Thursday, July 26, 2018

Some Thoughts on Prayer

I often hear people say that God answers prayers one of four ways:  Yes; No; Wait; and I've got something better. That sounds nice, and contains some truth, but scripture doesn't really articulate it that way.

A while back, while struggling with the fact that so many sincere prayers seem to go unanswered, I did
some very deep study on what the New Testament actually promises about prayer.  I did a lot of digging
into the Greek, and found some very important nuances I had not noticed before. I did not find what I
wanted to find, but I did come to a much more difficult yet more satisfying understanding that I believe
might just be worth sharing. This is just a quick survey, not a full-blown study; I am just going to share some conclusions without really
going into how I reached those conclusions, because I know how busy you are. To greatly oversimplify, the New Testament teaches that God answers prayer one of three ways:
1.  Yes.  I'll give this to you. Here you go.
2.  You have my blessing.  Now get to work and go get it.
3.  You are asking for the wrong thing.  Let go of your selfishness and learn wisdom and humility.  Let
me redirect you and bring you closer to my will.

These three answers are worth considering when, for example, the loved one with cancer does not
recover, the desired job opportunity does not pan out, or the desperately needed relationship falls apart,
all in spite of your most fervent, most faith-full prayers. Interspersed through these teachings are three other very important concepts:  Waiting, Jesus’ name,
and misplacing of belief.

1.  Wait.  This idea comes up again and again.  God acts on his time scale, not mine, and I should have
enough faith to remain calm if things don't happen when I think they should.

2.  In Jesus' name.  Rather than being an all-purpose addendum I mindlessly say at the end of a prayer
in hopes of getting my way, "in Jesus' name" should serve as a big speed bump in my thinking: I am praying on Jesus' authority.  Is this really what Jesus, with his eternal perspective, would want me to request? If I don't have a completely honest answer for that, I should pray for wisdom instead, because the
point of prayer is not for me to get my way in my worldly desires.  The point is for me to be included in
God's desires.

3.  Don't misplace your belief. This misunderstanding is, I believe, responsible for most of the confusion
about prayer, including my own. So while still trying to keep it simple, I will spend a bit more time here.   "All things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." (Matthew 21:22 NAS) This promise is
conditional on one’s belief. But in what are we believing? It should not be taken mean, "If you really
force yourself to believe in the thing prayed for, no matter how selfish it might be, you'll get it."  Rather,
it means "If you really believe (in God's identity, character, and the things he has actually promised you,
and if that belief informs everything you do and everything for which you ask) then you will receive what
you ask for (because you will be asking for the right things, and be willing to wait for, work for, and take
hold of them)." See also Proverbs 16:3. Do you know why all our plans succeed when everything we
do is committed to the Lord? Because our plans come into line with his plans. And when that happens,
we can't go wrong.

Similarly, Mark 11 says that when you pray, you should “believe that you have [already] received it,
and it will be yours.”  I no longer believe that this means, "When you pray for rain, bring your umbrella."
It means what it says: Pray for, and believe in, what we have already received. So, what is it that I have
already received? What promises, provisions, and blessings has Jesus already made available to me?  
Do I really want those things to fully be part of my life? (This is not a question to be taken lightly) Those
are the things I should be praying for, and (duh) of course I will receive them: They are already mine.  I
just need to reach out and take them.

Here’s the key:  The belief Jesus speaks of is in the Source of the blessings, not in the specific thing
prayed for.  Again, the point of prayer is not for me to get what I want; it for me to be granted the honor of being the instrument through which God gets what he wants. Once the disciple gets his/her head around that, prayer becomes much more challenging, but infinitely more satisfying. p.s. Please forgive the wonky formatting. I have about had it with Blogger, and I am looking for a
better place to host my blog. Perhaps I should pray about it?


  1. Yes, I agree with your interpretation.

    1. Thanks, Em! Do you agree with my interpretation about prayer, or about how annoyed I am with Blogger? I think I might be onto something on both points. :)