Prayer is a big, mysterious topic – one that I don’t pretend to have the credentials to thoroughly discuss. I can, however, talk about some of my own personal experience with it.
First, prayer is the way we communicate with God. It is a simple yet profound way to talk to the God of the universe and have Him communicate back to you.
Of the universe.
(yeah, that’s a big deal, and we should treat it as such.)
Second, God loves you and is always listening. He loves when you come to Him and share things with Him, as you would a good friend. But at the same time – he’s not just your best friend who may occasionally say things you want to hear to keep the peace or to be agreeable. The reality of what no one tells you about prayer is that God doesn’t always agree with you.
The Wrong Idea
Let me let you in on a little secret – I used to get really angry with God. So incredibly frustrated. I felt that I checked off all the “christian” boxes of going to church/worshipping/praying and I still never felt close to Him. God was MIA. It felt like He was watching what was going on and didn’t really care. Or didn’t care enough to do something about it. It felt like I was talking to a wall and experienced more silence than answers.
I had the wrong idea of what prayer actually is. I was coming at it with an attitude of entitlement – I paid my dues. Now where is my reward? How dare you not answer me!?
The issue was that I had a heart posture problem.
One of the most beautiful passages where Jesus teaches us about prayer is found in Matthew:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! // Matthew 7:7-11 ESV
I had always interpreted this to mean that whenever I shoot up a prayer to God, He’ll make everything better for me. He’s got my back. I mean, that’s what it says, right?
Jesus is outlining a posture for prayer while simultaneously showing us the heart of the Father. We are to present our requests to God from a place of anticipation, of eagerly awaiting God’s response, whatever it may be. It is true that God wants to give us good things when we ask him! It is also true that although God has promised to answer, we don’t always get the answer we may want. Prayer is a two-way street. You have to position yourself in a place of wanting to hear from God and actually expect that He will respond in the way that He sees best – even when He chooses silence as his response.
Let’s look at another passage where Jesus talks about prayer:
Jesus replied to them, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, everything you pray and ask for—believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” // Mark 11:22-24 CSB
This doesn’t mean that God is a genie poised to grant your every wish. Rather, Jesus is encouraging us that we have direct access to the Father, the same access He himself had. We need to be confident in what we ask of Him. When we pray to Him, with our hearts in the right position, we should expect that something will actually happen and that God would align us with His will. Even if – especially if – it differs from our own.
I remember there was a time I was sitting in my car, literally crying out to God in frustration, asking where He was and why I was so far from him.
And suddenly, (and this is a rare occurrence,) I heard a voice say to me, “You need to feel what it’s like to be apart from me.” It was clear and profound and I was a little terrified. It would be years before I fully understood what He meant. But I do now. If I was honest with myself – really honest – I didn’t actually want to submit to God’s control over my life. I just wanted Him to comply with what I was already doing. And God was going to let me continue doing that until I realized that my way really wasn’t working.
God loves you. And He is always listening. And sometimes, the greatest thing God can do for you is to not give you what you think you want. Sometimes we have to humbly accept God’s “no.” We have to remember that even Jesus had God say “no” to him – in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he was sweating blood and praying, asking God if there was a way out of going to the cross. But at the end of the day, he submitted his will to what the Father wanted.
Do you pray that God would align your heart with His? Or do you make long lists of what you want and then question God on why it didn’t work out? There’s a better way to pray, and Jesus wants us to understand it.
But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him. // Matthew 6:6-8 CSB
You have unlimited access to talk to the biggest celebrity of all time: G-O-D, Yahweh, Master Designer, Creator of all. And you get to come to him as His daughter. Prayer doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy – it just has to be real. So get quiet, still your mind, and have an open conversation with God about how your day is going. How your life is going. Ask him to reveal things to you in a tangible way. Start with the first two minutes of your day, before you reach for your cell phone and jump out of bed. Then listen to hear what He has to say.
God doesn’t always agree with you, and that’s a good thing. It should be our prayer that He would change our hearts to agree with Him, and watch what starts to happen in our everyday lives once we are living in alignment with the One who knows us far better than we know ourselves.
To dive deeper into understanding prayer and how to hear from God, check out the following books:
by Dallas Willard
Prayer: Experiencing Awe & Intimacy with God
by Tim Keller
A Praying Life
by Paul E. Miller
The Prayer of All Prayers
by Sara Maynard
Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference?
by Philip Yancey
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