Most of us know the verse above by heart, or at least have heard it recited at church or on social media. It seems so simple, so cut and dry. If I ask God for ____ I’ll receive it?! That’s all I have to do?!
Throughout my life I have prayed in different ways and for different things. Typically, what I was taught at each church I attended built upon the next. Just as our maturity in Christ should be ever-growing and expanding upward, so my knowledge and experience about prayer equally grew.
That being said, I’m still just a babe in my understanding of it! And my recent spiritual setback hasn’t exactly helped. But I feel it in my heart to share the things that I have learned in the hopes that you would avoid some of my frustrations and misunderstanding concerning how to pray, how to hear, and how to receive.
So here it goes! Let’s take a look at some more verses on the matter:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14)
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6)
…The list goes on, following a theme of thankfulness and faith with the promise that God hears and desires that we live a prayerful life.
But then we find verses like this:
“…But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” (James 1:6-8)
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3)
There are more verses supporting that prayers made by a wicked heart (unrepentant) and intent are not heard by God. But also that those who do not listen to God are in turn ignored during their time of desperation.
“…And just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen…” (Zechariah 7:13)
This of course supports the notion that prayer and its success is dependent upon our relationship with God. Certainly at the very least, we cannot expect to hear God if we can’t even recognize His inner voice. This only comes through relationship and if you want to know Him and His voice—that first comes from reading His Word.
So let’s review our list so far of what we have learned about prayer:
1. It requires relationship. Obviously there are circumstances God has heard and responded to the prayers of those who have yet to truly walk with God. Such as children, or those who just began their Christian walk. God is merciful after all.
2. It requires humility and a truly repentant heart. In other words, someone who is saved and whose motives are pure-minded. God isn’t a magical wish granter, but Almighty and worthy of our respect and reverence. You can’t fool Him with dishonesty (He sees the heart behind your words).
3. It requires trust (Faith). Surprise! Not. You have to stand on His truth and His promises. To doubt in His ability, goodness, or willingness is to place more faith in the devil and his schemes. It is to fear (misplaced worship) the devil more so than God. Be honest about this with God and pray for more faith and belief. Read God’s word to grow your faith!
4. It requires the Spirit. The Spirit is God with us. Oftentimes your prayer’s answer and even someone else’s! will come through the Spirit in that He is the bridge or conduit between God and man. Prayer isn’t usually a disembodied letter we speak out, seal up, and send to the stars. In fact, it’s a conversation, a back and forth banter between friends. To pray without ceasing it literally to talk/listen to the Spirit and for Him to respond through his inner voice or through His leadings. Deeper but not unlike how you would speak to your spouse or close friend. The Spirit also prays on our behalf when we don’t have the words.
5. It requires thankfulness/praise. Many verses tie the two together. And even Jesus demonstrated this to His disciples when He taught them the Lord’s Prayer. Begin every prayer with praise, not just because it gives glory where it’s due, but because it re-centers your heart on peace and joy (the blessings you have already been given). A life of thankfulness leads to a joy that is not dependent on prayer’s response.
So in summary, to know God is to share His Heart and Will. Prayers that are non-selfish and pure are heard by the Lord.
A born again believer carries the Holy Spirit within them which means that they carry salvation (when God looks at you He doesn’t see your sin or old self, but Jesus). As well as the ability to not only hear God, and feel His leadings, but to even be the answer to prayer in one another’s lives. We have authority paid for by Jesus to do many things. Among which include (cast out demons and heal the body).
The believer who studies and reads God’s Word, the Bible, grows in relationship and recognition of His voice (discernment). The Word also has power when spoken aloud and memorized (stored in the mind to be used later as fiery weapons against the enemy).
The prayerful believer is one who is always aware of God (Holy Spirit within) and talking/listening to Him as if He were beside you. Just as with a best friend, you aren’t always speaking but you’re always aware of each other’s presence.
And lastly, the prayerful believer lives a life of faith and trust in their best friend, and putting to work their faith, and recognizing all that God has done for them, both seen and unseen—this proves He is all that He says He is.
I want to finish with a thought that struck me today. And that is:
God doesn’t respond to our need. He responds to our Faith.
I believe that my problem as well as many of you reading, is that we ask God out of desperation and want and speak to Him very little the rest of the time. We come trembling before Him, not over our reverence for Him but over the crushing weight of our trials. We doubt. We disbelieve, we pray as a last resort and not our first go to.
We set expectations on God in how He will answer us when really our only expectation should be that He will answer. Faith is simply expecting God to move and trusting that He will provide at just the right time (which usually isn’t on our timing) and in His own way (for He knows what’s best for us).
It’s like taking a leap off of a cliff knowing He will catch us. Or like, in the Bible, Abraham, knife poised ready to kill his son because he believed God would fulfill His promise and save him in time.
Our trust and faith should be just as unwavering and sure. And let me tell you, it will look like insanity to the world who craves assurance, tangible, and scientific fact.
My prayer to all of you is that you will prioritize prayer and Bible reading again in your lives. The world craves it even though they do not know what they want and need. Times are darkening before us and we must choose to either fade into the black or shine brighter still with the truth of Jesus and the works of His Holy Spirit within us.
Reflect on the prayers you have uttered. What was your heart posture behind them? Did you have expectations or doubts? Did you thank God first? Did you come to Him as a first or last resort? Did you listen to His response or leading in your spirit? Did you fail to see His response because you had preconceived ideas of how He would answer you and by which method that answer would come?
Keep and open mind, journal your prayers, and make it a conversation again instead of a formal long distance affair.
God hears you…
He is always speaking to you…
And…He loves you.