Waiting in expectation:
How to pray with power
Dr. Jim Denison
Prayer and Psalm 5
If God knows what we are going to ask, why ask? If he already knows what he is going to do, why pray? If my prayer causes God to do some good thing he was not going to do until I prayed, what does this say about the character of God? Why does he sometimes heal when we pray and sometimes not? Why pray?
The first answer to the question is the one children don’t like to hear: because our Father says so. Because Scripture tells us to pray.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was explicit: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). Ask, seek, knock–each is an imperative, not a suggestion. Each is God’s demand of us.
A second reason to pray: time with God changes us. When we are in the presence of God, his Spirit transforms us. Prayer is the way the Carpenter shapes and molds the wood of our lives. He must touch us to change us. In prayer we do not talk about him, but to him. We do not study him, we are with him. And then our time in prayer makes us more like his Son, which is his purpose for our lives (Romans 8:29).
Frederick Buechner said that we are to pray continually “not, one assumes, because you have to beat a path to God’s door before he’ll open it, but because until you beat the path maybe there’s no way of getting to your door.”
Blaise Pascal believed that “All the troubles of life come upon us because we refuse to sit quietly for a while each day in our rooms.” Gordon MacDonald adds: “I have begun to see that worship and intercession are far more the business of aligning myself with God’s purposes than asking him to align with mine.”
Oswald Chambers taught, “Prayer is the way the life of God is nourished. We look upon prayer as a means of getting things for ourselves; the Bible’s idea of prayer is that we may get to know God himself.”
We pray because God tells us to. Why does he want us to pray? Because then he can shape and mold us, preparing us for eternity and using us on earth. Prayer is the hand of God on our souls.
A third reason: prayer positions us to receive what God’s grace wants to give. You could not read these words unless you were close enough to your computer or page to be able to see them. Sitting in front of your computer screen does not mean that you deserve these words, good or bad. Just that you can receive them.
In the same way, there is much God wants to give us but cannot until we are willing to receive his grace. We have not because we ask not (James 4:2). He wanted to guide me in writing this essay, but could not speak effectively to me unless I was ready to listen. He wants to guide you through the rest of this day, but cannot unless you are willing to follow. Time in prayer connects your Spirit with his, so you can hear his voice and follow his will.
A fourth reason: because our Father always hears us. Jesus promised: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened. No exceptions. God has an “open door” policy with the universe. Billions of people pray in thousands of languages, all at the same time, and God hears each one. You included.
Jesus followed his promise with a parable (vs. 9-11). Stones along the Sea of Galilee were small limestone balls, in appearance much like the bread of the day. Fish-like snakes grew in the Sea; they were without scales and thus forbidden to the Jews as food (Leviticus 11:12). Now, if you were a father in those days and your hungry child asked for bread, would you trick him with a stone? If he asked for a fish, would you give him a snake? Of course not. And compared to God, we are “evil.” Our perfect Father who is love always hears us. This is the promise of God.
When we pray
“Hearing” and “answering” may not be the same thing. We often say that God hasn’t heard our prayers if he has not yet granted our request in the way we asked it. But a father hears the child’s request which he must refuse just as he hears the request he can grant.
Here’s a one-sentence theology of prayer: when we pray, God always gives us what we ask for or something better. He always hears us, and always grants our request in the way that is for his glory and our good. He is not capricious, arbitrary, or deaf. He is a Father who is excited every time one of his children calls him. Every time.
The Greeks told a story about Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, who fell in love with Tithonus a mortal youth. Zeus offered her any gift she might choose for her mortal lover. She naturally chose that Tithonus might live forever; but she had forgotten to ask that he might remain forever young. And so Tithonus grew older and older and older, and could never die, and the gift became a curse.
Our Father is no Zeus. He loves us so much he watched his Son die in our place, on our cross, for our sins. Do you know anyone who loves you enough to send their child to die for you? One did.
There are times when God does not grant what we ask, or when we ask it. Why?
The simple fact is that a loving Father cannot give us everything we ask in the way we ask for it. A farmer prays for rain; a baseball fan prays for sunshine that same day, for that same county. Both sides prayed for victory in the Civil War.