Is there really a God "out there" who hears — who answers? Is prayer still meaningful in the twentieth century? The answer to both questions is a resounding yes. Here are keys to help you contact the living Creator and Supreme Ruler of the universe!
The atheist doesn't receive any answers because he doesn't bother to pray. The agnostic receives no answers because he's not sure that God really exists. Fair enough. But what about the average believing churchgoer in today's "Christianity"? Why doesn't he get more answers? Why is he so often unsure if God is really listening, or caring, or intending to answer?
The late Philip Wylie in his memorable book Tomorrow described fictitious American twin cities under atomic attack. He detailed with shattering effect the aftermath of an atomic explosion: the destruction of the central-city areas, the polluted water and food, and the subsequent fanning out to the countryside of the lawless and hungry mobs — now bent on burglary, murder and rape in a situation that approached anarchy. Hearing of civil insurrection, Farmer Brown armed himself with his shotgun to protect his home and foodstuffs, and especially his wife and teenage daughters. But the mob shot him from behind, broke into his home, and looked menacingly at his wife and daughters. "Let us pray, children," the mother intoned. But, Wylie concluded the chapter dramatically, "God wasn't hearing any prayers that night." How often have you heard, or known of, or experienced times like that when it seemed that God just wasn't answering? How often have you or others prayed for various causes, and your, or their, desires just weren't granted? Why?
God Is Not Whimsical
The true answer to the dilemma involves an understanding of the nature of God, of His will, and of His promises. The Creator is a God of love and concern, and also of design, of beauty, of harmony, and of consistency. "For I am the Lord, I change not," says God (Mal. 3:6). Consider: In war, how could God answer the prayers of bishops and chaplains on one side asking His blessing and protection for their troops, while at the same time grant the prayers of opposing bishops and chaplains asking the same blessing for their side? What of similar cross purposes in peace? Whom will — whom can — God answer? God says in His Word to the majority of mankind: "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear" (Isa. 59:2). So how can He turn right around and answer the prayers of those who persist in living in a sinful, unchristian way of life? He can't! For God is logical and consistent.
God Hears the Obedient
This, then, is the first of the vital keys to effective prayer — and those who have put it to use know it works: Obey God. God's Word tells us: "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight" (I John 3:22). Frankly, most modern "Christians" don't take the Ten Commandments literally. A "little" lying or stealing, a "little" cheating on their wives or husbands, a "little" lusting, hating, fighting, cursing they think these things aren't serious. But, as we have already seen, God says our sins — our transgressions of His law (I John 3:4)have separated us from Him so He will not hear! God hears the person who is truly repentant and is turning from his sins (Luke 18:13-14). He does not expect "instant perfection." Rather He tells us: "But GROW in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18). So come before God and say (perhaps your first prayer that's bound to be answered): "Father in heaven, I'm weak, but from henceforth I will sincerely try to keep your commandments and walk in your paths. I want to serve you; I want to be like you; and with your help I'm going to make progress. Please, almighty, all-powerful God, hear my prayer." If you really mean it, and you are studying God's Word and learning more and more day by day to walk in His ways and to keep His laws, then He will hear and answer. But if you will not obey God's law, notice the result: "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination" (Prov. 28:9). It's not complicated. Just really study the Bible and do what you find that God says. "He heareth the prayer of the righteous" (Prov. 15:29). (You may not be fully aware of how you are breaking God's law. You may not even be aware of all the implications of the Ten Commandments. If not, please write for our free book entitled The Ten Commandments. But, in the meanwhile, God will begin to hear you in accordance with your sincere motives and your dedication to follow what you do know of His ways)
Pray to the True God
Though you may be offended by this assertion, it is a fact that millions of people pray regularly to the wrong "God" or "gods"! "For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him" (I Cor. 8:56). In this passage, the true God is identified as being the Creator — a real Spirit Personality who designed and created the universe; a God of law, order, symmetry, beauty, and total power. Under threat of persecution, the early Christians "lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is..." (Acts 4:24). Notice here and elsewhere how the true God is constantly identified as the Creator, and the God of David or, often, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is because the true God is understood in terms of His character — by how he dealt with Abraham, Moses or David — and by His tremendous power in creating the universe, with His vast sense of design, beauty and unchanging law which is manifested by and through His creation. So, when you pray, learn to bow your knees and lift your heart and hands to the great Creator God, the originator of all that exists in the entire universe (Eph. 3:14-15). Recognize the great privilege it is to be able to come into the very presence and receive the personal love and attention of the Almighty God of heaven and earth! As a begotten Christian, you can pray to Him in a very humble and
Faith becomes a whole way of life. It involves a deep under standing and commitment to the great central fact of human experience: God is, and He is working out a purpose here below. He has laws and standards by which human life should be governed; He rewards those who surrender to His will and walk in His ways.
personal way, as Jesus taught: "Our Father which art in heaven (Matt. 6:9).
How To Ask in Jesus' Name
If someone commands you to "open up in the name of the law," they had better be bona fide representatives of the law. Otherwise, they are imposters and are themselves acting illegally. Likewise, when one prays "in the name" of Jesus Christ, he should be sure he is acting and asking within the authority Jesus has given — which means to ask in accordance with the revealed will of the Son of God. Fortunately, the Bible is a detailed setting forth of Christ's will. Anyone who sincerely studies the way of life, the examples, the prohibitions and the promises in the Bible has literally hundreds of pages of information to tell him what God wants him to do, what God directly instructs him to pray for, and many examples of what and how God does answer prayers! Of course, you need not always have a specific promise in the Bible to know that something is God's will. Often it is a matter of applying the principles from biblical situations to modern situations which may arise. Notice, for some examples, the attributes David mentions in his prayer to God: "I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies" (Ps. 18:1-3). God, then, will give us strength, protection and deliverance. In what is called the "Lord's Prayer," Jesus instructs us to pray for forgiveness, for our daily bread, for His kingdom to come, and for deliverance from temptations or trials (Matt. 6:9-13). The apostle James instructs us to ask for wisdom, and for healing when we are sick (James 1:5; 5:14-16). Jesus stated: "And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name [that is, by my authority], that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it" (John 14:13-14). Visualize Christ now seated at God's right hand in heaven — at the magnificently impressive and glorious throne of the universe. Know that He understands your trials and feelings; that He was tempted in every basic way all of us are tempted and He is there to be for us a merciful and understanding and faithful High Priest (Heb. 4:14-15). With that profound realization, do come boldly before God and talk to Him about anything, reason with Him and ask Him to even help you understand what to pray for and for the strength and mercy you need (verse 16). What a fantastic opportunity! Be grateful for this privilege, and use it often to pour out your heart before your Creator and your Father.
Ask in Faith
"Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him" (Heb. 10:38). Faith becomes a whole way of life. It involves a deep understanding and commitment to the great central fact of human experience: God is, and He is working out a purpose here below. He has laws and standards by which human life should be governed; He rewards those who surrender to His will and walk in His ways. Again: "But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6). Notice also the emphasis put on the fact that we must "diligently seek him." God intends that we go after Him, in a sense, "hammer and tongs"; that we burn our bridges behind us and commit ourselves to doing His will and then trust HIM for the extra strength, wisdom and love that we need. James tells us to ask for wisdom: "But let him ask in FAITH, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed" (James 1:6). When Jesus healed people, He stated over and over: "Thy faith hath made thee whole" (Matt. 9:22; Mark 10:52; Luke 17:19). "Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto, you" (Matt. 9:29). Again: "When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee" (Mark 2:5). Ask God for faith. Build faith into your life by reading the Bible regularly (Romans 10:17), and by exercising faith and seeing the results of your trust in God's Word and in His promises. (Write for our free booklet entitled What Is Faith?) Then, bit by bit, you will learn to sincerely feel and say along with God's prophets, not "I think" or "I hope," but: "I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth" (Job 19:25).
When Jesus' disciples came and said: "Lord, teach us to pray," He instructed them by giving them the basic outline of prayer we call the "Lord's Prayer." We should study and follow this approach. But He continued His teaching with an example of how we must keep on praying and not give up if our prayers don't seem to be answered right away. He gave, as an analogy for prayer, a virtual pounding on the door of a friend until he does answer. Then Christ said: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Luke 11:9). Sometimes you do need to keep knocking, so to speak, and let God know that you deeply desire whatever you ask Him; that you are willing to wait patiently for the answer; that you are willing to repent of any sin, right any wrong, overcome any
Sometimes you do need to keep knocking, so to speak, and let God know that you deeply desire whatever you ask Him; that you are willing to wait patiently for the answer; that you are willing to repent of any sin, right any wrong, overcome any problem, in order to be found worthy of His answer to your prayer.
problem, in order to be worthy of His answer to your prayer. What if (and he almost has!) my fifteen-year-old son asks me: "Dad, please help me get an imported sports car." What will my answer be? "Wait!" That will be my answer. I'll think to myself, "He's not old enough. He doesn't have much driving experience, and there are all kinds of lessons I'd like to see him learn before he has a fast sports car. And besides, the car will mean a lot more to him, and he'll take better care of it and be more responsible if it doesn't come too easily." Do you see the analogy? God is supremely intelligent, loving, protective and logical. He wants us to prepare for some things before we receive them. As our Father, He wants us to learn certain lessons and overcome certain sins or weaknesses before He will answer some of our prayers! So as you pray to God, talk to Him about these things. Reason with Him as Abraham did in Genesis 18:23-33. Ask Him to show you if there is any lesson you need to learn before He will answer your prayer. And unless you find you are "asking amiss" (James 4:3) — asking for something you shouldn't have keep on praying to God until the answer comes.
Keep on praying — but in what way? With a tired, monotonous, routine approach? With a careless "let's-see-if-it-works-this-time" approach? A thousand times No! Remember James 5:16: "The effectual FERVENT prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Realize that you are coming to plead your case before the Supreme Governor of the universe, the Lord and Giver of life. Put your heart, your mind and your being into an alert, profound, and heartfelt communion with your Creator. For our good, God wants us to serve and reverence Him in this way. The Moffatt translation makes plain God's concern about Israel's halfhearted prayers: "Though it was I who redeemed them, they have lied to me; they never put their heart into their prayers" (Hosea 7:13, 14). Even Jesus Himself, preparing for a slow and torturous death, poured His very being into His final hours of prayer to God: "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44). No doubt this is where the expression "to sweat blood" comes from. In our jaded and sophisticated society where many want to act cool and noncommittal, we need to be reminded of the personal examples of Jesus and of King David of Israel (see Psalm 69:1-3) and how they cried from the heart and poured deep emotion and feeling into their prayers!
If Your Need Is Forgiveness
Jesus said: "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15). We must sincerely and completely forgive others. We must not hold grudges or harbor animosity. Otherwise, there is no way our prayer for forgiveness — or indeed any other prayer — will be heard. But, if we forgive others, and "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). Prayer, along with meditation, is a good time for self-examination to determine whether you truly have repented yourself and completely forgiven others. But you can't "fake it." And even here, you've got to ask God for help and humility.
Make Prayer a Habit
Many articles have been written on the amazing power which habits have over our lives. They describe how building proper thought patterns and daily habits — even in little things — often spells the difference between success or mediocrity in many areas of our lives. In no area of life is this more important than in the spiritual area of regular Bible study, meditation and personal prayer to God. God puts examples in the Bible for a reason. Let's notice. The prophet Daniel, in danger of losing his life if he prayed, nevertheless followed his daily habit — the pattern of life which made him one of the most honored and powerful servants of God in history. "Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed [forbidding asking anything from anyone but the king], he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime" (Dan. 6:10). Note the statement "... as he did aforetime." It was Daniel's habit to pray on his knees before God three times a day. Notice also the example of King David when he was in great distress: "Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice" (Ps. 55:17). David was all man. He was a mighty warrior, an excellent musician and composer, and an inspired leader. But he was often in trouble. Hence his "supplications" (Ps. 55: 1, for example) — the word means repeated prayer on the same subject. He had to pour out his heart and ask repeatedly for mercy, strength, guidance and deliverance. The result? You cannot read through the inspired psalms of David without realizing that he was a man who lived in close and continual contact with his God. He was vitally alive and lived one of the most exciting, romantic and yet meaningful lives in the history of the human race! His constant and even passionate communion with God certainly added depth and breadth to his
Remember James 5:16: "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Realize that you are coming to plead your case before the Supreme Governor of the universe, the Lord and Giver of life. Put your heart, your mind and your being into an alert, profound, and heartfelt communion with your Creator.
magnificent life and character. Reading David's psalms, you note the obvious fact that David was not only just praying on his knees. He was constantly talking to God, relating all things to God — the very center of his existence. He was, as we say, in an "attitude of prayer" many times throughout each day. So should we be. Do we greet each morning's sunrise with a quiet "Thank you," Father" as we first look out the window? Do we bow our head in thanksgiving over any of our private breakfast, lunch and dinner meals teaching our children by this and other acts that God is our Creator and the Giver of every good gift? Do we ask God's protection as our children leave for school, as our car leaves the driveway, as our plane taxis out for takeoff? Do we ask our Father and Friend for wisdom and guidance, for patience and mercy, for strength and love, as we face various challenges through each day of our lives? We should for this, too, is the meaning of prayer, and of learning to "walk with God" as did great men of old like Enoch, Noah and Abraham. Often Jesus rose up early in the morning — "a great while before day" — and went to a private place to pray (Mark 1:35). He wanted to reestablish that close contact with God early in the day. So should we. At other times, times of unusual stress, or before making a big decision such as choosing His twelve apostles, Jesus would pray long and hard through part or even all of the night — reasoning and pleading with His Father for help, wisdom and guidance on the problems and decisions of the morrow (Luke 6:12-13). It was the HABIT of our Savior who is our perfect example to pray to God continually and with His whole heart! So when it came His time to die, the most obvious and natural thing He could and did do was to drop to His knees, lift up His heart and hands to the Almighty one with whom He had shared eternity, and pray. With perspiration pouring off His body and with tears streaming down His cheeks (Hebrews 5:7), He begged God for the strength and love to become the perfect sacrifice which He, and He alone, could be. Then, finally, when He knew He had the Father's answer, He returned to find His disciples sleeping — seemingly unaware of the momentous events which were about to occur. "[He] said unto them, Why sleep ye? Rise and PRAY, lest ye enter into temptation" (Luke 22:46). In this age of potential world annihilation, we, too, had better learn to do just that. We need to make the habit of constant and fervent prayer to God as much a part of our lives as breathing. For, as with the air we breathe, the quality and ultimate length of our lives directly depend upon it.
RECOMMENDED READING Roderick C. Meredith. a Senior Editor of The Plain Truth, has taught courses in church history and the epistles of Paul at Ambassador College for two decades. His supplementary article "The Answer to Unanswered Prayer" has bettered the lives of thousands.