Over the past several weeks, as I tend to be spending more and more time in prayer, it has occurred to me that there are so many different aspects and understandings of how prayer actually “works”.
It seems that both in the life of Jesus as revealed in the gospels, and of the teachings throughout the balance of the New Testament, but especially in Paul’s writings, we tend to read things that fall outside of our normal experiences and understandings of prayer.
Jesus says on numerous occasions that we are to know with complete certainty that “anything you ask in my name, you will receive” (Mark 11:24) to Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “Pray without ceasing.”
I do say that neither of these descriptions would fit well into our personal experiences with prayer.
As Oswald Chambers says “If we think of prayer as the breath in our lungs and the blood from our hearts, we think rightly.” That is, prayer should always be happening, even when we are not conscious of it.
We tend to think about prayer as a portion of our lives that we “do” whereas Jesus and Paul see it as not an exercise, but the very “life’s breath” of the Holy Spirit in us.
Interestingly, we discover that Jesus never even mentions unanswered prayer. He had total certainty that prayer is always answered. (“Everyone who asks, receives.”)
This shift in our thinking has to begin with the confidence that God answers prayer in the best way for us, not sometimes, but every time, though it may not come in the exact form in which we expect.
If you’re like me, the most common mistake I make with prayer is to see it first and foremost as a “common sense” or “exact answer in the way that I’ve been praying” rather than trusting that God answers every time, but perhaps not in the way that we have framed our prayer.
Recently, I’ve been learning to pray with a higher level of confidence that the answer is on it’s way or perhaps that it is even being revealed, but not in the way that I had anticipated. If you remember in the story of the death of Lazarus and the prayers of Mary and Martha and those who loved them, it first appears that God did not answer their prayers because Jesus showed up on the scene 4 days late. This was obviously not a small detail, but caused a very profound sense of disappointment and seeming loss of a loved one for all those concerned.
In reality, God heard their prayer and Jesus, in His perfect relationship with the Father, intentionally delayed His arrival. For what reason? Was He meaning to test His followers or was He simply busy attending to other things while they waited?
The answer to that question seems to be that His answer to their prayers was far more glorious than simply praying over Lazarus and reversing his illness and sparing him from death. His answer was one of the most powerful displays of the power of Jesus ever seen or known by mankind for the last 2000+ years.
Jesus revealed not just a miracle of healing, but the very fact that He was “the resurrection and the life” in His person. That power brought Lazarus forth from the grave four days after he had laid in the tomb. Even more, the personalization of the fact that in Jesus Himself we find “the resurrection and the life” has forever changed how millions of believers understand and perceive the person of Jesus over the last two millennia.
Consequently, I’m learning to trust the Lord with specific prayers that don’t seem to be answered in my time table or in my expected way, but all the while learning to praise Him with increasing confidence that prayer never fails, and that the Lord will always come through if we continue to trust Him with what we cannot see. At that point, prayer becomes less of an effort and quite as natural as the breath you take and the flow of blood throughout your body. Unconscious but life-giving!
May the Lord increase your understanding and personal confidence in this amazing relationship with our Heavenly Father.