I have so many questions about prayer. I would imagine that we all do in some way or another. The past two years have been filled with questions as I deal with loss, disappointment, and questioning how God plays a part in it all.
- Can prayers really change the outcome of a dire situation?
- Can prayers result in healing when the doctors give no hope?
- Can all the prayers in the world change the course of something that God has allowed to be put into motion?
- Does “storming the gates of heaven” make a difference?
- What about the part of the Bible that says ask and you shall receive? And in James is says you need to ask but not doubt and it will be given to you?
- If God already knows what is going to happen then what is the point in asking for something? Should we even specifically ask for healing?
- Is it because we don’t know what God’s will is and when we pray specifically and that is the outcome, our faith grows?
- If we pray specifically and then the outcome aligns with what we prayed for, does that make us feel like our prayers “worked”, like there was something that we did in the situation?
I wish I could tell you that I have all the answers to these questions. But I don’t. However, I have been searching and this is what I have learned so far in my journey.
- God already knows what is going to happen in this life and always has from the beginning to the end.
- God’s chief concern is our eternal happiness not our earthly pleasures.
- Praying directly to God allows me to draw near to him and to have a personal relationship with him.
- When I pray, it is a confession that I need Him, that I can’t do whatever I’m doing on my own, that I desire His guidance and will through all of the decisions I make.
- Prayer is a matter of faith and belief in a God who loves me and is listening to my prayers.
- Prayer is not a way to negotiate with God.
- Prayer takes the control out of my hands and puts it in God’s.
Answered and Unanswered Prayers
There are many examples in the Bible where prayer changed the outcome of a situation. There are likely times in your life where prayer impacted the outcome and you just don’t realize it.
In 2 Kings 18-20, Hezekiah is being threatened by the King of Assyria and continues to stand firm in his trust in the Lord to save him and his people even though all the people around him were being destroyed. Multiple times he goes to God in prayer and asks for deliverance. God heard his prayers and did in fact deliver them from Assyria. Then Hezekiah became ill and was given a message from the Lord that the end was near, Hezekiah prayed and wept bitterly “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” God added 15 years to his life.
In Deuteronomy, the Lord is so angry with the people that he wants to destroy them all but Moses intercedes in prayer and asks God not to kill his people. The author in Psalms 116 says “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice he heard my cry for mercy.”
There are also plenty of examples in the Bible where God’s children prayed and those prayers are not answered.
David pleaded with God for his newborn son to live but God did not answer his prayer (2 Samuel 12:15-23). David’s response was worship to the Lord.
Ruth lost her husband and two sons. Job literally lost everything. They both mourned but continued to trust in the Lord.
Paul asks, not once but three times, for the Lord to remove the thorn from his side that was tormenting him. And God’s response was “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s response was to boast in his weakness because he knew that would make him strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
So why does God answer some prayers and not others? Why does he allow bad things to happen to good people? God does what is best for us because he infinitely knows everything. He is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come. He can see things that we can’t even imagine and knows how everything we experience in this life will impact his kingdom and eternity. That answer doesn’t make us feel comfortable or secure in knowing that we will never experience anything bad or painful. But he never promised that. He never promised security or comfort in this life.
And are we allowed to ask God for intensely personal requests and desires? Philippians 4:6 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Yes. It doesn’t say in some situations we should pray. It says in EVERY situation we are to pray – with thanksgiving.
Unconditional and Conditional Promises from the Lord
There are so many promises in the Bible given to us from the Lord… some are unconditional and others are conditional. When we pray a promise from God that is unconditional we can always count on God to fulfill that request in some way.
My favorite verse is Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God promises to work ALL things for good. That doesn’t mean he does all things according to our definition of good. We have to trust that God knows what is good and perfect and will accomplish it through us…. and most times through our own pain and troubles. We learn the most when we are at our weakest – remember Paul’s thorn.
There are also a lot of conditional promises in the Bible that God may or may not fulfill.
James 1:5 says “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.” This verse is conditional on us doing something. God will give us wisdom but our hearts must be right and our faith must be in God alone. Can any of us really and truly claim this? We do have to be careful not to think “if I just do enough… if I just have enough faith… God will give me what I ask for.” Nowhere in the Bible does God promise to give us everything we ask for. Because we live on this earth here and now, we are concerned about our happiness where we are, but God has a bigger picture desire for us. He is concerned with the happiness we will experience for all of eternity. The things he allows us to experience while on this earth are all pointing to a longer-term happiness which is hard to wrap our heads around and understand.
And then the thought that we have all probably had (I know I have many times through my trials and troubles): “but the Bible says ask and we shall receive, seek and we will find, knock and the door will be opened.” Doesn’t that mean that God will give us what we ask for? God’s not holding up his end of the deal because I have asked for a fourth child and he hasn’t given it to me. Even worse, he has dangled it in front of me twice now. I asked daily for 27 weeks for God to heal Andrew and then the week of his death I prayed like never before for God to let me keep him. I prayed the whole pregnancy for the health of baby Charley and to just allow me to get to full term.
As I have read over and studied the verse which can be found in both Luke 11:9 and Matthew 7:7, it says to keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. We sometimes assume that we know what God means and then hold it against him when we are the ones who actually misunderstood. There is no unconditional promise that God will answer your prayers right away or in the exact way you ask for them. The verses are speaking to a persistence in depending on God. Persistence is the key word also meaning endurance, perseverance, and tenacity. God will give good gifts to his children, but He wants to be our first priority. He wants us to seek and love him with all our hearts, minds, and souls, not to come to him only in the times that we really need him. He wants us to pursue him with tenacity.
So why didn’t God answer my prayers and heal Andrew? I persisted. Why don’t I have 4 children? I persisted.
- Andrew is healed. He is a perfect, beautiful little boy running around Heaven praising the Lord for all of eternity. Death on this earth equaled healing in Heaven.
- I am the mother of 6 children – Audrey (13 on earth), Kaleigh (10 on earth), Unknown child (6 in Heaven – miscarriage at 7wks), Lucas (4 on earth), Andrew (2 in Heaven – born at 27 wks), and Charley (2 wks in Heaven – stillborn at 17wks). Death doesn’t take away my privilege to be a mother.
Sometimes the problem is our own perspective. We have expectations that things are going to be a certain way and are disappointed when God’s plans don’t align with our own. Our prayers tend to be all about us rather than about God, and we conveniently overlook what God has actually given us.
Asking the Right Questions
I think this all boils down to the fact that I have been asking the wrong questions!
Maybe the better questions to ask are:
- Am I praying for my own desires and then wondering if prayers matter when I don’t get the outcome I want?
- Am I praying for God’s will and seeking His guidance first and foremost?
Ultimately, the best question to ask is, what is the desire and condition of my heart when I pray?
Other Verses about Prayer:
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
‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ Jeremiah 33:3
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:7-8
Pray without ceasing. 1Thessalonians 5:17
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:3
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:13-14