Prayer is a mystery and I’ve gone through many phases of “understanding” prayer. Here are a few ways I’ve approached petitioning God and understanding His answers in my lifetime:
- The ABC’s of prayer–Ask, Believe, Confess. There was a whole ministry formulated around this formula when I was young. The problem–it was a formula that required something from me, belief. When prayers didn’t get answered, (at least the way I thought it should be) I ended up saying, “Well, I didn’t BELIEVE enough.” So it became my fault, which is a big guilt trip especially if someones life depended on my belief.
- Claiming promises. Actually, the ABC’s had this as part of their formula, but again, it was a formula, with variables. You take your little book of “promises” (proof texts from the BIG BOOK of Promises–The Bible), match the situation with the promise then proceed to get on your knees and throw “the promise” back in God’s face with words like, “God, You said ____________, now I claim what you said, You are God, You cannot and won’t lie so I’m waiting and expecting you to deliver.” Again, there’s a letdown. This time though, our faith in God is put into question because now, possibly He does lie and can’t be trusted, after-all, He didn’t answer my prayer. Or, maybe He doesn’t really care about that part of our lives.
- Praying through the Sanctuary. During my stint as an ultra-conservative, black and white, law-abiding holy citizen, I met a gal who said the reason my prayers weren’t being answered was because God couldn’t hear me. I was not coming to Him correctly. I had to pray through the sanctuary. I didn’t fall for this one so easily because this implied that only people who knew the Jewish sanctuary would be heard by God, that meant very few people could be heard by Him. I did try it though–praising God in the outer courts, laying my petition on the altar . . . to be honest, if this were the way, I’d be in big trouble now because I don’t remember the rest.
- Pleading and threatening or promising something. “God, if you will do this for me (usually it had to do with saving my life or someone else’s), I’ll do this for you!” Wow! I’m sure God was impressed with that one since I’m so good at follow-through.
- Show me a sign. It goes like this–I lay something on God that I think I should do and then I ask for confirmation–a sign. Maybe I hear a song with “words of confirmation,” or a person says something to me that “confirms” it, or I finish my prayer, and with my eyes closed open the Bible and put my finger on a verse, only to read something like, “Balaam answered the donkey, . . . ,” or I look up and see a cloud shaped like a big thumbs-up and just know that the hand of God put it there for me.
Let me just say, none of these formulas work and in all honesty, every one of those formulas is about us and getting what WE want based on our limited view of the big picture and not what God knows and wills. Prayer is more than just coming to God when we want something. It’s a relationship between friends. When I dropped the formulas and became real–yes, sometimes yelling at God–things began to change. He didn’t always change my situation, but He changed my heart ABOUT the situation. One experience stands out. Years ago someone came into my life that I knew would not be leaving any time soon. There was so much friction and frustration that soon I found myself feeling hatred for them. That is unlike me and it scared me. I took it to God and He basically said, “Pray for them–you don’t know their situation, what they’ve been through or what they’re going through. Pray for them!” The whole pray for your enemies kind of thing like we’ve been instructed to do in the Bible and like Jesus did at the cross, “Father, forgive them . . .” I did. It wasn’t easy at first to say things like, “Bless ________, help them to be safe, to have a good day, to know You . . .” But it wasn’t long before those words became genuine and a love and genuine concern for that person began to take the place of hatred. God didn’t change the situation, but He changed my heart. It took a few years but now, that relationship has turned into a healthy respect for each other.
Prayer is about becoming intimate with the mind of Christ. It’s about God’s heart and His attitude. Maybe the situation that looks bad is the opportunity to get to know God even better–through talking with Him. It’s a mystery, but the more I talk to God throughout the day, the less desperate I feel about situations or people and the more I understand that sometimes, the bad things in my eyes, are the good things in God’s eyes–it’s about perspective and what is truly important. For God, salvation is what’s important–for us, comfort on this earth is important. Let me close with Oswald Chamber’s quote today–
Are we worshiping God in a way that will raise us up to where we can take hold of Him, having such intimate contact with Him that we know His mind about the ones for whom we pray? Are we living in a holy relationship with God, or have we become hard and dogmatic?