COLUMN: Does God really answer prayer?

“Does God answer prayer?” I asked. 

“Of course! Yes! Always!” People usually answer.

“Then, why don’t we pray more frequently?” 

After a long silence, there are the excuses: 

“I’m busy! God’s busy! I don’t know what to say! I’m not worthy! I don’t know how!” Our reasons may sound different, but our predicament is the same. We do not fully appreciate the importance and power of prayer. Prayer should be as critical and functional as the steering wheel on your car. Yet, for most, prayer is more like a spare tire, seldom used until something goes flat. 

Our church is spending 30 days in prayer and discernment over our future. But even as we pray there are questions: How can we know God answers our prayers? Is God listening? How can I tell? Even after years of church attendance and reading the Bible many people still have basic questions when it comes to prayer. 

The writers of Psalms asked and answered similar questions. “I will tell you what he did for me. For I cried out for help, praising as I spoke. If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer. Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer or withdraw his unfailing love from me.” – Psalm 66:17-20

“I cried out for help. I confessed my sin. God listened. He paid attention. He did not ignore my prayer or withdraw his unfailing love. Praise God.”

Prayer should be more about strengthening your relationship with God as much as presenting a wish list. But any good relationship needs commitment and a willingness to invest time; lots of time. Suppose you told your spouse or best friend the reason you can’t spend more time with them is:

“I’m busy! You’re busy! I don’t know what to say! I’m not worthy! I don’t know how?” 

Sound familiar? What kind of relationship is that? 

Psalm 25 promises: “No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others. Show me the right path, O lord; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me.” – Psalm 25:3-4 

In other words, if we approach God with an attitude of trust, with no attempt to deceive then the God who loves us will never disgrace us. “The lord is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray. He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way. The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey.” (25:8-10)

Prayer is about seeking a deeper relationship with God so “making time” and figuring “how much time” are decisions all of us wrestle with. What’s important is to keep trying. Having “messed up” many times myself, it is good to know that God will never abandon me or you. 

Paul wrote to a church answering their questions on prayer: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and mind as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Don’t worry; pray. Tell God and thank him. Experience God’s peace to guard your hearts.

During this time of prayer and discernment we want answers and have a hard time even understanding peace much less experiencing peace. We worry rather than trust. We complain rather than thank. We make excuses rather than confess which ultimately solves nothing and often causes emotional, physical and spiritual harm. 

No wonder, so many people are struggling with their faith, staying away from churches and even questioning their belief in God.

In other words, we need to know more, practice more and trust more in God and how we communicate with God through prayer.

Even in the Bible, people struggled with prayer: “O God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety, for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me. Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings!” — Psalm 61:1-4

Prayer means giving your worries to God, who in return promises answers and a supernatural peace: a peace far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. We desperately need answers and peace during these uncertain times when our church, our community, our country and our world wrestles with so many critical, controversial and divisive issues.

Could it really be as simple as that? Yes, it can but you must make a commitment to pray regularly.

Here is a basic formula I found helpful:

Praise: Praise sets the tone and reminds you who God really is. Try looking at some of the Psalms and reading them out loud to get you started: Psalm 8, 19 & 148.

Confession: A good relationship depends upon honesty. No sane doctor would offer a cure without hearing what hurts. Admitting your faults promotes spiritual healing. 

Listen: It is easier to talk than to listen, but quiet times are often where you find direction. Listening allows God to speak to your soul.

Ask for Help: This becomes more meaningful when you take time to praise, confess and listen. This is when you literally learn to stop worrying and start praying.

Thanks. Sometimes this step will not be easy but giving thanks recognizes that God is looking out for you and has your best interest at heart. You are saying, “I trust you.” 

Keep a Prayer Journal: The journal is where disappointments, struggles, joys and miracles are recorded and remembered.

“Does God answer our prayers?” Yes, but are we doing our part?

Two people with similar difficulties begin to pray. One expects immediate results and finishes frustrated and confused. Months later, the problem and the prayer is forgotten. Another prays looking to spend a few quiet moments with a trusted friend and completes her prayer feeling content and at peace. Over the next few months while recording her thoughts in a journal, she notices progress with the problem itself and especially in her ability to cope. She thanks God.

Rev. Larry E. Davies can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.

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