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Jay Kesler, in his book, Raising Responsible Kids, records one of his prayer experiences. He writes, “Shortly after I got my driver’s license I was driving too close to the middle of a narrow road and I sideswiped another car. The crash tore the front fender, two doors and the rear fender from my dad’s car. After I found out everyone was okay, I stood in the ditch and prayed, “Dear God, I pray this didn’t happen.” He continues, “I opened my eyes and saw that the car was still wrecked, so I closed my eyes, squinted real hard and prayed again, “Dear God, it didn’t happen. Then I opened my eyes, but it happened anyway.”
This kind of prayer experience can lead one to think, “Why even pray?” Why do some prayers seem to get answered and others do not? People will point to different Bible verses and think they contradict each other. For example, John writes in John 16:23, “Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”
This seems very straightforward. But then in I John 5:14 John writes, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” John adds the prayer insight that seems to let God off the hook. That is, God will only answer those prayers that conform to God’s will.
We must remember this, God is not a celestial vending machine that gives what we ask, when we put money in the offering box. God is not a heavenly genie who grants us three wishes when we rub Him in the right direction. If we belong to God, we are His children, and He, our Heavenly Father.
A good Father does not give everything the child asks for. A Danish proverb says, “Give to a pig when it grunts and a child when he cries, and you will have a fine pig and a bad child.” God is raising children, not pigs.
Here are some basic things to remember about prayer. First, God wants us to pray to draw closer to Him. His own son prayed regularly to understand His Father’s will. Anyone who takes their faith seriously must learn how to pray. I am not talking about children’s bedtime prayers or cries of desperation when we are in trouble. I am talking about mature prayers that include adoring God, confessing your sins, thanking God, praying for yourself and others, and quiet time listening for God to whisper to your soul. God wants us to have a disciplined prayer life.
God always answers every prayer, and His answer is, “Yes, no, maybe, not yet, or something we have never thought of.” When we are new to prayer we will find that most of our prayers will be answered, “Yes.” God is teaching us to trust Him through prayer. And then as we mature God makes us work harder, pray more, and trust more so we will draw closer to Him. God is more interested in His relationship with us than He is our comfort. Through the years of praying you will find that your prayer life and your trust in God keep getting stronger so you will have the kind of faith that can weather all of life’s storms. Too many people squander the years when they should be learning to pray like mature Christians. Then they face the storms of illness, death, loss, or shattered dreams and are not prepared. Yelling at God and going through a faith crisis at these times will not fix your problems. Trust in your loving heavenly Father will get you through any storm, just as surely as it got Jesus through the agony of the cross. Then you too will know the true joy of the resurrection as you emerge from a life crisis stronger and more mature in your faith.
What is your prayer discipline? Could you describe it to someone else? How mature do you think you are in your prayer life? If you were to lose something most precious to you, your spouse, a child, a parent, a dream, would you know how to pray to God to find healing? Next week I will share my prayer discipline.
Al Earley is pastor of La Grange Presbyterian Church. To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles see www.lagrangepres.com.