” Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me!” Psalms 27:7 (NLT)
One question sometimes asked, “How does God keep track of the millions of prayers asked each day?” The answer: “I don’t know. God is God and I am a mere human!” However, I am completely confident that our petitions are heard!! Further, He does not seem to need or have use for those ubiquitous answering services that notify us to press # 1 for __, press # 2 for ___! But for a moment imagine if God decided to install an automated answering machine to answer His many calls. Visualize praying and hearing this: “Thank you for calling. Please select one of the following options: Press 1 for requests. Press 2 for giving thanks. Press 3 for complaints. For all other inquiries, press 4.” What if God responded with the familiar excuse, “Thank you for calling. All of the angels are helping other prayers right now. Please stay on line and your call will be answered in the order it was received. For nagging questions about the dinosaurs, the age of the earth, or the location of Noah’s ark, please wait until you get here. We are sorry but we are closed for the weekend. Please try again on Monday.”
Regardless of the ‘how’ of God’s answering system when we feel that our pit is deep and God seems to be nowhere around; when our prayers rebound like empty echoes, what then? These desert seasons leave us feeling distant, alienated from our God and feeling helpless in our plight. Further, perhaps the one of the primary causes of ‘losing’ one’s faith is unanswered prayer. For example, when a mother prays for the healing of her child’s illness and it doesn’t happen, bitterness towards God almost always occurs. While more mature believers would probably dismiss this seemingly lack of response as not being in accordance with God’s will. While we may accept this as true, it does little to reduce the mother’s lingering disappointment of her unanswered prayer!
One of the toughest times in our life is those moments when all we know about God doesn’t seem to help or get the results we want. Often when we pray, we want God to intervene instantly even though we know the times of waiting for God to act can refine our faith, teach us, and prepare us for future responsibilities God has for us. Maybe our living in the era of instant gratification has blinded us to the acceptance that God’s time schedule may vary greatly from ours! Further, the well-known verse, ‘Ask any you shall receive’ (Matthew 7:7) seems to reinforce our desire for an immediate response.
At least one contributing factor to unanswered prayer is that frequently our prayers are not definite enough. What do the prayers leftover from our childhood, ‘bless grandma and grandpa’ really mean and how are the results measured? One is reminded of the event when a blind man kept calling after Jesus, repeating over and over, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ The beggar’s blindness was obvious to Jesus, yet our Lord silenced his chant with a blunt question, ’What do you want me to do for you?’ The directness of the question shocked the beggar out of his self-pitying chant. “Lord,” he told Him with a new directness, “I want to see!” (Luke 18: 35-40). Do our petitions always clearly state our yearning?
Perhaps we need to reflect a bit on how prayer actually works. The process of prayer breaks simply into two parts: our part and God’s part. Our part in prayer is to believe. That’s it! Whatever need or desire we have, we bring it to God in faith, believing that He is able to grant it. We don’t have to believe that God will do a certain thing; only that God can do it if He chooses. In other words, faith is not believing that God will do what you request, but that He can if it is in His will.
God’s part in prayer is to do whatever He decides. The Apostle John clearly states, “ And we are sure of this, that he will listen to us whenever we ask him for anything in line with his will. 15 And if we really know he is listening when we talk to him and make our requests, then we can be sure that he will answer us.” (1 John 5:14-15. TLB). In other words, John’s message to us is that God hears every prayer offered according to His will. We, then, can pray two kinds of prayers: prayers that agree with God’s will and prayers that don’t agree with it. Quite simply, the prayers offered in faith (our part), which is according to the will of God, will be heard, and what He hears He does (God’s part).
If the above statements are true and I believe they are, where does this leave the petitioner whose request is not in accordance with His will? Often when there is no relief in sight, all one can do is to acknowledge the greatness of God and wait for better days ahead. It is important to recognize that even though we may be certain our wishes are in accordance with His will, God’s wisdom far exceeds ours. Further, we have all experienced unanswered prayers at one time or another and that even though our request was not forthcoming, we know that He did sustain in such difficult times – all we needed to do was ask and we were assured that ‘this too will pass’.
Prayer: “ Patient and loving God, we thank You for Your ways of working in our lives. We recognize that our wants and desires may not coincide with Your will but may Your will be done and give us grace to accept Your decision.” Amen