Welcome back to this series on prayer. If you have missed any previous posts, you can click here to catch up. But in this post, we are focusing on the problem of prayer.
For many, perhaps even most, there appears to be a problem with prayer. “It’s a one-way conversation.” “It doesn’t seem to work.” “God takes too long to answer.” “God does what He wants anyway.”
Crushed in the mortar and pestle of life, it’s easy to think there’s a serious problem with prayer: God. When God doesn’t answer according to our will, we can get frustrated. We can feel like our prayers are just floating around the ether, too insignificant to catch the Creator’s attention. And, in the midst of this disappointment, we’re often too slow to accept that the problem with prayer is not God, but us, and always us.
The Problem of Misunderstanding Prayer
It’s pretty normal to think that life would be a lot easier if God answered a few more strategic prayers—just a couple key petitions to remind us that He’s listening. We can be convinced that a profound healing here and there would add spice to the life of the church.
Then God healed Karen.
The Sunday school class gathered for desperate prayer the night before the surgery to remove a tumor from Karen’s brain. The surgery would probably render her unable to speak for a long time. We asked God to comfort her husband, daughter, and family at this time of crisis, to help the surgeons, to speed her recovery, and—if He willed—to miraculously heal her.
Of course, that last part was just for show. Although we believed God could heal Karen, we were certain He would use less glorious means.
The next morning the tumour had disappeared.
We assumed Karen’s response would be just as profound as God’s answer to prayer. After all, when a person experiences the awesome intervention of the Almighty God, we should expect an explosive revival, right?
Less than a year later, Karen left the church and divorced her husband.
We had always thought answers to prayer would strengthen faith and ignite thanksgiving. Disappointed in Karen’s response, we were reminded that even the Israelites grumbled and rebelled in the midst of powerful answers to their requests (Numbers 11:1-4).
You see, the problem with prayer is not God, but us.
The Problem of Abusing Prayer
When I was a young person, my family came under the “prosperity gospel in the ‘70’s,” the “name it-claim it” theology that overwhelmed Christian television and bookstores—and continues to overwhelm today. “Don’t make negative confessions,” I was told. “If you’re sick, confess that you’re healed!”
On one occasion, I mentioned to a self-proclaimed “prophetess” that I was going bald. Instantly, she placed her hand on my head and shouted, “No you’re not—in the name of Jesus!” That “prophetess” treated prayer like a credit card she could whip out at any time to make major purchases.
We may not be as extreme as that woman, but we can all fall into the trap of abusing prayer. While we may tack on a half hearted “Thy will be done,” deep down we think, “No! My will be done!” Yes, Christ said, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7), but His brother James reminds us, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” (James 4:3).
Once again, the problem with prayer is not God, but us.
Correcting the Problem with Prayer
After 51 years of following Jesus, I’d hoped to have a better handle on prayer. I don’t. In fact, the more I pray, the less I understand its profound mysteries. However, I’ve come to several conclusions that might help correct our perceived problems with prayer.
If a father constantly gives in to a little child’s whiny demands, we’d take him for a lousy parent. Why, then, do some think God’s a stubborn God when He doesn’t give us everything we want?
1 John 5:14 says, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” That is, God won’t jump at every loose-lipped confession. Prayer offered up in true faith submits to His will—our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3). God’s will is to change us, not please us.
Second, we need to accept that the power of prayer is perceived in even the smallest response, really, any response at all. I am convinced that humans don’t fully comprehend how little we deserve God’s love and grace. Consider that what we regard as “crumbs” of answered prayer may really be bountiful feasts once we realize that God owes us nothing (Genesis 32:9-10; Luke 7:6-9). When we adjust our attitude about our own unworthiness to receive God’s favor, we’ll never regard “small” answers to prayer as insignificant.
Finally, we need to acknowledge that the process of prayer is not as
important as the attitude of prayer. When God chose in His sovereignty
to heal Karen, He did so even though none of us expected it. Our feeble
prayer was a simple act of faith—turning our worries over to God’s
care (Philippians 4:6; 1 Peter 5:6-7). Christians can be hung up on
method, worried that they have not said the right words, have not prayed
hard or often enough, or have not believed deeply enough. That is hocus-pocus, not prayer (Matthew 6:5-8). If you are concerned about not praying with the right words or for the right things, memorize Romans 8:26—God’s Spirit even helped Paul pray!
Of course, these reminders are easy to read, but they are not easy to live. In our finite human minds, we will always perceive “problems” with prayer. Are you struggling with your prayer life, not seeing results, wondering if God is listening? It might be time for an attitude change. It might be finally time to accept that the problem with prayer is never God, but always us.
Leave us a comment and let us know about your experience of prayer and its problem. Is there something we can pray about with you? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to pray with us? We host two online prayer gatherings each week. Tuesday morning at 10:00 am Eastern time and on Thursday evening at 8:30 pm Eastern time. We are happy to have you join us and we will send you the Zoom link if you ask for it. Send an email to email@example.com or give us a call at 800-784-7077.