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Prayer is one of the main reasons people walk away from God in disgust and frustration. What is prayer? How does it work? Why do we pray?

I'd like to know how prayer works

Postby Nic J » Mon Feb 18, 2019 9:28 am

I have more questions for you. God hears our prayers right ?! If so does he always answer them ?! How does he answer?! Do we always know he is answering them ?!
Nic J

Re: I'd like to know how prayer works

Postby jimwalton » Fri Mar 01, 2019 7:06 pm

“God hears our prayers, right?” Yep. I’ll approach it from a few angles for you. First, if He didn’t even bother to listen, it would make Him callous and distant, and who would want a god like that? Second, if He listened but never answered, that would make Him sort-a cruel and uncaring, and who would want a god like that? The Bible is clear that God cares, that He desires a relationship, that He hears our prayers and listens to them. I’ll put out just a few of the many verses that say that just so you can get the idea.

Psalm 17.6: “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.”

Jeremiah 29.12: “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you."

1 John 5.14-15: “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.”

“If so (that God hears our prayers), does he always answer them? How does he answer?” A lot of Christians have been taught that God always answers prayer, and that’s it’s one of 3 answers: yes, wait, or no. To me that’s a little fishy, and I’ve always been uncomfortable with it. I also don’t think it’s accurate. What I find is that sometimes the answer is yes—what I asked for comes about. It happens. These are more rare than I’d like, but, hey, I’m just telling you the truth, at least about me.

Then there’s the category of prayers where the answers take some time to come about, and they’re generally an answer to my prayer, but not the way I was praying for them to happen. I have to be alert and astute enough to recognize it’s an answer to my prayer, but it may have taken between several months or a number of years, and that’s not what I had in mind, but I can still recognize it as an answer to prayer. We see some of these kinds of prayers and answers in the Bible.

Let me give 2 examples:

In 2 Chronicles 32.20, Hezekiah and Isaiah pray for the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib, the emperor of Assyria. Jerusalem is delivered, sure enough, over a period of a few months. Then Sennacherib goes back to his own land and is assassinated (32.21)—but that assassination takes place 20 years later. The text puts them in one verse after another.

2 Samuel 14.31: David prayed that Ahithophel’s counsel would turn to foolishness. Interestingly, in 2 Samuel 17, David’s prayer is answer, but not at all in the way David might have prayed or expected. He asked God to make Ahithophel’s counsel as foolishness, but what happened was that Ahithophel gave good counsel and Absalom completely ignored it, which ended to the same effect: Absalom’s rebellion failed and David was delivered. This took months to play itself out. It wasn’t what David prayed for, but it ended up being what David prayed for.

Then there’s this prayer, that has been around for a long time. Maybe you’re familiar with it:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise...
I asked for power, that I might have praise from men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things...
I got nothing I asked for, but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.

There’s a lot of truth to this. This poem: didn’t get anything you asked for, but got everything you hoped for.

And then I also find out there’s just a lot of prayers God doesn’t answer. As I mentioned, people say, “Well, then God said ‘no’.” Well, I ask, “What’s the real difference between silence and ’no’?” There isn’t any. Sometimes months or years after I pray prayers, I’m so glad God didn’t answer them. My life would be such a mess if God gave me everything I pray for. I find out I’m not real good at seeing my life clearly and what should happen in it. I’m glad God doesn’t answer. There are other times, of course, when I think God should have answered and I’m miffed that He didn’t, but since I’ve learned that my wisdom is inadequate and God’s is complete, I have to learn to trust God’s wisdom when I pray. And even if 95% of my prayers go unanswered, maybe that’s a good thing.

Mostly in prayer I want to talk to God, not ask for stuff. Always asking for things isn’t the kind of relationship I want with Him.

“How does God answer them?” I already addressed that a little bit, but let me add one thing. I found that often God answers prayers through other people, and unless you’re paying attention, you could easily think there were just natural occurrences. But God is at work using people to do His will and work, and I have to understand that a lot of times God answers prayers through other people through very normal events in the course of normal days. That observation leads to your next question.

“Do we always know he is answering them?” The more time you spend with a friend, the more you learn about how they think, what they feel, their likes and dislikes, and how they’re going to respond to certain situations. It’s no different with God. We have to learn how He thinks, His likes and dislikes, and how He acts. We have to train our eyes and ears to know His ways. A hunter has to train himself to know the patterns and behaviors of certain animals. A trained hunter sees many things a dope like me would never see in the woods. A security agent (like the Secret Service) go through years of training to know what to look for and what to listen for to do their jobs well. Christian prayer is no different. We have to learn the ways of God. We have to learn how to hear His voice and how to see His hand. Sure, sometimes it’s obvious, but many times it takes an experienced eye to see it. As Jeremiah 29.13-14a says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you."

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