The Fervent Prayer of a Child
You’ve seen it. The sobbing 5-year-old kneels beside her bed and asks Jesus to help her hamster find its way home. You don’t want to say anything – knowing the smelly little rodent is gone.
Then, you look down and to your absolute amazement, the escapee is squeaking at your feet. Your 5-year-old scoops Fluffy up in delight – not at all surprised. She knew Jesus would come through. But you, you’re astonished. Why would God answer a kindergartener’s request for something as absurd as a missing rodent … and not your prayers?
In Jesus’ own words, kids have a special place in the Father’s heart. “Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones,” the Lord cautioned His disciples in Matthew 18:10: “For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.” In the traditional King James Version, Jesus seems to warn us not to be jealous when kids receive special favor: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.”
The Self-Righteous Prayer of a Jerk
You’ve seen this, too. Some pompous blowhard with a hair-sprayed comb-over is asked to say grace at the awards banquet. He drones on and on with both thumbs in his vest, quoting scripture, kissing up to anybody in the crowd who might be useful to him later. He uses phrases that make no sense: “O Lord,” he affirms, like some small-town lawyer, “As thou hast already washed we, Thine people in the blessed fountain filled with blood that flows from the Throne of God, now, we humbly desire thy light which shineth forth from the wings of the Cherubim. And as we return home tonight, we beseech thy bounteous traveling mercies.” Huh?
Such a prayer goes no higher than the ceiling. There are scriptures that indicate God doesn’t even listen to them. Why not? Well, again in Jesus’ own words: “Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this: ‘God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the tax collector, standing far away, wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” The secret here? Pray one-on-one, honestly, just you and God. Talk to Him like the loving Father that He is. Don’t insult Him with flattery or insincerity.
Here’s a Prayer that Worked
Several thousand years ago, a shepherd God greatly loved, Abraham, sent his hired hand Eliezer, 450 miles by camel to find a suitable bride for his son Isaac. After finding such a girl, Eliezar would then have to convince her to to marry some kid she’d never met. Eliezar’s simple prayer?
“O Lord, God, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’ – let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac.” According to Genesis 24:12-14, that’s exactly what happened. And Rebekah entered history as one of the most incredible women who ever lived.
Why did that Prayer Work?
After all, “Give me success today” is downright selfish. Why should God do that? Throughout the Bible, God answers selfish-sounding prayers when they are offered with humble motives and for the benefit of others. Eliezer could have just paid the first barmaid he met a bag of trinkets to follow him home. Instead, he wanted God to provide young Isaac with the right girl. Often we have the misconception that God is reluctant to answer prayer. Not so. He loves us.
You Asked for a Ferrari?
God is your loving Father. He has the right to say “No.” He is also all-knowing and all-seeing. Some people think that He must be begged or manipulated or argued into answering. Well, be prepared for your heavenly Father to see through any phony baloney and calmly answer you, his beloved child, “No.”
What about when you Prayed for Grandma?
God has a plan for us all. He always knows what is best for all of us. He heard your prayer that your beloved Grandma would be healed of cancer. He also knew that your grandmother had served Him for 97 years and that she earnestly desired to be with your grandfather and her own parents and all those who had gone on ahead.
He heard her silent prayer, “Lord, I long to see Your face. I’m ready to come home – to begin an eternity of happiness in Your presence.” But you were fervently praying, “Lord, please don’t let her go.” God heard both prayers. He knew what was best when he told you “No,” and told her “Yes.”
What if you are Undeserving?
In Genesis 32:26, Jacob had been an absolute fraud. He had tricked his dying father. He had stolen from his big brother. He had fled for his life. But he was homesick and decided to apologize. As he neared the family farm, he learned his big brother was coming out to meet him with 400 armed workers. Jacob did what desperate men do. He prayed. Fervently. All night long. He had a life-changing encounter with the Creator of the Universe, who apparently forgave him. Newly humbled, Jacob faced his brother.
On the road before all 401 angry greeters, Jacob bowed low seven times like a slave. And God did the impossible. His brother embraced him, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Years of deep bitterness and guilt were erased in a few moments. God blessed Jacob with protection in the face of sure death. What’s the bottom line? Humility. Asking forgiveness. Try it.
Who are You?
“Although the Bible offers a great deal of guidance on how we can deepen our communication with the Creator, effective prayer has more to do with the one doing the praying than it does with ‘how’ we are to pray,” advises the website “Got Questions?” Indeed: “Scripture says, ‘The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective’ (James 5:16), and that the ‘eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer’ (1 Peter 3:12; Psalm 34:15), and, again, ‘the prayer of the upright pleases Him’ (Proverbs 15:8).
Prayer saved the righteous Daniel from the lion’s den (Daniel 6:11), and in the wilderness, God’s chosen people benefitted from Moses’ right standing with God (Exodus 16–17). The barren Hannah’s steadfast and humble prayers resulted in the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 1:20), and the apostle Paul’s prayers even caused the earth to shake (Acts 16:25-26).” Clearly, the passionate prayers of the righteous accomplish much.
Don’t Give Up!
1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to pray all the time. When your boss is in a good mood, thank God. When the traffic cop overlooks the red light you just ran, whisper a prayer of thanks. And keep praying when something is heavy on your heart. Luke 18:1 tells us not to give up when it doesn’t seem God hears us.
James 1:5 and Mark 11:22-24 tell us to pray with faith that He will, indeed, answer. Philippians 4:6 reminds us to keep that essential attitude of gratitude. John 14:13-14 tells us to pray in Christ’s name. James 5:16 says we should prayer with a heart that is right with God. And don’t forget that God knows what our needs are even before we ask, according to Matthew 6:8.
What if Nothing Works?
Remember that He is God and you are not. He may have something else in mind for you. You’re praying fervently for that mobile home out by the city dump when God wants you to stay in your rental cottage by the lake … which He knows your landlord plans to give you in his will. Also, search your heart.
Do you have unconfessed sin? That’s a tough one, but Isaiah 59:2 and Psalm 66:18 both tell us that secret rottenness can keep our prayers from being heard: “your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.” What can you do about that? 1 John 1:9 promises “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us.”
Yikes! That’s Hard to Hear!
Unfortunately, the Bible is full of warnings. James 4:3 says “When you ask you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Proverbs 21:13 teaches that turning a deaf ear to the cry of the poor can keep God from hearing you. Proverbs 1:28-31 is really rough: “Then I will not answer your cry for help. It will be too late. You closed your eyes to the facts and did not choose to reverence and trust the Lord, and you turned your back on me, spurning my advice. That is why you must eat the bitter fruit of having your own way and experience the full terrors of the pathway you have chosen.”
Listen to Experience
“Do you believe God really answers prayer? Really and truly?” asks Billy Graham’s daughter Anne. “I have a word of encouragement for you. God does answer prayer. But He does it in four different ways. 1) ‘I can’t hear you.’ Sometimes the Lord can’t hear us when we pray. And it’s not because we need to talk louder or speak more clearly. Sometimes God can’t hear us when we pray because there is sin in our life. 2) ‘No.’ While this can be a very difficult answer to receive, it’s still an answer. There is a purpose when God says ‘No.’ 3) ‘Yes.’ There is true power in prayer. And when we pray in Jesus’ name, He may also say ‘Yes.’” But she notes, sometimes His answer is 4) “Wait.”
So be Patient
“Sometimes the toughest answer to receive from God is ‘Wait,’ she advises. “When this happens, we need to remind ourselves that God is in control and can certainly handle our situation. We need to allow Him to continue working in whatever way He sees fit.” That’s what God did with an Old Testament prophet named Habakkuk.
“God told him, ‘Even though you don’t think I’m listening, Habakkuk, I am working on a plan that is so much larger than you.’ The truth is, even though Habakkuk couldn’t see it, God was working the whole time! And the same is true in your life as a follower of Christ. If you’re in a holding pattern, trust that God is working, and that He is sovereign over all the details in your life.”
Just Remember, He Loves You
In the beginning, God created humans because He enjoyed their company. He walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden. He loved providing for them. He wanted to know what they needed. He hasn’t changed.
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