We ask ourselves or others around us, “Why aren’t my prayers being answered?” Or, “Doesn’t God hear my prayers?” The variations of the basic question are legion but the heart of the matter is not. Seemingly too few Christians see the fruits of their prayer labors. Perhaps too few really want to know why.
We are right to encourage ourselves and others to pray. The Bible does. Does the phrase ”You have not because you ask not” sound familiar? It should. The Puritans were also right in their contention that a lack prayer in the life of a Christian reveals a lack of life in the heart of the Christian. True Christians pray because Christians have the irrepressible desire to communicate with the love of their life.
Christians want to pray and they want to know how to pray. Thus, Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybel’s has proffered a well-known paradigm to guide the Christian’s prayers — Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. Books on prayer have proliferated in the last decade, if for no other reason than the success of the Prayer of Jabez. These books and other models of prayer have not gone unprayed. Yet, many prayers continue to go unanswered. Why?
All prayers are not created equal. God is not the man upstairs. He’s not the big guy in the sky. He’s not some cosmic Santa Claus. Unfortunately, the flippancy expressed in those labels is the very attitude one hears in the prayers of others and, if they were honest, in themselves. The problem isn’t that many Christians aren’t praying. The problem is that they’re praying in the wrong way. They take God too lightly and themselves too seriously. They give God lip service and then ask for room service.
The Teacher warns against such a casual approach to the Creator God. In Ecclesiastes 5:1-2, he cautions, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”
Perhaps our prayers go unanswered because we go to God with all the answers. We deign to tell Him what would be best for us. We approach His throne with our flip-flops on rather than removing our sandals because we’re on holy ground. We tell him what He already knows and we don’t ask Him to tell us what He wants us to know.We need to stop and listen when we pray. “Be still and know,” God says. Once we do, once we seek and find the heart of God, we can pray with confidence that our prayers will be answered, not because we’ve changed God with our prayers but because God has changed us.
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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