I’ve prayed on and off all my life. As a child at home, and also among our extended family, we said grace before meals and prayers before bedtime. On Sundays we said prayers in church and, even in the world of secular education, we recited the Lord’s prayer at the beginning of every school day. And, to my great shame, during a lengthy period of estrangement from God, I didn’t pray at all.
Over the years, I’ve prayed in all sorts of circumstances, for many different people and for all manner of disparate things.
I’ve prayed in times of joy and celebration.
I’ve prayed in times of worry, stress, and fear.
I’ve prayed in times of hope and excited anticipation.
I’ve prayed through hurt, confusion and disappointment.
I’ve prayed in appreciation and grateful thanks for the loved ones God has given me.
I’ve prayed in grief and heartache when He took loved ones from me.
And many times I’ve knelt in mute, helpless distress before the Throne of Grace.
It’s fair to say that, like most believers, my prayer life accurately reflects the ups and downs of my life and circumstances.
Does God answer my prayers? Well, yes and no.
He answers some prayers, though not always in the time or manner I expect.
Others, He completely disregards.
Why would God disregard prayer? Why would He not answer? The answer is devastatingly simple.
‘You do not have, because you do not ask.’ (James 4:2b)
But, I DID ask! I prayed and begged and implored and still nothing happened! Well, let’s have a look at what the Bible has to say.
‘If any of you lacks wisdom [to guide you through a decision or circumstance], you are to ask of[our benevolent] God, who gives to everyone generously and without rebuke or blame, and it will be given to you.
But you must ask [for wisdom] in faith, without doubting [God’s willingness to help], for the one who doubts is like a billowing surge of the sea that is blown about and tossed by the wind. For such a person ought not to think or expect that they will receive anything [at all] from the Lord, being a double-minded person, unstable and restless in all their ways [in everything they think, feel, or decide]. (James 1:5-8 Amplified version)
And there you have it; if we don’t pray believing, there’s no point in praying at all.
I don’t know about you but, I’ve prayed like this. I’ve come before the Throne of Grace and asked God for an answer to some need. I’ve prayed, earnestly, passionately and sincerely, and then I’ve picked up my burden and taken it away with me again.
And if I pick up my burden, it’s because, in my heart, I don’t have the faith to leave it with God.
It’s because I want to ‘fix things’ my way, in my time, to my benefit and not for God’s glory.
The not-so-subtle subtext here is that I think I know best which demonstrates ugly, proud rebellion and, very definitely, a lack of faith.
I certainly don’t like being described as ‘double-minded, unstable and restless in all my ways’ but, if I don’t pray believing, that’s exactly what I am and, under these circumstances, I simply can’t expect God to answer my prayers.
‘And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.’ (Hebrews 11:6)
Jesus made it very plain that we’re to approach God with the attitude of a child. Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. (Mark 10:14-15)
Children take things on faith so much more readily than adults. As we grow older, logic, worldly education, and proud self-sufficiency kicks in. All these things undermine our faith. And faith is the key to answered prayer.
This rather lovely story illustrates the point well.
There was a community of farming people who were struggling under a prolonged period of drought. As things went from bad to worse, they began to despair and fear for their crops, their livestock and even their livelihoods. Finally, a local pastor called a prayer meeting to ask for rain. Many people came. In fact, I don’t think the pastor had ever seen the church so full. As he scanned the crowd, he could see how worried and distressed they all were. Suddenly his eyes came to rest on a young girl. Her face was alight with expectation and excitement and she was clutching a large, red umbrella. At that moment, the pastor realised how much faith she had. Everyone, including him, had come to pray for rain, but this child considered it a done deal. She was fully expecting God to answer – so she’d come prepared!
Whether it’s true or not, I think we can learn a great deal from this tale. Childlike faith is spontaneous, enthusiastic and exuberant and is clearly, unmistakably telegraphed in our demeanour and actions. I so want to be like that young girl, breathlessly anticipating a huge downpour; ready to run outside and play in the rain!
Is that how we live before God? Is that how we pray? The Bible is very clear on this subject; ‘And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.’ (Matthew 21:22)
‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’ (Mark 11:24)
‘This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him.’ (1 John 5:14)
‘Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence [faith], so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ (Hebrews 4:16)
The next time you pray – every time you pray – have faith that God will answer.
Don’t pick up your burden again; leave it God’s capable hands.
And, if you’re praying for rain, don’t forget your umbrella!