On Prayer (Part Two)

Does God answer prayer?

That’s a loaded question.

The answer is “Of course God answers prayer”. Then the argument begins.

“God didn’t answer MY prayer!” is usually the beginning of the counter-argument.

So… The concept of God answering prayer is rather misunderstood. To begin, God is not a Cosmic Genie (djinn) who is obligated to grant all requests. Far too often, this is a common assumption although not usually spoken aloud.

Consider the djinn. To obtain wishes – be it three or unlimited – one must first locate the djinn bottle or lamp. Then, one is obliged to polish or rub the lamp in order to summon the djinn. In a rather far-stretched analogy, in order to obtain some favor from God, one must first establish a relationship with Him. There’s no point in asking much of anyone unless one has open lines of communication, some sort of relationship.

A standard bit of Christian doctrine is the only prayer a non-believer can submit that will be heard and answered is that of a request for forgiveness of sins. This action includes and cannot be made without a request to God to ‘fix’ one’s life. So an opening prayer without prior communication to win the lottery is probably not going to be answered affirmatively.

In short, nonbelievers should not expect anything material from God; other than what God provides to the world at large. Forgive me if this seems rather curt and dismissive, but that’s how it works. One wouldn’t expect a gift of several thousand dollars from George Soros (who has it to give, by all accounts) without at least being on speaking terms with him. Get real.

In my observation, God gives three answers to any given prayer.

1. “Yes.”

2. “No.”

3. “Stand by, I’ve got a better idea.”

The third answer is the most common. When Christians ask The Lord for something – either knowledge or merchandise – and honestly want an answer, God is most willing to assist.

One should be aware of asking for silly things. Even if one is serious in asking for, say, attached, bird-like wings powered by one’s own muscles; humans do not as a rule have wings. All manner of ‘super powers’ can be safely included in this consideration. Also, consider that if The Lord should grant such powers, He may expect one to use those powers appropriately. Being Batman might become a burden.

As long as I’m on the subject of silliness, I’ll include this idea. Don’t expect God to cover for sloth, negligence or carelessness. A student who has ignored all lectures, homework and studying for the entire course of a class. Praying for a ‘good grade’ is not a good idea. There are all manner of ‘problems’ which are caused by human misconduct for which one cannot reasonably expect God to cover. Driving into a tree by neglect, for instance; then expecting God to fix the damage to the car. Getting liquored up stupid and then expecting God to cure the hangover. Sow wild oats all week and then pray for crop failure.
Or worse. You pick.

As I mentioned in the previous installment, prayer is a two-way communication. Not only that, but as one’s prayer life develops, one understands more of what God expects and desires. So our prayers as Christians become part of the effort to grow in knowledge of God and to serve His will and kingdom. One doesn’t ask a ‘friend’ for a favor which revolts the friend’s sensibilities or morals. One cannot seriously ask God to perform – or fail to perform – an action in total disregard of God’s nature.

Usually, when God answers “No”, there is an obvious explanation – as above – or a specific explanation. God does not, even in ‘normal’ life encourage sloth, covetousness or lack of motivation. Winning the lottery will not – by God’s design – take the place of work and thrift. Or just planning ahead.

The most common answer to prayer is “I’ve got a better idea”. Usually, when Christians pray they have thought through the perceived problem and offer their own solution for God’s action. When The Lord agrees that a problem exists, He already has a plan. Prayer will allow a Christian to understand, agree with and submit to The Lord’s will in the matter. That is part of the feed back God gives us through prayer. This qualifies as a “Yes” answer, but usually in a manner other than one thought. Which is good, when thinking about it.

This also covers things like ‘world peace’, ‘hunger’ and ‘violence’. God has already given humanity the knowledge and instructions to take care of all those issues. The problem is humans tend to ignore God and do what suits them – and usually just for the moment. God chooses not to ‘fix’ everything right now. That would entail changing everyone and they way everyone thinks against their will. That doesn’t seem to be way God operates. He wants humanity to willingly accept Him, and follow the already disclosed directions. Then all those horrid things in world history will end.

Learning to pray as a mature Christian is a learned task. And like most learned tasks, or skills, it requires practice and paying attention to why it didn’t go as one expected – the first time.

One more item. Nearly every Christian has prayed for God to reveal His will to them. He will, but only when the Christian is already doing what God wants them to be doing now. If one refuses to follow God in the simple things, He isn’t likely to trust one in the advanced things.

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