“If prayer worked my nephew wouldn’t have died from cancer!!”
These impassioned words were spoken by a friend of mine. A bunch of us were out to lunch and we all seemed to be talking at the same time. A myriad of conversations going on at the same time when suddenly above our increasing volume of occasional laughter and cat calls those words cut through the noise like a knife.
The restaurant where words once filled the air was now filled with an uncomfortable silence.
As the faces from all my friends looked to me to give a response. I was stunned. I was speechless. I did not know how to respond. I struggled with coming up with the words to comfort or to give an answer to the obvious pain that comes from a comment like that.
I knew the story. I knew his nephew had died in the past year from cancer. He was talking about it with another friend at the other end of the table. What I didn’t know was the struggle that he had in trying to accept it. He was bitter at God because he prayed and prayed for healing for this little boy and according to him, God did nothing.
After being a believer for over 40 years, I have hardly ever missed a Sunday service over that period of time. I attended a Christian High School,went on to graduate from Liberty University (the largest Christian University in the world) and then I went on to be in the ministry for over 12 years. One would think I would be able to give a good explanation for my friends pain. One would think I would have had a handle on how to give an answer to his statement about prayer.
In fact, the more I pray, the less I understand its profound mysteries. I have come to the realization that I have a problem with prayer and I am confident that I am not alone in this conclusion.
Maybe you are like to me. I struggle sometimes when I pray. My words ‘feel’ as if they are bouncing off the ceiling and not really going anywhere. Sometimes, I ‘feel’ as if I am talking to myself and wonder if God is really listening; it’s as if God is vague and not concrete. I can’t see Him. I can’t touch Him. I can not ‘feel’ Him.
I am mature enough of a believer to understand that my ‘feelings’ are not reliable, and my faith has nothing to do with them, whatsoever. The problem begins when I allow my focus to be drawn inward. My mind begins to think… “I can’t see God doing anything about…”, I can’t touch, I can’t feel. I, I, I.
I know that there appears to be a problem with prayer for more than just me. “It’s a one-way conversation.” “It doesn’t seem to work.” “God takes too long to answer.” “God does what He wants anyway.” We have all had these thoughts at one time or another.
I’ve long wondered about the function of prayer in my life. One of my favorite verses is Matthew 7:7 where Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you.” The only problem is, a lot of times God doesn’t give us what we ask. Many people have left their faith because they prayed for healing but a loved one died anyway as in my friends nephew. Others get frustrated because they pray and don’t receive a well-paying job, relief from a chronic pain, or peace with their family. I’ve struggled with my own unanswered prayers or prayers that get an answer I didn’t want.
Which has made me wonder, “What’s the point in asking?” Why should we share prayer requests when we meet for Bible studies? Why should we ask friends to pray for us when we’re sick or injured? What difference does it make? Even praying for God’s will doesn’t make an impact on the outside world. God will follow His will whether or not we remember to ask for it.
I believe it’s better God acts on His will rather than granting our foolish wishes. God will always know what is best for us, and you can be sure He’s looking to give you the best in your life even if it isn’t what you want. But how much does God take what we pray for into account? What impact can our prayers have on the mind of God?
As much as I have struggled at times with my perspective of prayer, I’ve come to several conclusions that might help correct the perceived problems with prayer.
I have learned that the purpose of prayer is not for God to please me by giving me everything I prayed for, but for God to fundamentally change me. He wants to change the way I think about how God answers my prayers by learning how to accept His will for the things I pray for.
We need to understand that the purpose of prayer is not for God to please us, but for God to change us. If a father constantly gives in to a child’s demands, we’d take him for a lousy parent. Why, then, do some think God’s a stubborn God when He doesn’t give us everything we want? We need to trust that God is wise and powerful enough to answer rightly—and right on time. First John 5:14 says, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” That is, God won’t jump at every loose-lipped confession. Prayer offered up in true faith submits to His will—our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
God’s will is to change us, not please us.
In addition, we need to accept that the power of prayer is perceived in even the smallest response. I’m convinced that humans don’t fully comprehend how little we deserve God’s love and grace. Consider that what we regard as “crumbs” of answered prayer may really be bountiful feasts once we realize that God owes us nothing (Genesis 32:9-10; Luke 7:6-9). When we adjust our attitude about our own unworthiness to receive God’s favor, we’ll never regard “small” answers to prayer as insignificant. What we consider small and insignificant are the seeds to grow our faith. If God always answered in BIG ways we would be less dependent in our faith. Faith is believing, regardless of our feelings and regardless of any earthly outcome. Faith’s focus is on God–and the truth of who and what He is not necessarily how our prayers turn out.
Finally, we need to acknowledge that the process of prayer is not as important as the attitude of prayer. Christians can get hung up on method, worried that they haven’t said the right words, haven’t prayed hard or often enough, or haven’t believed deeply enough. That’s hocus-pocus, not prayer (Matthew 6:5-8). We all need to be in the mindset of prayer so that we are better prepared to accept God’s will for a situation. I believe our attitude of prayer is more about how we accept the decision that God has already made than it is to “change” the mind of God.
Of course these reminders are easy to read, but they’re not easy to live. To our finite minds, we’ll always perceive “problems” with prayer.
Are you struggling with your prayer life, not seeing results, wondering if God is listening?
It might be time for an attitude change. It might be time to allow God to fundamentally change you so that you are willing to be open to God’s plan regardless of what the outcome may be.
It might be time to finally accept that the problem with prayer is not with God, but with us.