In all my years of being a Christian, studying the Bible and interacting with others who share in this simple, yet profound adventure of seeking God and desiring to be in an honest and true relationship with Christ, maybe there has been nothing that I have seen believers struggle with and sometimes, even misunderstand, more than the simple act of prayer.
Perhaps it is because, like me, so many people who are now “Bible-believing Christians” grew up in or have come out of a church or religious system where prayer was structured and stiff. Many churches have taught people to memorize prayers that were written for them, that said what the church thought the believer should pray.
Now, that could be because so many people have said, “I want to pray, but I am intimidated by it. I really do not know what to say. This is God we are talking about. I don’t want to screw it up.” So, maybe these churches thought it would be a good idea to teach them some generalized prayers that they could use, when their own words fail them. I get that. Even the disciples of Jesus struggled with this, as we see in this well-known passage from Luke Chapter 11:
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John (the Baptist) taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” [Luke 11:1-4 ESV]
I am guessing, based on that exchange, the disciples of Jesus were impressed by the way the disciples of John the Baptist were able to pray…so eloquent…so deep and thoughtful. There did seem to be, early on, a bit of a competition between John’s disciples and the disciples of Jesus. John’s disciples grumbled about why they had to fast all the time and the disciples of Jesus did not. Jesus’s disciples were envious of the way John’s disciples prayed. Now, I am not suggesting that John or Jesus were a party to this behavior, of course not. But, there did seem to be a little bit of “Can you top this?” going on, between the brethren. Just sayin’.
Let’s take a look at what some other well-respected experts on prayer had to say about the subject:
“Prayer is simply a two-way conversation between you and God.” (Billy Graham)
You might be saying, “Two-way conversation? Wait, you mean there is supposed to be a response? From God? You’re kidding me, right? All these years I tried to pray and you are telling me that I was supposed to be hearing God answer me back?”
Well, yes, but maybe not right away…and not necessarily in an audible voice. But God does answer us when we pray. I believe that with all my heart. I do believe God sees prayer as a two-way street. We are taught in the Bible to “make our requests known to God” and I believe He hears those requests. Our local pastor, Pastor Jim Mindling, has a great way of explaining it. He says, “Sometimes, God answers ‘Yes.’ Sometimes, He answers, ‘No.’ And sometimes His answer is ‘Not right now…I am working on that one.'” I love that. Just because we do not get an answer right away, that does not mean God does not hear us.
“My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with Me?’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming.’” [27:8 NLT] (King David)
Two things jump out at me, from this powerful little passage written by a man who was said to be “a man after God’s own heart,” David, the eighth and youngest son of Jesse, who may have been small in stature (compared to his brothers), but was chosen and annointed by God to lead His people and unify His nation. He had a lot to say about prayer.
1) David writes, “Come and talk with Me,” as if they were the words of God. In fact, he sort of implied they were. It seems David was comfortable with the idea that prayer was to be two-way communication with the Creator of all things. And he did not seemed embarrassed to say so.
2) He started out this passage with the words, “My heart has heard You say…” Not his ears, his heart heard it. Again, God’s responses are usually not heard audibly (not saying never….but it is rare). More often, it is something we hear (or sense) in our hearts.
So, if you are not hearing God’s voice speaking audibly to you, in response to your prayers, welcome to the club. You are not alone. But, again, don’t assume that means He is not choosing to answer you. He will…and probably has many times. You (and I) just may not have recognized it when He did. Imagine that….lol.
“Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me! ” [Psalm 27:7 NLT] (King David)
You see, even the writer of the Psalms had moments, where it seemed to him that God had chosen not to answer him. He even implied that if God did eventually answer, it would be because He was being merciful towards him. This was probably one of those times where God was saying, as Pastor Jim suggested, “Not right now..I am still working on that one.”
A number of the parables Jesus spoke had to do with the need for persistency in our prayer life. Remember the story about the poor widow who repeatedly approached the judge, seeking justice, and how he finally granted her request because she persisted and finally wore him down. Or how about the friend who came knocking on the door at midnight, seeking something to eat. Finally, the owner of the house gave him some bread, just to get him to stop interrupting his sleep. Persistence. And Jesus did not seem to be saying, in these stories, that their persistence was a bad thing. Not at all, in fact, it sounds to me like He was encouraging it.
How about when Jacob wrestled with God all through the night, and told Him, “I will not let You go until You bless me.” That took some guts, right? And how did God respond? He changed Jacob’s name to Israel because he had “wrestled with God and men…and prevailed.” Sounds to me like God appreciates it when we are passionate or moved enough by something to pray to Almighty God about it and we “stick to our guns” (spiritually speaking) and fight for it. Makes sense to me.
But then, when I was young, I used to get upset with my Dad because no matter what I would ask him for, his first answer was always, “No.” One time, I got mad enough to ask him why he did that. His answer was, “I just wanted to see how bad you wanted it.” So yeah, maybe God’s approach just makes more sense to me because I grew up with a father who did not always just say, “Yes,” to me all the time. Now, my Dad was not the most religious man, to be truthful. But, unknowingly, he did sort of prepare me for having a more disciplined prayer life. See how that works? Thanks, Dad!!!
This next passage from King David, again, kinda makes me chuckle a bit. How many of us, honestly, have felt exactly the same way regarding our prayer life, at one time or another?
“I pray to you, O Lord, my rock. Do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you are silent, I might as well give up and die.” [Psalm 28:1 NLT] (King David)
Have you ever (be honest) gotten so frustrated that your prayers were not being answered in the way, or as quickly as you would like, so you turned the heat up on God a bit, thinking that might bring a quicker or more favorable response? You are like, “C’mon Lord. I have been praying about this for six months now. Surely, by now, you know I am serious about this. If I don’t get an answer soon, I may have to take matters into my own hands. Don’t make me do something I might regret.” How did that work out for you? For me, not so well. I am learning to have more patience, as I grow older, especially in the area of prayer. I have also learned, as with a great meal, the best results take a little longer. If the answer came a little sooner, it probably wouldn’t be as good.
So let’s sum up:
1) Prayer is meant to be a conversation….and a two-way one at that.
2) Prayer takes practice…the more you pray…the more comfortable you get with it.
3) Prayer requires persistence…God helps by giving us more opportunities to practice.
4) Prayer requires patience…God could answer quicker…but what fun would that be?
And 5) Never doubt for a second that prayer works…or that God hears your prayers.
And always remember what Jesus, Himself, instructed us to do………
“Ask and it will be given to you;
Seek and you will find;
Knock and the door will be opened to you.”