Whatever happens, I still believe in You.  And I will follow where You lead.”  Our hope should not be in the idea that God will eventually give us what we want if we just hang in there long enough and drum up enough confidence in Him to do it.  (Oh, how many times I fall into that!)  Our hope should be in the fact that God is here now and that He is working things out in His time and in His way, even if they don’t match our time and way.  It’s not letting the darkness and confusion pull us away from God, but letting it draw us even nearer to Him.  When we have learned to seek, desire, and enjoy Him more than what He can give us then we will find peace, contentment, and joy, even in the hard times.  Because our faith will be in Him, not in some idea of who we think He should be and how He should act.      

            4.  On a similar note, how many times do our requests and our desires for an answer become idolatrous pursuits, taking our focus from God?  I think sometimes this is why many of us end up in the furnace of refining, long waits.  To purify our hearts, to help us weed out wayward desires and idols, and to help us refocus on what we should be focused on: God! 
            And most of us don’t do this on our own, not when things are going good and we are getting what we want.  Because when things are going our way, we are content to float and to live self-centered, temporally-focused lives.  And we think our relationship with Him must be pretty good for things to be going along so nicely.  And so He allows us to face “the furnace of unanswered prayer” so that we can discover the idolatry, selfishness, self-sufficiency, and sin in our hearts, so that we learn that we need to be pursuing God - not a comfortable, little life - and letting Him fill our hearts and lives with what He wants for us. 
            Oh, how many times I do that to myself!  Making an idol out of some thing or some answer that I am waiting for.  I pray and wait and struggle and plead and doubt and get discouraged.  And then, I get to a point where I get so depressed that I can’t pray about it anymore, where I realize that I’m worse off to keep dwelling on this concern or request.  And it’s usually then that God shows me that I have lost focus on Him and that I have been consumed with my request.  I have been trying to manipulate God with my prayers and with my “faith” in Him to answer the way I want or think I need. 
            And it’s hard to do, but when I get to this point - when the answer I want or when my desire for an answer has become an “idol” - I need to take my focus off of my request and put it back on God.  I need to “give up” and give the Lord permission to answer as He will and to work in His timing.  Because whatever His answer is, it’s ultimately by Him and for His glory.  And so I pray:   
            “Lord, forgive me for making an idol of this request and for pursuing the answer when I should be pursuing You.  I leave it in Your hands now, and I ask You to do as You will and to give me the strength to face this unanswered prayer gracefully.  I know You are good and I trust You.  I may not have the great faith that I wish I did, but I am putting my pathetic, little faith in You right now.  Thank You for being a big God who can see what I can’t see and handle what I can’t handle.  I lean on Your strength now.  May You be glorified through this.” 
            Gods knows that we have the ability to do this - the ability to make an idol out of our own lives.  And so maybe He allows enough waiting and enough unanswered prayer so that we get to the point where we loosen our grip on the thing we are asking for and we begin to reach for Him instead.  Long waits and “no” answers help us hold things more loosely, keep our focus where it belongs, and remember Who owns it all, Who it’s all about, and Who deserves the glory.

            5.  Okay, now this is a lot to think about already.  But there is more.  (And even more than what I am saying here.)  On top of all that I’ve already said, there are many more verses that shed light on why our prayers may not be effective.  We have a much greater responsibility than we realize in making sure that our prayers get heard. 
            For one, maybe part of the reason that our prayers aren’t “working” and that it seems like God isn’t listening is because . . . God isn’t listening! 
            Psalm 66:18:  “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;”
            If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened!   If we harbor sin in our hearts, He is not obligated to listen to or answer our prayers.  Because we have put up a wall between us and God.  We are blocking God from hearing our prayers and from answering them.  In fact, look at the very next verse after Mark 11:22-24 (the verses where Jesus tells us that we will get anything we ask for, if we believe) . . .      
            Mark 11:25:  “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins.” 
            And this echoes Matthew 6:14-15:  “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” 
            I don’t know about you, but this is a very hard teaching to absorb.  I will not be forgiven based on my unforgiveness towards others.  And my unforgiving state has an effect on whether or not my prayers get heard, because ongoing, un-confessed sin in my life blocks God from listening to my prayers.   
            Now, I do not believe that these verses are saying that we will lose our salvation.  That kind of forgiveness is permanent the moment we choose Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  But there is another kind of forgiveness, the kind we need when we sin and break fellowship with the Lord.  Sin interferes with the condition of our relationship with Him.  And we need to ask forgiveness for any un-confessed sin to help restore fellowship and repair the relationship. 
            But how many of us harbor bitterness towards others for some offense?  How many can’t let it go because it seems so justified?  They deserve it, right?  But forgiveness is not so much about the other person; it’s about our relationship with God.  The Word makes it clear that the responsibility rests with us to forgive others (even if they don’t want it or we can’t tell them that we forgive them).  And if we don’t, it is sin that we harbor in our heart and it blocks God from forgiving us, which blocks God from hearing our prayers.   
            And even worse, unforgiveness towards others (or any resistance to confessing any sin in our lives, for that matter) shows hard-heartedness, which is diametrically opposed to a healthy, open relationship with God.  And we will further block ourselves off from being sensitive to the Holy Spirit.  And the longer we resist, the more we will entrench ourselves behind the wall that we have put up between us and the Lord, growing more numb, desensitized, and self-justified.  And the more that we cut ourselves off from God’s love, protection, and help, the more we open the door to evil in our lives.
            “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”  (Ephesians 4:26-27)  
            It’s all about your heart and if you humble yourself before a holy God.  How many of our prayers go unheard because of our heart’s condition and our attitude towards others?  Where does the devil have a foothold in your life?  Pride, bitterness, envy, gossip, idol worship, unforgiveness, ungodly speech, getting drunk, cheating, giving into temptations, lust, affairs, sex outside of marriage, acting out in anger, worry, etc., are all sins that need to be confessed and repented of, if we want God to hear our prayers and to have the most effective life for Christ. 
            2 Chronicles 7:14-15  “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.” 

            6.  Here’s one for husbands.  1 Peter 3:7:  “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect . . . so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” 
            The degree to which we treat others with consideration and respect, particularly regarding a husband’s treatment of his wife in this verse, is the degree to which our prayers are unhindered.
            And here are three that scare me:
            Proverbs 21:13:  “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.”
            James 4:17:  “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” 
            Romans 14:23:  “. . . everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
            Yikes!  The first verse tells me that God does not listen to us if we ignore those in need.  And the second two broaden the definition of sin.  Sin is not just doing things that we know we shouldn’t do; it’s also sin to not do what we know we should do and to do anything that doesn’t come from faith.  And sin hinders prayer. 
            This really opens up a whole new side of our responsibility, of what God expects from those of us who call ourselves Christians.  Do we ignore needs that we see?  Do we turn a blind eye at injustice?  Do we fail to treat others kindly?  Do we fail to do the good that we know we should do?  This is sin! 
            Do we decide things based on what our faith tells us to do or do we just do what we think is best?  What, in our lives, are we doing that is a result of faithlessness?  Do we hoard money because we don’t have faith in God to provide?  Do we seek our own ways out of trials because we don’t have faith in God to help us through?  Do we look to satisfy our desires outside of the boundaries God has given because we don’t trust that God’s way is best?  Do we fail to obey because we are afraid of what obedience will cost us?  This is sin, too!    
            We can open up to just about any passage in the Bible and find something we should be convicted about, something that will lead us toward a deeper relationship with Him and a better idea of how to live righteously, which leads us toward more “powerful and effective” prayers.  But how many of us take the time to do that?  How many of us read the Bible with the intention of seeking to live more righteously?  Or have we become comfortable in our own little world, behind our walls of fear, self-sufficiency, self-centeredness, and sin?    
            1 John 3:21-23:  “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.  And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” 
            Notice that it’s not just an inactive, passive command to avoid doing anything that doesn’t please Him.  It’s an active command that instructs us to live our lives doing the things that please Him.  But we shouldn’t look at obedience as a way to manipulate Him to get what we want or as something that we have to do out of duty or irrational fear or to earn His love.  The desire to obey is the natural response of a heart that properly fears God and that is so full of His love and of love for Him that you want nothing less than to do His Will and bring Him glory. 
            Now, let’s look again at John 15:7:  “. . . ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”  If we ended with that verse, it would sound like a blank check.  But most of us don’t realize there is a beginning to that verse, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” 
            As it talks about only a couple verses before, we need to abide in Him as a branch abides in the vine, and this will lead to fruitfulness.  But not the fruit that we decide to grow; fruit that the vine wants to grow through us.  We need to be remaining in Him and storing up His words in our hearts.  Really understanding the Word of God and the character of God (as seen in the Word) will help us understand which prayer requests are in line with His Will and which are not.  But we have to remember to never leave off the first part of that verse.  It is what the rest of the verse hinges on.  And abiding in Him and His Word is a lot of responsibility. 
            And if we go on to the next verse, we find out what kind of prayers God is talking about.  Is it really “whatever you wish”? 
            Verse 8:  “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  God grants the prayers that are centered on bearing fruit for the Father’s glory, that show others that we are His disciples.  And this comes as a result of remaining in Him, which means way more than just reading our Bibles, going to church, and praying every now and then for what we want.  Remaining in Him, as a tree branch remains connected to the trunk, means being vitally connected to Him.  It means absorbing and living in His Word, love, power, grace, etc., and it means desiring what He desires.  It is not a casual thing, and it is not about just getting our wants and desires fulfilled!
            When I consider all these verses together, I can see that it doesn’t mean that He will always grant anything that I ask.  Am I abiding in Him daily?  Or am I just running to my Vending Machine God to ask for what I want or think I need?  Do I have my plans, pleasure, and glory in mind, or God’s?  (And here’s a scary question:  Does my life currently show obedience and reflect His glory and His love and His Word?  How about in my home, in how I treat others, in how I speak and think, when I am in a crowd, when I am alone, etc.?)    

            7.  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.  And it is life-changing! 
            Prayer is not about getting our way, about getting God to give us the answers we want.  It’s about our relationship with Him and our spiritual growth.  It’s about our heart’s sensitivity to Him and our desire to live life with Him, doing our best with the Spirit’s help to transform ourselves to be more like Him.  It’s about drawing near to Him in genuineness and humility, about being desperate for Him, 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 really grasp His love for us.  More than reaching for things He can give us, we should really be reaching to understand His love better.  That is what will carry us through anything.  And 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 according to Philippians 4:6-7, peace comes when we present all of our requests to God, with thanksgiving.  The thanksgiving part is crucial.  It is what reminds us Who we are praying to, what He has done for us in the past, and that He is good and will answer in the best way.  Because He is a good, loving, Heavenly Father.  Whenever you are discouraged with prayer or life’s circumstances, practice thanksgiving.  This will also help keep evil away because demons thrive on negative emotions, which are “welcome mats” to them.  Even a demon that tormented Saul in 1 Samuel 16:23 was driven away when David played his harp.  Thanksgiving and praise help “shut the door” to them and drive them away.)   

            8.  As I grow through the times of unanswered prayers and longs waits, 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, I do pray for specifics and I pour out my desires.  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.    Unanswered prayers and long waits 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 and our faith.  Maybe that’s part of the reason why God seems so silent, hidden, and unresponsive at times – 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, confusing, and sometimes frustrating God.  And to show us that He cannot be controlled or manipulated by us. 
            And isn’t this exactly what most of us get hung up on in a crisis of faith?  But a god that can really be totally understood or slightly controlled by us is not really God at all.  I’m learning that He is supposed to be confusing.  Because His ways and His understanding are higher than my ways and my understanding.  And it’s okay if I’m confused.  I don’t need to have Him all figured out.  He is God and I am not.  I just need to be okay that He knows it all and that He is good and that He loves me.  And I think that’s pretty comforting.   
            So how long do we continue to hang in there and pray for something that doesn’t seem to be happening?  When it seems like God is not listening and it hurts us to have to plead again about a certain request?  I’ve pleaded with God for things that haven’t happened or that were a long time in coming.  And this is the best advice I can offer right now.  If you have gone through all the steps above and God is still not answering, hang in there and keep praying about your concern until one of five things happens.  Until . . .
            1)  God says “Yes.”   
            2)  God says, “No, My grace is sufficient for you.” (And sometimes a “no” is actually a blessing in disguise.) 
            3)  God has strengthened your conviction that this is indeed the way you are to continue praying, and you need to persist in prayer until it happens.
            4)  God has purified your desires through the trial and the waiting, and He has shown you how to change your request to be more in line with His Will.  Or . . .
            5)  You realize that you have made an idol out of the request and the answer that you want. 
            And if that has happened (#5), let go of the prayer request.  When we have been so focused on a request that we have lost our focus on God, lost our confidence in God, or have caused ourselves emotional distress, then we need to confess it and to fully hand the request over to Him to do with as He pleases.  We need to let it go. 
            And while we are in the long waits and facing unanswered prayer, we need to praise Him.  And to keep praising Him - until we have Him so clearly in focus and at the forefront of our minds that our desire to get what we want pales in comparison to His glory and His love and His presence.
            (Also, if it seems as though God is not answering your prayer, ask yourself if there is anything that you should be doing or not doing.  Sometimes, we pray “lazy prayers.”  We ask God to do something for us while we ignore the resources and wisdom He gave us to do it ourselves, such as praying that God gives us a healthy body when we won’t exercise or eat right, or praying for a job when we won’t go looking for one.  Or we pray prayers from the wrong angle, and we need to slightly shift what we are asking for.  Instead of praying, “Lord, change my spouse,” it would be far more effective to pray, “Lord, help me see what I can do/think/change to make this marriage better.”  Sometimes, to get our prayers answered, it takes tweaking them a little or praying that God opens our eyes to the answer that is already there.)
            Summing it all up, when it comes to prayer and faith, what we should want more than anything is to get to the place where we can take His hand and walk forward into the darkness in faith.  Faith in Him!  Because even if we don’t get what we want, we know that He is a good, loving Father who will work all things for good!

            Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”