Is there some sort of method to getting God to actually hear our prayers? I’ve talked to quite a few people that have said they feel discouraged because they don’t see any results when they pray. In these sorts of cases, it doesn’t really matter if a person can “prove” Christianity to them; this is because the issue is more of a “felt” problem. If a person prays to God, feels nothing, and sees no results, that can be incredibly frustrating, even if they know all the facts and believe all the right things. For me personally, I was in the middle of my seminary studies, and I still felt like God was ignoring my prayers. So going forward, I have a few things that will (hopefully) be encouraging on this topic.
Even though not all prayers get answered, some do
I completely empathize with people when they express disappointment in the fact that their prayers don’t seem to get answered. While this might seem like a cop out (don’t worry, we’ll get to answering the question directly in my next blog), it’s still important to keep in mind that we do often see God answer our prayers. Just because we experience disappointments with God doesn’t change the fact that there are many cases where God obviously does come through. If you’re a skeptic, I recommend asking your more passionate Christian friends where God has answered prayers in their lives. I can pretty safely guarantee you they’ll have some cool stories.
As I reflect back on my prayer life, I realize that I’ve actually seen many of my prayers get answered. I had a friend who was incredibly sick (he was basically completely paralyzed, and the doctors are still unsure why). He was in the hospital about a half a year. I prayed for him every day for months, and I remember being confident that God was going to heal him. It wasn’t so much that I just forced myself to believe; it was honestly as though God had let me know my friend would be okay. Today, he’s totally fine. I also prayed for my brother’s salvation for years, and at times was quite discouraged, but he ended up becoming a Christian, and God totally transformed his life in an awesome way. One time, when I was a little kid, I was walking with my dad, and he was teaching me about prayer. He asked me if I had a request for God, and for whatever reason I wanted a jackknife. We prayed, opened our eyes, and BAM… there’s literally a jackknife at our feet (and no, my dad didn’t plant it there).
While I definitely believe people when they say their prayers aren’t answered, I’m also pretty sure that, if you’re a person that’s spent a good bit of time in prayer, you can likely reflect on your past prayers and realize that a bunch of them actually have been answered.
What Kind of Prayers Are Guaranteed to be Answered?
The Bible does make some pretty bold claims about prayer, but at the same time, they’re usually not blanket statements that guarantee us we’ll get whatever we pray for. For example, just look at John 15:7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” While that verse says we’ll have our prayers answered, it also prefaces it by saying we should abide in God, and that we should know the Bible well, which sort of undercuts the idea that we can just get whatever we want. So what sorts of prayers are we given assurance for getting a result?
Firstly, prayers of repentance are guaranteed to be answered. If you ask God to forgive you, He will in fact forgive you (1 John 1:9). In some religions (Islam for example), you can never be guaranteed that you’re on good terms with God, that your saved, or that you’ll go to heaven. However, God has made it quite clear in many different places in the Bible that if we ask for forgiveness (i.e. repent) we will receive God’s grace and mercy.
2. Wisdom & Character growth
Secondly, God promises to give us wisdom when we ask Him for it (James 1:5). I find it incredibly interesting when asking people about their prayer lives to ask them about what exactly they pray for. In almost every case, it’s been relief from suffering (which we’ll get into in a later blog). Very few people pray for God to grow them. If you pray for wisdom, God will give it to you. If you pray for God to make you humble, He will do that. In fact, that’s actually a really hard thing to pray for, if we’re being honest with ourselves. It’s scary because we know it’s the sort of prayer God wants us to ask for. We know He’s just itching to humble us, and we know that – even though we’ll grow a lot – it’ll almost certainly hurt as well.
Thirdly (and this is just my personal experience), if you ask God for opportunities, He’ll answer those prayers as well. For example, ask God to put someone in your life that needs financial help right now (again, scary thing to pray for). Or, try praying for God to put someone in your life that needs to hear the Gospel (again, scary). If you’re a skeptic, try praying to God to send you someone that can help teach you about what Christianity is really all about. In these cases, I feel pretty safe saying God will definitely answer your prayer; the problem is, we don’t pray for those kind of things, do we?
What Does God Want?
Ultimately prayer is more about us wanting what God wants, rather than about what we want. If we can manage to get ourselves on the same page as God, we’ll be far more fulfilled than if we plow through life trying to get what “we” think will satisfy us. In terms of prayer, it should really be less about trying to figure out how we can get our desires met, and more about how we can change our desires to be in line with what God already wants to do. Click To Tweet For example, above I mentioned humility. We see quite a few times in the Bible where God praises the idea of being humble. It seems quite obvious that God wants us to be a humble people. If we don’t really care about being humble, and we pray prayers that are ultimately trying to lift ourselves up, we likely won’t see any answers to those prayers. However, if we change our own attitudes to be geared towards humility, and then we pray in line with this idea, we will see our prayers answered.
For an example of this, when I was in film school there was an awards ceremony where everyone’s work was evaluated, and the profs basically gave out trophies to the students that did well (they made it all seem sort of like the Oscars). I was nominated for five things (more than anyone else, as far as I counted, and yes… I was counting…). A while before the ceremony, I was praying to God, and realized I probably could use some humility. I prayed to God, asking Him to change me to become humbler. When the day came for the ceremony, I was quite confident that I was going to do well, and win an award, or two, or five. Looking back, I was a bit smug, if I’m being honest. Well, the results came in, and I didn’t win anything. I was so disappointed that I was actually a bit angry. I remember stewing in frustration, thinking of all the reasons why I should have won, when it finally hit me… I had literally been praying for God to humble me, and in this moment, I was the exact opposite of humble. In that moment, God shone a spotlight on my own pride, and it was quite embarrassing, and helped me to (somewhat) learn my lesson.
But seriously, why doesn’t God answer my prayers?
If we want our prayers answered, it seems as though the primary thing to be concerned with is being in “the will of God”. If we pray for the sorts of things that God wants for our lives, then we’ll see some pretty dramatic answers to prayer. That might not be too satisfying of an answer, but if you can get behind this mindset, it really does change the way you view prayer. I’ll be going deeper into this idea in my next couple of blogs.
Another big issue behind this question is the fact that there does seem to be some things that can hinder prayer. If we don’t see results in our prayers, and it seems like we’re praying for good things, then why don’t we see any results? In my next blog, I’ll be diving into this issue, showing some things that actually can change whether our prayers are answered or not.