There’s a natural follow-up to last week’s blog. We talked about why it sometimes seems like God hasn’t answered our prayers – or maybe that the answer to that prayer seemed to be no for a number of reasons that are discussed in scripture. So that leads us to ask: How do I pray prayers to which God will answer “yes”?
I think there are some things that the Bible shows us about prayer that can help us, and the good news is that all of them have to do with our attitude when we pray. We’ve already seen that humility of mind and submission to God’s will is an absolute requirement if we want to have an effective prayer life, so it’s no surprise that an effective prayer life requires an approach that echoes those things:
I need to pray for the right things
That seems like circular logic. I want God to give me what I want, but God is only going to give me what He chooses to give me, so I need to ask for the things God wants to give me, so he’ll give me those things! But it goes back to the attitude we must have in approaching God. If it is God who works in us “to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13), and our attitude is to cultivate that in our lives (II Thes. 1:11-12), then it makes sense that our prayers should align with what God wants for us.
How many times do parents say “I would do anything for my kids”, but if the child then came and said, “If that’s true, then I want a Ferrari!” And the response is “that’s not what I meant.” Because most parents don’t give their children whatever they want, whenever they want. Sometimes it’s because it’s simply not possible, but in most cases, it’s because the parent is filtering the child’s request by what is best for that child. Why would I buy my child a flame-thrower if I think he’s going to hurt himself using it? So why do we expect God to give us whatever we want, even if it might be detrimental to His plan for us?
John points this out: “If we ask anything according to His will, he hears us.” (I John 5:13-15) We need to figure out how we can serve God best, and then pray that God will help us to do that.
I need to pray with contentment
If we are looking at our relationship to God as a means of “fixing” our lives, we may need to think about what needs fixing. Is my life self-destructive, unfulfilling, lacking in meaning or direction? God can and will help with that. But if I’m not content with my life simply because I’m not content with what I earn, what I do for a living, how many friends I have, how many difficulties rise up in my life… there’s a principle that we need to master first.
Praying to God will not end all our troubles. It will not ensure a life free of suffering and loss. It will not show us a pathway to change our economic, political or social status. Paul seemed to understand this when he wrote: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Phil. 4:11) If I’m not at peace with my lot in life, and I expect God to fix that, I’m likely to be disappointed! The reason for that, I think, is that my economic or social status has nothing to do with whether I can serve God. In fact, God might even be using those things to help us serve better.
I need to pray with confidence
As we saw in the last discussion, we can’t be doubtful. And we shouldn’t be doubtful!
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16
Jesus is our mediator. He has been through the difficulties of life just as we have – and more. He knows how difficult it can be to serve God in a world that isn’t interested in true, undefiled religion – in putting God’s will above our own. And we know that when we pray to God through Christ, God can do “abundantly more than we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” (Eph. 3:20). We need to trust that there’s nothing that we can ask that God cannot do for us.
I need to pray for others
The thing that jumps out at me over and over in the Bible when it talks about prayer is the number of times that prayer is about someone else, not about the person who is praying. Paul talks about not only looking after your own interests, but the interests of others (Phil. 2:4), and our prayers should reflect that:
- Pray for the preaching of the gospel, Mtt. 9:38, II Thes. 3:1
- Pray for spiritual struggles of others, Luke 22:31-32
- Pray for churches that are not “sound”, II Cor. 13:7-10
- Pray for those in sin, I John 5:16
- Pray for government leadership, I Tim. 2:2
- Pray for spiritual leadership, Heb. 13:17-18
- Pray for the sick, James 5:14-15
- Pray for overall health and well-being of Christians, III John 2
So what’s holding our prayers back? Let’s strive to make prayer a central point of our lives, understanding not only the power of prayer, but the responsibility that comes with it!