Have you ever prayed for something but then felt as if God ignored your prayer? Has God’s response to your prayers been something less than what you hoped for? Have you prayed for a loved one’s recovery from a serious illness and still they passed away? Do you have areas of struggle in your life for which you have prayed to God to remove your “thorn” only to have it remain? I can say yes to many of these questions and I bet you can too.
Is God listening to us? More importantly and more profoundly are we listening to Him?
Before delving further into prayer, let me address one other issue briefly. Why are we here on this earth to begin with? Jesus gives us that answer in Matthew 22:37-39, let’s look what he has to say: “He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Occasionally when we pray it is good to be reminded that it is not all about us and our needs. In Rick Warren’s famous book The Purpose Driven Life, it tells us. “It’s not about you.” Life is about God. God is the Creator of all, and all of creation, including me and you, exists to bring Him glory. It seems unambiguous tome that God created us to love and serve Him and to love and serve our neighbors. So the very essence of our existence calls us to orient our will to God’s will and therefore all of our prayers should come from that perspective.
Now let’s return to my opening questions on unanswered prayers. In Luke 17:6 we read; “The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” So is lack of faith our problem when our prayers seem unanswered? Is our faith such that we actually believe there is a magic prayer formula and if we get it wrong our requested prayer will be denied?
Sadly, I have actually heard caring Christians misuse these verses by telling someone battling a terminal disease that the reason their prayers are not being answered is because their faith is too weak. Do we really see God as that type of Father? I hope not. God is love.
In another place in Matthew 18:19 this is how prayer is addressed, “Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” Is prayer a numbers game? Does God not listen to individual prayer? Surely He does.
So as I remarked above, maybe it is not that God is not listening to us, but instead we are not seeking His will and listening to Him. The prayer we should always pray for is that our will be formed to God’s will. Psalm 40:9 says this: “I delight to do your will, my God; your law is in my inner being!”
Jesus made it clear just how important it is to do the Father’s will. If Jesus was called to fulfill His Father’s will then we know by His example that we should strive to do the same thing in our own life.
“Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.”
“Because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.”
In 1Kings 3, Solomon pleased God when he prayed for a “listening heart and the ability to distinguish between good and evil.” The Bible tells us God was pleased that Solomon did not pray for long life, nor riches, nor the life of his enemies.
As I see it, asking for a “listening heart” is tantamount to asking for wisdom. Essentially Solomon was asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the source of Wisdom to guide him in his decisions. We should do no less each day in our prayer. Perhaps our prayer each day could include something like this: “Come Holy Spirit, give me wisdom. Help me to conform my will to that of my Heavenly Father.”
Have you ever prayed for something only to have God answer your prayer in a way you never would have suspected? Could Isaiah 55:8-9 shed some light on today’s topic? In it we read this:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways-oracle of the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
Periodically God answers our prayer in ways that seems just the opposite of what we ask Him for. Country singer Garth Brooks captures this in the lyrics from his songUnanswered Prayers: “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers. Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs that just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”
I recently had a profound experience of God’s ways being above my ways. By now most readers of 4thdayletters know that I suddenly lost all of my sight and was hospitalized. I remained completely blind for 15 days, and while in the hospital I received the diagnosis of a serious debilitating neurological disease. I was blessed to be the recipient of many prayers from nearby and around the world. Many prayed for a complete healing for me. One thing I am sure no one prayed for was for me to experience blindness…….but maybe I should have prayed for that long ago.
The 15 days that I was totally blind were perhaps the greatest blessing of my lifetime. I had the opportunity to experience God’s presence in a way I had never before experienced. It was in fact a spiritual healing for me. Like the apostles who wanted to build a tent on the mountain at the transfiguration, I felt so close to him during this time. I wanted to stay in that blindness, near Him, where I felt a closeness to God like none I had felt before. God is awesome, and His ways are beyond our ways to understand. Now my prayer is to conform my will to His will. I want to remain close to Him as He guides my footsteps wherever this disease might take me, learning from the experience and sharing any God moments with others.
Peace and grace and inner joy are surrounding me now, and peace, grace, joy and a never ending closeness to God are what we all seek in this life. Jesus taught us the key to that peace in the Lord’s Prayer; “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
My point today is this, if we want to experience a deeper sense of inner peace in our life we need to heed Jesus’ teaching and our daily prayer should always, at its core, express our desire to conform our will and our heart to His.
Paul confirmed Jesus’ teaching in Romans 12:2when he explains it this way: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Allow me to paraphrase from Mathew 10:39. This is what is says to me: whoever follows his own will shall be lost but he who unites his will to God’s will shall find his way.
Romans 8:28 gives us an assurance as to what we can expect when our will conforms to God’s will. This is what it says: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Clearly the key words there are “HIS PURPOSE“.
Certainly we can pray to God for whatever is touching our heart, but in making those prayers I think we must let God know that in the end, we often don’t really know what is best for us and that what we really want is the wisdom to accept what He wants for us, our family and for our loved ones. This requires us to have complete trust in God, and He desires nothing less than that from us.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6).