Imagine yourself going through your day. On this day you’re tired, thirsty, and ready to go home, but it isn’t even lunch yet. You are in need of a pick me up. You know the spot where you can buy a soda to help you make it through until you get real sustenance. You take a quick break to run to that blessed machine that will vend out that sugary goodness. As you finally get the few wrinkled bills that you carry with you into this machine, you hit the button for the soda or energy drink that you’re craving. You can hear it crashing violently through the machine. You find yourself full of expectancy as if the light at the end of the tunnel is coming from the machine’s dispenser. Then, in the big moment, it comes.
A bottle of water.
If this happened to most of us we would be furious. We would think that our effort and finances have been wasted on this thing that will not help, is not very satisfying, and is incredibly overpriced, at least compared to the other not-so-but-still overpriced fluids that you wish the machine had given you.
Somehow your day is worse off from the experience.
While a dramatic example, this is often how our prayer life goes. We imagine the requests of our prayers like the requests we make to a vending machine, and we expect the response to be like one too. Shouldn’t we be able to ask for what we want once and then quickly receive what we ask for with a joyful and flawless experience?
Unfortunately this is often far from our experience, especially the more we pray. And continuing to pray can make it harder to be “devoted to prayer” and believe that they will be answered. At best we are able to continue treating our prayers to God like requests to some mysterious, lottery-based vending machine. At worst we get offended, stop praying, and the truth of God’s goodness to us no longer impact our daily lives.
We need to be real about prayer and realize when we are losing touch with the real purpose of effective prayer. That’s what I experienced this summer in the midst of prayer walking and prayer meetings as I traveled. As a community of believers we should be devoted to prayer (Acts 2:42), continuously praying on our own and when we are gathered together (Matthew 6:5-8; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Timothy 2:1-4, 8; Colossians 4:2; Luke 18:1), and actually seeing what we ask for come to pass (Mark 11:24; John 15:7; Luke 11:9). I encourage you to take a moment to read these passages and seriously analyze if you are experiencing even a fraction of what you are finding to be true in these scriptures. I was definitely not. I found it more and more difficult to show up to prayer meetings, find purpose in the mundane feeling of it all, and expect to receive God’s answer to our prayers.
During one of our prayer meetings a team member brought this verse up.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
This verse presents a key to prayer that many of the other verses fail to capture. When we engage with God in a time of prayer we don’t pray in order to get our prayers answered, or at least not in the way we think. Yes, that is certainly part of it as many Scriptures convey, but the prayer time itself is for the receiving a first answer to our prayer: peace of mind and heart as we find ourselves connected with God in our asking.
The first answer to our prayer is peace of heart and mind as we find ourselves connected with God.
Let me explain this using the setting where Jesus Himself taught us to pray during the Sermon on the Mount.
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’” Matthew 6:7-13
Notice how Jesus described the flaw in the pagan’s prayer life. “They think they will be heard because of their many words.” It isn’t the words that helps us to be heard. In fact, God already knows what we are praying for.
“Then why pray?” you might add. “If He already knows why doesn’t He just do it?” That’s the thing, pray is never solely about getting your prayer answered because, He is already doing it!
Imagine praying the Lord’s prayer as if your words were actually fully necessary on a daily basis to cause those things to happen. You’d be asking for simplest provision, hoping He forgives you, and begging Him for mercy to not give us over to the devil but save us instead.
Your prayers do not give God a particular character. Your prayer don’t cause His kingdom to come. He was already bringing His kingdom because Jesus was there. In reality, He is doing the very things that we ask of Him before we ask! Jesus wanted us to have connection with the Father in our prayer, receiving His peace in our asking.
As you pray the Lord’s prayer in faith, instead of fear you should feel the love of a Father who is giving you your daily bread, a joyful reminder of forgiveness that He proved and secured forever by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and confidence knowing that you are being delivered from evil by His mighty power! Try it! All of those things are His peace. It impacts our feelings and our thoughts as we are connected to the reality of God.
You may say “I prayed it and I didn’t feel any of that. Now what?” Pray it again! I would argue that your prayer time isn’t over until you experience that Philippians 4 “peace of God that transcends all understanding.” Jesus’ rebuke of the pagans wasn’t because they prayed too much. He despised their religious idea that the more you pray the more you are heard. Prayer exists to connect us with God personally as well as with what He is doing for us and among us. True prayer is an experience of God’s presence with you as you pray. It’s fruit is a confident faith that He is at work accomplishing what you prayed for.
Beyond that, the true peace of God would never make you pray less! The peace that only comes from connection with God is what will allow us to pray continually and in every occasion as we can expect more of that peace that will continue to transcend our understanding!
Even if you find yourself note praying much, this perspective give you clear direction of when you should pray – when you lose that peace of God!
One clear sign that you should stop and pray is when you lack the peace of God that only comes through prayer.
For example, let’s say you are very confident in your finances. You believe the Lord provides for you and you can tangibly see how He does so through your income, the house that you live in, and the support of people around you. Now imagine that you rear-end someone’s car and total your car. Most of us would lose a lot of our peace in that moment with many questions, including “How am I going to pay for this?” In that moment of stress we often run to figures and budgets to try and find peace. In reality, only genuine prayer in connection with God can grant us the peace that we want – the peace that surpasses our circumstances! As we pray, possibly more than once, the Spirit of God reminds us that He is our provider. I am confident that in such a prayer time God will give you direction into that financial breakthrough, or plant the idea in your friend’s heart to help you out, or it may even begin things leading to provision in a hundred other ways that you couldn’t imagine if you tried. One thing is sure though, God is providing!
During my sophomore year in college I prayed about raising money to pay for my church’s spring break mission trip. I felt led to save some birthday and Christmas money, as well as budget for the next few months, but I still knew I’d be about $100 short. With my awesome community I was confident money wouldn’t be a problem. I could see how the Lord could provide, but He chose to surprise me. About a month before our trip I got a check from the doctor for just over $100 saying that I overpaid for my wisdom teeth removal the previous semester. I’m not sure how that even happened, but the Lord provided in a way I never expected!
When Kayla spent the last few months job hunting I would often pray that God would drop the thought of her email or resume to some HR recruiter for the perfect job. I always felt very confident in this prayer, but after weeks of no luck we knew she would have to pick something. Then, right before accepting a job that was less than we hoped for, she got a call from an incredible company that decided to look for an entry level person rather than someone with three to five years of experience like the job description said. Two days later she was offered the most ideal job we could imagine.
These are a few ways that our heavenly Father shows His love. We expect one thing, but He sends us something different that is actually the answer to our need. Alternatively, we may need to be content with the reality that He is actively accomplishing what we pray for, it is just “happening” in the coming days, weeks or even years. He doesn’t withhold, but He does have His own timing.
Hopefully this sounds amazing to you! God doesn’t need us to pray for His sake. God needs us to pray for the sake of our connection with Him! He wants to fill us with that glorious peace as long as we seek Him.
God doesn’t want us to pray for His sake. He wants us to pray for the sake of our connection with Him.
With that said, this prayer thing still isn’t easy. You may have prayed for a spouse and still be single. You may be asking for personal breakthrough for yourself or for someone else. You could be interceding for any number of things. I can’t pretend to have some formula to get your prayer answered, but I can give you tips to help you find that peace. The first answer to our every prayer is His peace regardless of circumstances.
In your search for peace in your prayers, here are some helpful things to remind yourself of:
- You have a promise. Read the scriptures that I referenced earlier and remind yourself that it is a promise that you, child of God, will receive the things that you ask for in prayer. His promise to you is better than physically praying every prayer in every language known in Heaven. He is working for you. Jesus proved this when He went to the cross while you were still unborn and while the whole world opposed and rejected Him. Just as He had a plan for the Hebrews in the midst of their 400 years of slavery in Egypt, He has a plan for your breakthrough!
- Make sure you are praying what you need, not just what you want. My words might get tricky, but be sure that you are asking for what you or someone else needs. For example, if you have been praying for a spouse, continue to believe and hope for that while praying for the true need that you have as a human being made in the image of God. Many of us lose our peace if the answer looks different or takes longer than what we expect. Instead, pray for the purpose of producing faith and surpassing peace in your confidence that God knows what He is doing regardless of how it looks. He may be answering you in the meantime, giving you deeper relationships first, helping you discover that many people carry you in their heart even at a distance, and showing you how to celebrate the fulfillment of that desire in other people’s lives. Don’t stop praying for what you want as it relates to that need. This almost sounds like we should be more general, and that’s kind of the point. His peace will lead you in what He is doing, which will likely also lead to the desire of your heart being satisfied.
Many of us lose our peace if the answer looks different or takes longer than what we expect.
- Believe that you have what you need in prayer. James 1:5 powerfully tells us that in our asking, God is generous to everyone and never hunts for reasons to not answer our prayers. James then says that the person who doubts “should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1:7) This may seem contradictory, but look closer. James did not say “The Lord won’t respond to your prayer.” Instead, He says that “we won’t receive anything.” I think we usually don’t receive our answers to our prayers because we aren’t looking for it. We may have an unimaginable blessing flying right at us but if we aren’t alert enough to notice it, we may not be set up to receive it. Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we can’t see. If we have faith for it, then it exists even when we can’t see it. The peace of God that comes in prayer is real tangible evidence that what we long for exists. We should believe that we have what we need because it certainly exists, even when we can’t see it.
The peace of God that comes in prayer is real tangible evidence that what we long for exists.
- We are all learning the will of God. We are all growing and maturing to learn the will of God. (Romans 12:2) 1 John 5:14-15 tells us that we can be confident He hears us when we ask according to His will or pleasure. What is the will of God? The will of our Father, of Jesus who died to secure our relationship with God, and of the Spirit who came to dwell in our hearts is that we would be in a life-giving experiential relationship with our Maker. What if asking according to His will was not so much about asking the right things, but asking expecting Him to give us His peace? Our prayer time is a way to draw near to and be filled up by God, not just have our requests heard and answered. In fact, even when we don’t know what words to pray, the Spirit takes over our prayers and even prays for us “in accordance with the will of God” if we will let Him. (Romans 8:26-27)
What if asking according to His will was not so much about asking the right things, but asking expecting Him to give us His peace?
And even so, faithful prayer still isn’t easy. Sometimes it is almost unbearable. There are still so many questions.
“What about the job that I still haven’t found to provide for my family?”
“What about my miscarriage?”
“What about my family member who I’ve been praying for who still hasn’t come to Jesus?”
“What about the child that doesn’t get healed and dies?”
In some ways we still find ourselves with more questions than answers. Whatever your question is, I hear you. Your hurt, confusion, and difficulty are real. Even so, the peace that surpasses all understanding is still what you need. Remember, our prayer life is not like approaching a vending machine. Our prayer life exists in a war zone. One side desires to steal kill and destroy us while the other desires to give us life and life abundantly. (John 10:10) We will experience loss, pain, and suffering. In fact, this is part of God’s promise in this life; in this world we will find trouble, but take heart, He gives us peace! He has overcome the world, and us with Him! (John 16:33, 1 John 5:4)
My only advice to those in the hardest, most imaginable place is to pray and not give up. He knows it is hard too, so He gives you the promise you need. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” He who made even Jesus on a cross work out for the good of those who love Him will make your situation work out for you. Pray, look for that peace in the midst or tears or heart ache, and know that your Father is always at work on your behalf. The peace you need is not dependent on how well you pray, but on His ability to bring peace. When you seek God, you are putting yourself in the place to receive the peace He already wants you to have as He is at work in the background, answering your prayers.
Pray, look for that peace in the midst or tears or heart ache, and know that your Father is always at work on your behalf.