A friend was talking the other day with some very pointed questions about how we pray and how God answers those prayers. More pointedly, the concern was how – and why – it seems that God doesn’t answer some prayers.

Let’s wander together for a few moments thinking about prayer What is it that we expect when we go to God with a prayer? In other words – what difference do we expect prayer to make? To whom does it make the difference? Intertwined with that, what difference do I expect to play – if any – in the answer process? What do we expect to happen and to whom?

First, we expect God to hear. On the one hand, we take this for granted. “Of course, God hears my prayers.” But on the other hand, we might rationalize that God couldn’t possibly be paying attention to “a person like me” and therefore we really aren’t surprised when we don’t receive an answer.

Next, if we are truthful, we expect Him to agree with what we have to say. It is our nature to want people who listen to us to agree with us. “God, I want my father to be healed.” We expect God to nod His head and to answer, “That’s exactly what I want. I will get right on it.” We expect God to follow our suggestions for resolution.

Perhaps most importantly, we expect God to answer quickly. We don’t like pauses or silence in our conversations. If God doesn’t answer quickly, we are afraid that He is ignoring us. The image that is in our minds is that of a child trying to talk to his Dad while the father is reading the paper or working in the garage. We know that he is sort of listening, but we know that something else is on his mind.

We feel this way because we draw on our communication with others. If I speak a line in a physical conversation which expects an answer, and I don’t receive one, I feel ignored, disrespected or perhaps disgraced.

Did you realize there is no definition of prayer in the Bible? There are examples to be seen and words used to describe what it does, but prayer is always assumed. We “define” prayer as conversation with God, but the truth is prayer is not like any other conversation that we have. There is no interpersonal interactions. We don’t hear tone of voice. We don’t get cues from non-verbal communication.

Think about God, what we know about Him, as we approach our prayers. We are praying for a moment in time. God take care of this circumstance. We are in the moment, while God is on the other side, beyond time. Time is an invention for our behalf, not for God’s. While I am praying right now because that is where I am in time, God is beyond that point. As such He is able to see and understand the outcome. In fact, He saw what was happening before the beginning of time.

God knows everything that is going on, has gone on and will go on with our lives. To Him, it is a mural that has already been painted. Nothing in our lives catches God by surprise. When a difficult circumstance occurs, God does not wring His hands and say, “I didn’t see that one coming,” and wonder what He should do next.

God is good. He wants what is best for us. He is not the author of confusion or evil. He answers our prayers with a heart of goodness. He doesn’t answer our prayers improperly. Jesus asked the question, “What father would give his son a scorpion when he asked for a fish” (Luke 11:11)?

Here comes the tricky part. The most important thing to God is not your circumstance. It is your eternal salvation. God is most concerned with where you are going to spend eternity.A friend was talking the other day with some very pointed questions about how we pray and how God answers those prayers. More pointedly, the concern was how – and why – it seems that God doesn’t answer some prayers. Let’s wander together for a few moments thinking about prayer.

What is it that we expect when we go to God with a prayer? In other words – what difference do we expect prayer to make? To whom does it make the difference? Intertwined with that, what difference do I expect to play – if any – in the answer process? What do we expect to happen and to whom?

First, we expect God to hear. On the one hand, we take this for granted. “Of course, God hears my prayers.” But on the other hand, we might rationalize that God couldn’t possibly be paying attention to “a person like me” and therefore we really aren’t surprised when we don’t receive an answer.

Next, if we are truthful, we expect Him to agree with what we have to say. It is our nature to want people who listen to us to agree with us. “God, I want my father to be healed.” We expect God to nod His head and to answer, “That’s exactly what I want. I will get right on it.” We expect God to follow our suggestions for resolution.

Perhaps most importantly, we expect God to answer quickly. We don’t like pauses or silence in our conversations. If God doesn’t answer quickly, we are afraid that He is ignoring us. The image that is in our minds is that of a child trying to talk to his Dad while the father is reading the paper or working in the garage. We know that he is sort of listening, but we know that something else is on his mind.

We feel this way because we draw on our communication with others. If I speak a line in a physical conversation which expects an answer, and I don’t receive one, I feel ignored, disrespected or perhaps disgraced.

Did you realize there is no definition of prayer in the Bible? There are examples to be seen and words used to describe what it does, but prayer is always assumed. We “define” prayer as conversation with God, but the truth is prayer is not like any other conversation that we have. There is no interpersonal interactions. We don’t hear tone of voice. We don’t get cues from non-verbal communication.

Think about God, what we know about Him, as we approach our prayers. We are praying for a moment in time. God take care of this circumstance. We are in the moment, while God is on the other side, beyond time. Time is an invention for our behalf, not for God’s. While I am praying right now because that is where I am in time, God is beyond that point. As such He is able to see and understand the outcome. In fact, He saw what was happening before the beginning of time.

God knows everything that is going on, has gone on and will go on with our lives. To Him, it is a mural that has already been painted. Nothing in our lives catches God by surprise. When a difficult circumstance occurs, God does not wring His hands and say, “I didn’t see that one coming,” and wonder what He should do next.

God is good. He wants what is best for us. He is not the author of confusion or evil. He answers our prayers with a heart of goodness. He doesn’t answer our prayers improperly. Jesus asked the question, “What father would give his son a scorpion when he asked for a fish” (Luke 11:11)?

Here comes the tricky part. The most important thing to God is not your circumstance. It is your eternal salvation. God is most concerned with where you are going to spend eternity.

EVERYTHING else unfolds according to that priority. “What good is it if you gain everything on earth, and yet still lose your soul” (Mark 8:36).

Sometimes we don’t get what we want. We may be asking for the wrong things. It is possible to ask God for things that go against earthly nature or the nature of God. We may not understand all of the dynamics that are going on. It is appointed for man once to die. All of the prayers in the world are not going to change that process.

There are times when we pray passionately because we are suffering. We want the suffering to be alleviated. It is easy to confuse suffering with God answering “No!” to our prayers. Suffering exists because of sin. Jesus suffered to the point of death, not because of His own sin, but because of the sins of others. The same thing happens to us.

Let me offer a couple of concluding observations from a lifetime of prayer. First, I have learned to understand that I am always talking to God. He hears me when I use words that are appropriate and He hears me when I say words I wish I could swallow back. He hears my actions when I have humbly served and He hears my actions when I selfishly dictate my will. He is nearby hearing me when I have fallen on my knees in complete surrender and He is nearby hearing me when I have fallen in a den of iniquity in utter rebellion. In my understanding, this is what Paul was saying when he said “pray without ceasing.”

Finally, I do not pray to change the mind of God. Real prayer is my chance to listen and agree with what God is saying to me. I pray to understand God’s answer, and to align myself, in action, thought and emotion with His answer. That seems to be in accord with Jesus saying, “Not my will, but thine be done.”

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