There once were two men who prayed to God.
The first man prayed for wealth and happiness. He wanted to experience the Lord’s blessings. Over the years he worked diligently to obtain a comfortable life. But no matter how many riches he obtained, he was never content, and he never felt true joy.
The second man prayed for God to make His presence known. He wanted to experience genuine closeness with the Lord. And over the years, despite circumstances–good or bad–he found himself overwhelmed with gratitude and peace. He knew eternal wealth and everlasting joy.
One man sought after God’s hand. The other man sought after God’s face.
Now the question: Which one did God answer? Or perhaps more enlightening: Which one are you?
Sometimes in life it seems that God is distant. We imagine Him too far away to hear our prayers. And if He does hear, then He appears to be silent. Prayer seems such an illogical and impractical thing. Why pray if I do not see the outcome I want? Why pray if God already knows everything and is unmovable from His purposes? What difference does it make? Why? Why? WHY?!
So, what was the question again?
Sometimes in life we seem to ask the wrong questions. We get wrapped up in our own selfish incentives and never pause to reflect on what we are really asking. The Church must challenge this immature thinking. Many have gotten prayer all wrong. We misunderstand its purpose and even what it is. If it seems that God is not answering your prayers then maybe it is because you ask with wrong motives (James 4:2-3). Remember, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (vs 5:16).
Concerning prayer, Francis Chan shares, “Stop talking at God for a while, but instead take a long, hard look at Him before you speak another word” (Crazy Love 2008, 25). Let us gaze at God in silence. For a moment let us be still, cease our striving, and know that He is God. You will be amazed, humbled and speechless. “Think of the last thing you prayed about–were you devoted to your desire or to God? Determined to get some gift of the Spirit or to get at God?” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, 1935). The point of prayer is to get more of God. There is no need to query “Does God answer prayer?” He does. What we must examine is “Are we asking rightly?”
Prayer as Communion
Prayer is a conversation with God. So how does this fit into the context of all your other relationships? Ponder this scenario. You are at your local coffee shop with a friend you have not seen in a while and with whom you want to catch up. You are excited simply to see them and spend time together. But suddenly, your friend begins asking you for favors. Before you have the chance to even respond, your friend has moved on to the next request, and the next. Finally, after about ten minutes of “Oh so nice to see you, could you loan me a few bucks cause I’m short on cash,” your friend abruptly gets up and rushes out the door. Without hardly a thanks or goodbye, you are left confused, hurt and quite offended.
Does this dialogue sound ridiculous? Has anything remotely similar happened to you? Unfortunately, this is how we often treat our time with God. On the occasion we pray, we purely announce our wish-list before God and then say “Adios!”
Conversations are meant to be two-way. Each person takes turns both talking and listening. Prayer should be the same way. God talks and we listen. We talk and God listens. It works both ways. All too often, we talk on and tune out God. But we need to simply sit silently in His presence. Prayer is communication and fellowship with God. He is just so excited to see us and spend time with His kids. He wants us to know Him and to be known by Him.
Father Knows Best
Now this does not mean it is wrong for us to ask God for things. He is a loving Father and wants to give His children good gifts. But what happens when it just seems like God is not answering? Does He really hear all of our prayers? Does He truly care?
Remember those multiple choice tests in school where you had to fill in the circles? It would pose a question and then give several options for an answer. The problem would always end with this statement: Consider the options and choose the best possible answer. Even if the question seemed a little subjective or there were multiple answers that seemed to fit, you only got credit for choosing the best. And there always was a best answer.
When it comes to prayer, there is always a best answer–the one God always gives. Sometimes, God answers “Yes, I love you and the thing you have asked for is good so I have given it you.” Sometimes, God answers “Wait, be patient my child for the time is not right; I am still teaching you things through this experience.” And sometimes–sometimes He answers “No, because I do love you, and I have something way better for you. You don’t even comprehend it, but just wait and see!”
God loves us so much. He wants more for us than prosperous living and easy solutions. He wants us to grow and experience life to the fullest. He cares much more about our character than our comfort. He knows and wants what is best for us, and He is willing to give it to us–no matter what it takes. A loving Father would never give His child stones to eat or snakes to play with. So also, a loving Father would never give His child only candy to eat and only T.V. to entertain with. A loving parent does what is best for their child, even if they do not like it at the time. It is not easy to withhold from your kids, but it is the right thing to do. It is the most loving thing to do. This is authentic, life-changing love.
Prayer Changes Everything
Jesus never mentioned unanswered prayer; He had the boundless certainty that prayer is always answered, and answered in the best way. But “the idea of prayer is not in order to get answers from God; prayer is perfect and complete oneness with God… We are not here to prove God answers prayer; we are here to be living monuments of God’s grace” (Chambers, August 6).
Prayer is not about me changing God’s mind. It is about God changing me. Prayer does not merely change things, prayer changes me and I change things. Prayer changes the circumstances of my life so that God may work in a new way according to His unfailing character. God never changes. But God changes everything. He makes all things new. And He uses our prayers to change our lives and to change the world.
When God is Enough
Now we come to the crux of the matter. Is God enough? If all you got in prayer was God, would He suffice? What happens when prayers bring no job, no home, no food – absolutely nothing tangible? If you had nothing else to claim or hold onto, would God be enough?
This is the truth; God is enough. In fact, He is more than enough. He is more than we could ever want or need. He is oxygen for our spiritual lungs, and without His living breath we die. Prayer is the spiritual blood pumping into our hearts. God is not a drug. He is our daily bread. We do not take Him to get off on a spiritual high every now and then. We partake of Him daily lest we starve. Too many of us are suffering from spiritual suffocation and spiritual anorexia. Seek the Lord and live! We do not need God’s blessings. We just need Him.
Now here is the real encouraging part. The more we get to know God, the more our will is shaped to His. As we grow closer to His heart, we learn how to pray and what to pray for. We begin to pray according to His will and find an overflow of His response. We can expect abundantly great things when we pray the desires of God.
So stop knowing about God. Know God. Stop seeking His hand alone. Instead, seek His face first. Remember, God is the answer to all of your questions. In prayer, you find God. When you find God, you realize your prayers have all been answered. He is the answer.
“…But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer. Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer or withdraw his unfailing love from me.” (Psalm 66:16-20).