I suspect that if we took a poll of Christians around the world and asked them if they were satisfied with their prayer life, the substantial majority would say they were not. Prayer isn’t always second nature to us, and I often have to remind myself to pray when situations arise where I need help, or I need guidance, or I see a problem that is too big for me.
Would we need to be reminded if we really thought that all we had to do was to ask God for something and He would do it – no matter what it was? My guess is we’d be praying a lot more often.
Many times, the problem with our prayers is that we lack confidence. That’s understandable – we see so many of our prayers or our friends’ prayers go seemingly unanswered. Are the Christians in the Middle East freed from the threat of execution for their faith? I bet they’re praying for that, and we should be, too. But it hasn’t happened yet.
Is God a god of “no”?
I’ve often said and heard the comment: “sometimes God says no.” And while that’s true, I think that sometimes we use that as the “out” clause. It’s the safety net because deep down we often don’t really believe God is going to do what we ask, and so we cover our bases. We know that God works in our lives in very subtle ways, and sometimes it’s easy to get into the habit of living without really expecting to see God’s hand in our lives in a clear, discernible way.
God wants to say “yes”.
Matthew 7:7-11 – “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. … If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
If God gave us His son (Rom. 8:32), is there anything beyond His will for us? Is there anything that we need that God will withhold from us? Then why do our prayers sometimes seem to go unfulfilled?
How’s my prayer life?
Here are some key questions that we can ask ourselves to evaluate our prayer life. If I don’t feel like God is answering my prayers, maybe there’s a reason:
- Do I really believe God will answer? As the father in Mark 9 asked Jesus: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” Sometimes no matter how much we want to believe, we still find doubts lingering in our hearts. Do we believe that “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him?” James warns us that someone who doubts will not find answers to his requests. (James 1:5-8)
- Am I praying with the right attitude? Some approach prayer as if God is their personal concierge; “When God says He will give us all things, he means all things.” Evangelists have attracted massive crowds with the “health and wealth” gospel, but James warns about the folly of praying to fulfill our worldly desires. (James 4:1-4) “You ask and you do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Am I praying selfish prayers? Am I praying to satisfy the earthly man and not the spiritual man? If so, scripture tells us that God will not respond.
- Do I even have the right to pray? Certainly anyone can pray to God, but unless I have fellowship with God, I have no guarantee that God will hear or answer my prayers, unless it’s the true prayer of repentance leading to our submission to God’s will (such as in Acts 10:4). As Christians, we know that our salvation – the cleansing of our sins through faith and the “washing of pure water” – is what gives us full assurance to approach God in prayer. (Heb. 10:22) If we’re living lives characterized by sin and rebellion to God, we can’t expect God to hear us. (Jer. 14:10-12)
- Am I on God’s schedule? Sometimes God answers in His own time – ask the priest Zechariah (Luke 1), who was blessed with a son long after he had given up asking and long after he could have expected God to grant his request. Isaiah 40:31 addresses the blessings of those who wait for the Lord – the same God who sent us His own son “in the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4). As Jesus said, we need to pray to God and not lose heart (Luke 18:1).
- Did I fail to change God’s mind? Oddly enough, sometimes our plans and God’s plans don’t match. Sometimes God has something else in mind for us than what we want, and sometimes God has something in mind for someone else, and that requires that we play a part in some way that we may not even realize. In other words: it’s not all about us! God doesn’t heal just because we ask Him to heal (II Cor. 12:7-9). God doesn’t open every door of opportunity that we think He should (Acts 16:6). God even denies pleas to avoid suffering and death – even from His own son (Mtt. 26:39).
The point isn’t to figure out God’s thought process so we can understand how He answers each of our prayers. It isn’t to configure our lives and attitudes so that God will start giving us what we ask. The point is that we have the attitude of humility and dependence on God. To have an effective prayer life, we have to start with the idea that our greatest concern should be that God uses us to fulfill His will:
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. – II Thes. 1:11-12
Once we adopt that attitude, and truly live by it, we’ll see great things happen in our lives – because they won’t be our plans. They’ll be God’s.