Especially now, when life feels hard, we need to remind ourselves that God hears our prayers. And He cares.
Let’s look at prayer, and some truths about our response to God’s response to them.
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Are My Prayers Heard?
We tend to view prayer as the vehicle for asking for stuff. Nothing wrong with that. We should ask, as the Bible tells us to bring our needs and requests before God. To confidently approach the throne room, repeatedly, knowing how deeply God loves us.
Where that gets confusing is that some verses seem to promise that we will receive anything we ask for. It is because of these verses that prosperity theologists declare, “Name it, claim it, and it’s yours!” Umm, no. It doesn’t work that way. Some will receive what they “claim,” while others won’t. And it’s not because they lack faith or are “bad” people. It’s simply that God isn’t our lamp genie. He knows that answering some of our prayers wouldn’t be good for us.
God is our loving Heavenly Father, and He knows best. But that can be so hard to trust, right?
My single friend in her mid-fifties has sent up a million prayers to “claim” her desired husband. So far, she’s still batting zero at even going on a date. No boyfriend in high school. No boyfriend in college. Each year that passes, still no relationship. She admitted to me that she struggles with being mad at God for His seemingly withholding of this deeply desired relationship.
Her pain at feeling rejected and overlooked by God is so raw and real that it tears my heart as I listen to her. But I also know a pain she has been spared: the unraveling of a marriage that takes years to emotionally overcome. I share this with her, but my friend argues that getting a chance at even trying would be worth any pain.
Looking at her set jaw, I realize that sometimes it’s so hard to let go of what we want. Especially when society views us as a loser for not acquiring it. We want the Prince Charming we’ve been promised since childhood. We want the white picket fence. The kids. The vacations. Etc., etc.
But I’m with singer Garth Brooks on this. In his song Unanswered prayers, he reminds us that sometimes it might take years (if not stepping into heaven) for us to realize that what we prayed so doggone hard for would not have been good for us. And it is from God’s kindness that He withheld it.
“Just because He doesn’t answer,” croons Brooks, “doesn’t mean He don’t care. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
Trust That God is Good
So does God like — love?? — some of us more than others? Is that why our prayers go unanswered?
NO! We need to stop these negative thoughts ASAP, as the Bible promises that God doesn’t play favorites. This is huge. This trust in God’s integrity keeps us from judging Him. Even when we want to scream, “IT’S NOT FAIR!” at the top of our lungs.
Basically, we have to choose to live unoffended at God, resting in the knowledge that He knows best. That the circumstances we find ourselves in are the very circumstances God purposefully allowed. Too often we pray to get out of what God wants to use.
“Living an unoffended life is not some Zen-like experience,” asserts Pastor Mark Batterson in his book The Circle Maker. “It’s living a life surrendered to His sovereignty, His mystery, and His love.”
Every toddler who demands candy thinks his or her parents are being mean when they withhold it, right? Because the toddler doesn’t see the big picture, including the potential pain of dental visits and the very real possibility of developing early diabetes. (Seriously, check out these stats.)
God isn’t willy-nilly in answering our prayers. There is purpose behind His decisions; His master plan. Some of our prayers simply don’t fit in with it. Even when we’re in anguish. Save my child, God! Save my job, God! Heal me, God! In these moments, when God says no, trusting that He is good and for us can feel like a stretch. But He is. And working all things for our good, if not also the good of others, if we allow it.
In the comedy movie Bruce Almighty, there’s a scene in which actor Jim Carrey raises his fist to the sky and yells, “The only one not doing His job around here is YOU!” So God, played by Morgan Freeman, temporarily hands Carrey supernatural powers, challenging Carrey to do a better job as God. It’s pretty funny to watch Carrey part the tomato soup in his bowl (HA!) and strut down the street singing, “I got the power!” But his selfish use of the loaned powers gets old fast. He doesn’t have God’s heart.
Carrey uses the loaned power to play tricks, get even with his enemies, and satisfy his selfish desires. About a week in, God pointedly asks him, “How many people have you actually helped?”
So Should I Not Pray?
We absolutely SHOULD pray! Repeatedly.
“Circle” your prayers, as Batterson puts it, asking again and again, until God makes it clear the answer is no. But check your motivation. And recognize that if you seem to be in a waiting period, it might simply be because YOU haven’t taken action.
There’s a joke that goes something like this: a poor man prayed daily that God would bless him with a winning lottery ticket. When he finally arrived in heaven, still penniless, the man asked why God had never honored his request. The answer: the man had never bought a ticket. He didn’t take action.
Batterson shares an example in his book of when he kept waiting for God to make the first move. In “circling” his prayers about God providing a drummer for his church services, Batterson finally felt God ask, “Have you thought about buying a drum set?” Duh! Nope! Even though the church was financially strapped, Batterson hunted down and purchased a used drum set. Two days later, a professional drummer walked into his church, volunteering to serve.
Remember the old Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams? Sometimes we have to step out that boldly, even when others tell us we’re flipping crazy.
Sometimes, as Batterson puts it, we need to “take a flying leap of faith.” God is always stage right, he adds, ready to make His grand entrance. But again, in His timing.
Batterson’s first church plant failed — despite his circled prayers and boldly stepping out — because it wasn’t in God’s timing. When we step out and crash and burn, it can feel like God is saying, “No,” when sometimes He’s just saying, “Not right now.”
Batterson took the lessons he learned from his failed attempt and used them to relaunch when God made it clear that NOW was the time. Batterson’s ministry, which now blesses so many hurting people, is flourishing full steam ahead.
When our prayers go unanswered, it may be because God knows we’re simply not ready. Evangelist Joyce Meyer would agree.
Meyer *knew* that God had told her that she would have a world-wide ministry. But for years, Meyer was only able to attract small groups of people — and they met in her living room! No lights. No stage. No television.
Meyer chomped at the bit, wondering why God appeared to be holding her in place. Only years down the road — when God finally allowed Meyer to speak to stadium crowds — did she realize that she had to go through a lot of growth and maturing in her faith before God could move her into the role He had promised. She wasn’t anywhere ready for the ministry responsibilities that she now capably shoulders.
It might be the same for you. Keep praying! But allow God to be God. Patiently endure the waits. Humbly accept when He says, “No.” Trust that He wants the very best for you. He alone knows what that “best” is. We have to get over our human, and even societal definition of “best.”
God’s definition is what matters. Being used by Him — whether it’s as a janitor scrubbing toilets or as a CEO leading thousands of employees — is the best you can offer Him if that’s where He wants you.
There is beauty and joy in knowing that we are working for His purposes, rather than our own. So keep praying. Keep testing the waters by stepping out in faith. If God makes you wait, wait humbly. If He says, “No,” trust that there’s a good reason.
Praying feels unpredictable. Praying is sometimes scary. Praying is sometimes frustrating. Because we realize how little control we hold; that we’re dependent on God. Which is a good thing. Because then we can Hear His voice.
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