I work with so many Christians who seem to be hobbled in their prayer lives. And what I think is happening in many cases is this. When people pray, it’s like they are simply saying words to the air and then going out and living as they would have lived, had they not talked AT their Creator at all. Part of the problem, is a habit that’s been formed in the absence of what they would call “results.” That kind of thinking leads to comments like, “God sometimes says “Yes,” “No” or “Not Yet.”
Well, I suppose if a person is praying regarding non essentials like, “Please heal me (or someone else),” “Please give me a new job (relationship, get me out of trouble)” “Please get me this parking spot (just the right dress, help my kid make friends in school, make my husband have sex with me more often)” well, yes, then you will get a variety of answers.
However if you are praying God’s essentials He will never, ever say “No.” There may be many, many things that are God’s will, and yes, there may indeed be extraneous things for which we need to be coming to Him in prayer. Bottom line however, the single bottom line about which we can be guaranteed to get an immediate positive response from God is found in Romans 8:28 and esp. 29. You already know this passage but let me write it down anyway.
“WE KNOW that in all things, God works for the good of those who
(a) love Him and
(b) who have been called according to His purpose.
For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.”
This is really the only essential thing that we need to be praying for. Become like Jesus and all the rest will take care of itself. There is nothing more important for Christians than to be conformed to and transformed into the likeness of Jesus. The world desperately needs our diligent attention in this area of our lives. Our countries, our communities and our families desperately need our diligent attention in this area of our lives. The Church, the Bride of Christ needs us to make drastic changes in this area.
The good news is that when your prayers are regarding changes in this area, God will not say “No.” But what about that habit of saying some words and then going on with the day as per usual? What about the habit of thinking that God is ignoring you? Of course that needs to change, and the fastest way to change your perspective on your relationship with God is to begin praying “In His will.” For example:
“Lord please cause me to become gentle with my children.”
“Father cause me to be faithful to my spouse in my actions and in my mind.”
“Lord I need to show mercy and kindness and grace toward those who are trying to make my life more difficult.”
To these and other prayers like them God will take action. “But,” you say, “It doesn’t seem like God is doing anything. I’ve asked for help to quit yelling at the kids for years and I still get too angry.” Umm, here’s the thing. When you pray in God’s Will, when you’re asking for something that God already wants for you, when you’re asking to be conformed and transformed to the likeness of Jesus’ character, the first thing to do after ending your prayer is to be on the lookout for what God IS doing to bring that request into reality. If you haven’t seen what He’s doing, if you haven’t noticed opportunities for change, it’s not His fault. It’s probably been that old habit that’s caused you to miss the opportunities that God has placed right before your very eyes. Looking for what He is about to do to bring change into your life is the right thing to do because that is what God will do.
For what it’s worth, the most common place in which we miss God’s working is in difficulties. That seems to be where we are most prone to feel ignored by God. Yet to feel far from God in the midst of difficulties is to assume that God is absent from large portions of our lives. That is simply not true. So accustomed have we become to the way pagans and atheists run their lives that we’ve grown to think that it’s a right, or normal or healthy way to encounter life. It isn’t. The good and abundant life that Jesus has promised us is not to be found in the absence of pain and suffering. As the saying goes, Happiness is not freedom from the storm but peace within the storm. God's answers to our prayers for Christlikeness almost always come from within life’s difficulties. For example, if I pray for patience, then God is going to allow / bring into my life circumstances in which I will be able to practice patience. If I pray for kindness, I shouldn’t be surprised when I encounter situations where I must exercise kindness. If I pray for faith, well, you can be assured where that one is going. And yet, and yet faith and the fruit of the Spirit is where life at it’s best is found. We humans spend so much time trying to squirm out of our problems that we completely miss the learning that can only take place in the midst of our problems.
1st Corinthians 10:13 comes into play here. God will always, always, always, give you a way out when tempted to do something that is out of character for Jesus. The “out” of course is quite subtle, always subtle, but it will always be there. In keeping with the example of treating your children better, let’s say that carelessness has caused a child to spill the cereal onto the floor. You are ready to swat the kid on the head or to say something unkind or demeaning. However, if you have prayed for help to stop this behaviour, just as you are about to do the usual, there will be some type of interruption in what is about to happen. Another child will say something precious. The phone will ring. Or perhaps you will become aware of the thought, “This is not right.” You WILL have the opportunity for victory, but you will miss that opportunity if you aren’t looking for it. And you won’t look for it if you don’t understand that God is working in every moment of your life. If you don’t understand that reality you will lose the chance to change behaviours. And, if you fail to look for the help that you’ve asked for from God, or if you ignore the opportunity to change behaviours when it’s given to you, it’s hardly God’s fault if you go ahead and harm your child. In a case like that, God is trying to bring about a “Yes” to your prayer but it’s you who is turning it into yet another failure.
One final thought. Regarding prayer:
Jesus said, “Don’t keep babbling like the pagans do when they pray.”
And Paul says to “always pray with thanksgiving.”
The babbling may mean several things but one thing it doesn’t mean is, ‘When you pray, pray with intention. Pray with the expectation that God is going to do something.’ In Romans 8, Paul begins, WE KNOW that in all things God works for the good . . . These men of God KNEW from experience. We can KNOW from their experience and one day you will KNOW from your own experience. We can pray with thanksgiving when we are praying “In God’s Will” We can pray with thanks giving when we are praying in the knowledge of what God has already told us what He wants for our lives. And when we pray with that knowledge it is virtually impossible to not pray with thanksgiving for we can KNOW that what we request is what God will in fact, do.