God speaks often about persistence in prayer, asking until we receive, and trusting he hears and will respond. But, apparently, there are times when we need to stop storming the gates of heaven for an answer we want desperately. Sometimes God simply says “no”.
If that’s happened to you, you’re in good company. Moses had that experience when he pleaded with God to let him go over with the people into the promised land and God said: “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter” (Deuteronomy 3:26b). In other words, “Stop asking me, Moses. I already told you ‘no'”.
Paul had something similar happen when he prayed three times for his physical problem to be taken away. God didn’t answer the prayer the way Paul had hoped, but he did promise that his grace would see Paul through the difficulty.
If Moses and Paul, amazing saints, didn’t always get “yesses” to their prayers, we realize that sometimes we, too, have to accept “no” as an answer! When that happens, what do we do?
We stop repeating a prayer we know God has already said “no” to.
We don’t protest.
We persevere, asking for faith to rely on him to be with us in the difficult circumstance.
We acknowledge, as Paul did, that human weakness can be an avenue through which God displays his power – in ways we couldn’t even think to pray about.
We keep on loving, trusting, and worshiping God.
And then, at some point, we’ll find that God’s “no” was a great blessing!
“God’s refusals are always merciful – ‘severe mercies’ at times – but mercies all the same. God never denies us our heart’s desire except to give us something better.” – Elisabeth Elliot
” . . . far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.”
(1 Samuel 12:23a)
Last week, I had a friend ask me to pray for a specific thing to happen in her life. I did. When she called me a few days later, letting me know that our prayers had been answered, I was just as happy as she was and we both gave our thanks to God for his intervention.
I’ve wondered why we ask people to pray for us. Do we think if we have enough voices storming heaven on our behalf, God will be convinced to answer our prayers? I don’t think it really works that way. I believe even one prayer has enough power to move the hand of God. So, then, why do we ask for help in our prayers?
I think the reason is identified for us by Paul when said, “On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:10b-11). Paul certainly would have had God’s listening ear if he had prayed for himself. But here he says he had asked other Christians to pray for him, so they could all thank God when the answer came. The goal is more than accomplishing something for ourselves. It is giving glory to God. And when many pray, many give him praise.
We all have needs. Let’s ask one person, maybe more, to pray for us, so we can all give thanks to God for his answers!
“No man can do me a truer kindness in this world than to pray for me.” – Charles Spurgeon
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” – Colossians 4:2
I tend to greet God in pretty much the same way every morning and it’s a pattern I picked up from a revered Bible teacher. It involves saying “good morning” to each person of the Trinity, pausing to worship the Triune God, then asking for his mercy. The opening words are often the same, but the worship or follow up prayer time changes from day to day.
Why do I do this? Because when I begin my quiet time, I may not feel very spiritual or even ready to pray. My routine opening prayer becomes a catalyst for more conversational prayers to follow.
Here’s another example: We’ve taken what is commonly known as The Lord’s Prayer and often use that in a way that can be mechanical or rote, but if we slow down and think about what we are praying, phrase by phrase, it’s powerful. And the very familiarity of the prayer often opens our hearts to deeper, more personal prayers.
Another way to stimulate heart-felt prayers is to use a psalm or other portion of Scripture and pray about each phrase or sentence as you read. In Scripture we read about God and his purposes. Praying those understandings back to him sometimes opens a fountain of thought about people or situations in our lives we need to pray about.
I think we all sometimes need to calm, direct, and warm our hearts and minds for prayer. A routine reading, prayer, or pattern can do that for us. God enters our lives when we find a way to open the door to him.
“Prayer is not only asking, but an attitude of mind which produces the atmosphere in which asking is perfectly natural.” — Oswald Chambers
“I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and He will hear me.” – Psalm 77:1 (ESV)
Most of us pray silent prayers in our minds, and I know God hears those prayers. Heart/mind prayers are a way of communicating with him even while we are walking down the street or sitting in a meeting.
But there are times when we might be better off praying out loud. I think God loves to hear our voices as much as we love to hear his. And, guess who else is listening? Satan can’t read our thought prayers, but he can hear our vocalized prayers. I think it makes him shake in his boots to hear us giving ourselves and our problems to God.
There’s another reason, though, to give voice to our prayers: When we are speaking aloud, we think more clearly about our words, and our minds don’t wander as they often do when we are praying silently – and we all have that problem! As we listen in on our own prayers, we begin to know our own hearts.
A friend of mind who, at one time in his career, had a long commute to work, said he used to imagine Jesus sitting in the passenger seat of his car as he pulled out of the driveway. He would talk out loud to Jesus most of the way to work, sharing his stresses, praying for his wife, and committing the day into the all-powerful hands of his divine passenger.
If you don’t already practice praying out loud, you may want to try it. Prayer can become conversation that makes a difference!
“True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.” – Charles Spurgeon
” . . . pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
How’s your prayer life? We all wince at that question, don’t we? We feel we should pray more and have a really hard time actually doing it. But maybe we pray more than we think we do.
The writer of Psalm 119 seemed to have some good prayer practices, one of which was praying at various times during the day. He talks about praying before dawn (v. 147), early evening (v. 148), at midnight (v. 62). In fact, he says he prays seven times a day (v. 164). That’s a lot. Or is it? How many times a day do you pray?
For me, there are days when I go for hours without talking to God at all. On other days, it seems we are in constant communication – I see his creation and tell him thank you. I think about something I read in the Bible that morning and talk a little to him about it. A friend comes to mind and I bring her name before the Father. Do you do that, too? I like those days. Perhaps I’m less persistent in prayer than the psalm writer who made it a point to pray seven times a day. Sometimes I need to be more intentional in that focus. But I do love it when the communication lines between God and me are open all day long. I think that’s what he wants. I think that’s what we want, too. Let’s keep the conversation going!
“I have found that my reluctance to pray increases when I regard it as a necessary discipline and decreases when I see it as a time to keep company with God. True prayer comes from within, from the longing of the heart.” – Philip Yancey
“. . . in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6b
Do our prayers make a difference? Yes! God hears and responds.
King Hezekiah in an interesting example. The Assyrian army was outside Jerusalem ready to attack. But first they came with threats, hoping the people would surrender. They bragged about all the nations they already had conquered and mocked God saying he was not strong enough to save them.
Hezekiah took those threats before God in prayer, asking that God defend his people for his own glory. Here’s God’s response (through Isaiah, the prophet):
“. . . Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:” (from Isaiah 37:21)
And he promises Sennacherib will be defeated and Hezekiah’s army will not have to lift a finger. The next morning 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were found dead in the camp. The others fled.
Look again at what Isaiah said to Hezekiah: Because you prayed this is what God’s going to do. And he did.
Keep praying! Who knows what happens because you pray? I imagine a scene in heaven when God says to us,
Because you prayed, your child was healed.
Because you prayed, your friend came to know me.
Because you prayed, your soldier came home.
Because you prayed, others learned to pray, too.
How will he finish that sentence for you? You won’t know if you don’t pray. For reasons we’ll never understand fully, God takes our prayers seriously. At least that’s what he told Hezekiah. I think he says the same to us. Our prayers matter!
“The sense of mystery must always be, for mystery means being guided by obedience to Someone Who knows more than I do.” – Oswald Chambers
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? – 1 John 3:17
He was a friend from years past and had moved away. Now he was back with his bride and we were reconnecting over our dinner table. As we ate, he put his hand to his face and winced. Finally, he explained he had had tooth pain for a few days and it was getting worse. He feared it would take a dentist to make it better and they didn’t have money for that, so he was praying for a cure.
As they readied to leave, my husband and I told him we, too, would pray about his tooth. As we closed the door behind them, looked at each other, both thinking the same thing: What had we just done? We had a brother in need in our home and all we did was offer to pray. We regretted our less-than-God-honoring behavior and in the morning, lined up a dentist to help our friend.
We were brought face-to-face with the truth that God often expects us to do more than pray. James puts it this way, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16)
I’m a big believer in prayer – there are many things only prayer can do. But, much of the time, praying is not enough. Praying and doing go together in God’s plan for our world. God is teaching me how to do both better.
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” – Mother Teresa