I was taught to pray in every circumstance as a child. I have a clear recollection of my mother holding my hands, eyes closed, heads bowed down while she uttered her thanksgiving and requests to God when I was young. I was told that prayer was as powerful as a rainfall that inhibits little kids to play outside their dwellings until it subsides. I grew up believing that a prayer can do miracles because God hears and He is sovereign. I prayed for a new toy. I prayed that my buried dead dog would rise up from grave and be alive again. I prayed that our teacher would be absent. I prayed for good grades. I prayed for healing, success, wealth, peace, love, bliss and everything.
There were times when I was thinking that perhaps I wasn’t praying the right way or God didn’t listen because I committed sins. I became skeptic as my prayers went unanswered. My unanswered prayers increased my cynicism and shook my faith. I prayed for the healing of my father but he suddenly passed away. I prayed for the wellness of my sibling but he also unexpectedly died. I prayed for the success of my exam but I failed. I prayed for good weather but it terribly rained. What’s the difference between praying and not praying when both have the same result? To answer that question I would like to share with you things God put in my heart.
1. God is not a genie.
When I was a kid, I saw God as a magical fairy that would grant all our wishes if I behaved well. I’ve read a quote in social media saying, ‘Why wish upon the stars when you can pray to God?’ The scriptures also tell,
“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” -Matthew 21:22 NIV
“And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him.” -1 John 3:22 NLT
God definitely hears us and He answers either yes or no or even wait. When I prayed for the cure of my parent who died He answered a firm no. Grief was excruciating but it serves as a reminder that our days are numbered. “Teach us how short our life is so that we may become wise.” -Psalm 90:12 (GNT). We never know when and how but we’ll all wither and die in this world. Even though the Bible declares that we will receive anything that we ask for in prayer it doesn’t mean that He will always say yes in everything. I can imagine myself extremely ancient and brittle and my grandchildren and their grand kids are overly old as well but persistently praying for good health and strength of our loved ones forever while every ten minutes ten babies are born alive because parents are praying indeed until the whole earth is covered with undying people who diligently pray. I’ve learned that we will receive whatever we ask for if it is according to His will.
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us.” -1 John 5:14 ESV
I assess my heart each time I have a conversation with God. Lord, if this is Your will for me then let it be done. I let God control my life and not control God by asking for things that are against His will. God’s will for His children is way better than what we think is good. (Romans 12:2)
“God is not genie in a bottle, and your wish is not His command. His command better be your wish.” -Mark Batterson
2. Life is a test of faith.
“The greatest test of faith is when you don’t get what you want but you are able to say, thank you Lord!” -unknown
The life of Job in the old testament in the Bible never ceases to inspire me as a Christian. Job may be the richest man at the time but God allowed Satan to test his faith. He lost all his wealth and family except his wife who told him to “curse God and die” but he worshiped God regardless of his sufferings.
I examine my heart when I experience struggles and prayers seem useless. Instead of drifting away from God I choose to draw close to Him. God has given us freedom to choose like how Satan chooses to rebel rather than to obey. When everything goes opposite of what I prayed and hoped for I ask myself, how big is my faith?
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” -James 1:1-4 NIV
3. Sometimes we pray for the wrong things.
Surely, God wants us to bring it all to Him. He wants us to seek His presence with hands wide open and lifted up and confess all the things that matter to us. I am not saying that it’s wrong to pray for prosperity, handsome husband or high-paying job because He cares about all our desires but I’ve learned that God is more concerned with our eternal welfare than our worldly or temporary cravings. As our Creator, He already knows what we need even before we speak but sometimes what we want is not always what is essential.
“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” -James 4:3 NIV
God is also concern with our hearts, thoughts, motives and attitude. Rick Warren also says, ‘God is more interested in shaping our character than answering our prayers.’ God wants us to renew our minds and change our perspectives so that we bring our prayers in line with His will. Our prayer might change from, “Lord, help me get a raise,” to, “Lord, help me manage my finances wisely so I have enough to share with others.”
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” -Romans 12:2 NIV
4. God knows the right timing.
God also answers wait, be patient, it’s not yet the proper time. I applied tons of jobs three years ago only to be frustrated repeatedly. I had been searching for work abroad since I had passed the board exam but I only made it after three years. I’ve learned that the Lord didn’t allow me to work in foreign land without any knowledge and skills of my profession. Trust His timing. I understand this by heart.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” -Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV