There is a problem with prayer. One that is almost never acknowledged.
I am talking about the prayer of a Christian to the Lord God, the God of the bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And that problem is unanswered prayers.
If my life experience, and that of my closest friends in the Church, is anything to go by then the vast majority of prayer given up to God is not answered. Whether that is prayer for a little or a lot, for a very small thing or a major life impacting situation, the prayer seems ineffective.
We hear a lot in church of the “prayer needs” of our brethren, some churches have prayer requests and even put them on screen. They represent the whole gambit of human experience from getting a job and a fine day for a wedding to terminal illness or imminent bankruptcy. But one rarely hears of the prayer being answered. Granted, sometimes one does, but more often than not, the outcome as an “answer to prayer” is pretty wimpish indeed. Like God couldn’t do better than that! Like the case where someone is really joyful about getting the perfect job in answer to prayer and six months later you ask them how the work is going to find that they left after a month because it turned out not so good. Does God make mistakes? Don’t think so! So was that really an answer to prayer?
I have been on my knees many times, as have others, with tough life situations to deal with. The business that needs a breakthrough, the funds that need to come in, the healing that needs to happen, but I have to say that I have never had a single one of those prayers answered, or if it was it was in a form I didn’t recognise as an answer. Fortunately I have never had a serious life threatening injury or illness, but I have been sick and hurt. I have founded businesses which later floundered for lack of clients, funds, support, something! I had wanted to be more than I am and put my heart and soul into things only to see my dreams as a heap of ashes.
I have prayed. Earnestly and hesitantly. I have been on the beach in the dawns light ripping my heart out to God. But no answer.
Now, Leaving aside unanswered prayer because what we are praying for is improper or immoral, why do most prayers go unanswered?
Some say that no answer is an answer, but I would have thought, in my limited understanding, that a father would at least come through on the odd occasion, if only to boost his sons confidence. To let him know that everything is alright and that Dad is taking care of him. Just as with our own children we sometimes give them a boost to help them along the way.
Is the norm no answers? Are we left to fight our way through this life as best we can without any real help, only hope? It seems that way.
But Jesus tells us to pray! Surely he would not do that if prayer did not work!
He even says that the prayer will be answered with a certainty. All the more that very emphatic statement destroys the faith of many. After years of unanswered prayer one hardly bothers any more, it just doesn’t seem worth it! Yet one hears the stories of miraculous provision, always second hand mind you, and so one hopes again. WHY?
We know that hope deferred makes the heart sick, and it does, terribly sick, so why does God defer everything? We know that a desire fulfilled is a tree of life so why don’t we get life!
Why do we continue to hope?
We all want something outside ourselves pushing, lifting, carrying us through life. Someone else to take the strain which we think we cannot bear alone. Somehow our psyche does not allow us to face the world without putting up our hand for help, to an unseen God who does not answer?
And it does not seem to make a difference by being a Christian. For some people life just seems to heap benefits upon them. The ungodly and the wicked seem to prosper more than God’s people, in spite of the Christians prayer and fasting. So why?
Was God joking when he wrote “pray believing that you have and it will be so”?
Or do we find the answer in ourselves?
One has to admit that in spite of the unanswered prayer, in spite of the hardship and loss, that we are all still here. That thing which seemed so hopeless and we prayed so hard for but didn’t happen, did not destroy us in the end. That, in the midst of our pain we go to sleep and awake the next morning still breathing, still in pain but alive. In that we are no better off than those who believe in Martians.
So, what is happening here. Why do Christians all (or should I say most) experience this problem with prayer.
What if being answered would have hurt us more than it helped? Sure we see the answer as being totally helpful and are at a loss to explain why something sooooo beneficial to us, our life, health, happiness, ability to serve God, was not instantly and willingly granted. What if in the granting, the problem still remained. Externally it would have been solved, we got the job, won the prize, healed of the sickness, received the funds, but internally the canker still remained to blight us another day.
What if the whole calamity of our position is to bring us to a point where something else, other than the circumstance has to change? Been said before by others I know, but what if the situation was of our own making anyway?
What if God won’t answer prayer because to do so won’t fundamentally change the problem, which is YOU!
What if God won’t bring you to the place of achievement of your dreams because you are still an old wineskin? But what about all the others in this world, bad people, who achieve their dreams with ease. Well, they are not burdened with faith and hope. They think the universe is callous and benefits those that bend it to their will. The godless in their apparent successes have a total belief in self, often lacking amongst Christians. Somehow our own belief system works against us, we live in perpetual hope without attaining and then brush it off with an ‘Oh well, God knows best’. As to the wealthy wicked, I think that God does not give a rip about their success. Let them have it! Because without Jesus it’s all they’ve got. But you! You’re different.
But I don’t want to be different I just want my prayers answered!
Well what if you are the answer to your own prayers anyway?
There are a couple of indicators in the bible to this position, but I have never seen or heard it talked about in Christian circles. I am reminded of verses like “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he”, and “whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive”. (Note: I am a KJV man for the absolute simplicity, purity and truth of the KJV).
What is this “believing”? And why does Jesus use “shall” which is a definite?
Has today’s understanding of the word “belief” watered down the effect of this verse? It seems so to me. Whenever I hear phrases like “I’m really believing for…” or “We are praying in faith for….” Or, “I am going to believe for…..”; I wonder if they really do “believe”! In most cases that can be re-stated as “I am really trying to have enough faith, belief, hope, that it really will happen but I sort of doubt it somehow”. It has connotations of possibility, not certainty. It’s not “shall”!
Our minds relate the word belief with something that is possible but not certain. It like a market analyst saying “ I believe share prices will increase”. Will they? Possibly but probably not. How does he know, it’s speculation, but that is the context of the word ‘believe’ today. It’s a maybe!
If I read that verse correctly, referring to the Greek, the word “believing” has a totally different meaning. It means ‘trust’, ‘confidence’, ‘certainty’. Coupled with “shall” it has the absolute of being. Existing now!
This is a bit like getting up in the dark of night to get a drink of water. In the familiarity of your own home you don’t switch the light on, you open the bedroom door and step out in the belief that the floor is still there. That your bedroom hasn’t quantum shifted somewhere else in the universe and outside your bedroom door is nothing but space which is falling into a black hole!
No, in this we don’t believe. We KNOW! We don’t even consider the possibility of nothing outside the door, we just open it and walk out into the darkness.
And that I believe is the context of that verse, rewritten it should read “pray knowing with a certainty that you have it and it will be so”.
This is the beauty of a child like mind. Children don’t analyse, Tell them the moon is made of cheese and they will go wide eyed and say “wow!”. They come and tell you of something that is not physically present yet, with a certainty of it being so. That is “knowing” and that is why we must approach the Kingdom of Heaven with a child like mind.
But is there something more to it than that?
Yes, I think there is.
And I think that thing is ME!
When I was thirty and looked at my life I was not where I expected to be when I thought about my future at twenty. And when I was forty it was not what I wanted at thirty, then when I was fifty it was not what I was aiming for at forty, and now I am sixty this is not the life I imagined at fifty. And I have to tell you at every step I prayed, oh yes, many hours of prayer….. unanswered.
So what happened. Well…… Maybe…… I did.
You see there is more to prayer than just praying. It is a state of mind that in most of us deteriorates from the moment we discover that the moon is not in fact made of cheese and Santa Claus is actually Dad. Once we are out of the innocence of childhood, and that can be lost while still a child, we accumulate so much rubbish that our thoughts are not really our own. Our minds are full of the fears and limitations we have placed upon ourselves and our lives become simply the playing out of the way we have programmed ourselves, or allowed ourselves to be programmed by others.
“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he!”
We get the life we have by default. In spite of the dreams and imaginations we have. Regardless of the amount of prayer we put into it. The prayer is ineffective if we are incapable of receiving that which we pray for. Incapable because in our hearts, in the subconscious mind, we actually don’t believe it!
Do you know what God did when he created us?
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:”
He made a creative being!
How does God create? First he thinks it, then he speaks it, then it is.
That means that thoughts are creative. So if we do not have the life we thought we would have it is because we are not thinking, consciously and subconsciously in line with the life we want. The thoughts of our hearts are not taking us there, they are giving us the life we have by default, not design.
How do people move forward in life successfully, by whatever measure of success is relevant to them?
The simplest example is the Olympic athlete. If you asked any one of them as they are receiving the gold medal did they believe they could win? They would all say no, they knew they would win! They saw it in their mind until it was a certainty and when they affirmed this to themselves (or prayed) saying “I won gold today” they did it with a knowledge that it would be so.
But can our subconscious thoughts really have such an effect on our lives? You may say that I never thought into being the loss of my job, my poor health, the problems that I have, the terrible way I am treated. But the life experience of others, backed up by scientific and social research would say otherwise.
When you ask the rich and famous, the great and successful you will find a common thread to achievement. Napoleon Hill stated it succinctly.
“what a man can conceive and believe he can achieve”.
I would rewrite that as “what a man can conceive and know with a certainty is! he can achieve”.
Remember: “As a man thinks in his heart so is he”
Most self-improvement books mention the power of thoughts in shaping our lives, but the documentary “What The Bleep Do We Know” took that a stage further. According to them, thoughts have the power to affect the universe we live in and consequently our lives. That documentary did receive some unflattering reviews and a couple of the scientist features did say they their views had been misrepresented. Even so, it presents powerful possibilities for the position that our thoughts create our lives. And the Bible supports that view.
In effect this means that everything in our lives today was created by us and there is no one to blame but ourselves for the way our life is now.
“Never!” you may say, “I did not deliberately create the problems I am now suffering from!”.
Perhaps not intentionally, but create it you did!
Medical advances in alternative theory suggest that even our illnesses are the result of the state of our minds and how we react to trauma. Studies into the circumstance of breast cancer have found that a year or two preceding the discovery of breast cancer, a woman has often suffered a psychological or emotional trauma that struck at the heart of her motherhood. Also, emotional trauma can be seen in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRIs) of the brain, and the location of the trauma in the brain is related to a physical illness in the part of the body that part of the brain refers to. (see “Why Am I Sick” by Richard Flook)
Again the bible support this when it talks about holding offences or grudges against people, or unforgiveness.
It also states that our prayers can be hindered in many ways, such as holding unforgiveness “Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift”. So prayer may be unanswered because of our state of mind.
Why forgive? This has nothing to do with the other person, but everything to do with you!
If your life is determined by the way you think, and you’re thinking is corrupted by retained offences, jealousy, grudges, prejudices, or personal perceptions such as lack of self-worth, lack of self-confidence, a mind-set that the way your life is, with all its troubles, is just the way things are; then you will get the life you don’t want and your prayers will remain, unanswered.
Does this mean that prayer is worthless? By no means!
What it does mean is that in praying for your life, if a prayer is unanswered, then I think that is an indicator of several things.
First: You don’t really KNOW with a certainty that what you are praying for will come to pass.
Second You have retained an offence or hold a belief that is limiting you in this area.
Third You don’t actually know why you are here and what you want out of this life.
Fourth That you must take responsibility for the problem you are praying about. After all, you created it in the first place.
So, what to do?
The first and most important thing is not to beat yourself up over it (you are already forgiven if you have accepted Jesus as Lord).
Accept that you are responsible for your own life and dispassionately look at the prayer and the problem.
“What could there be in me that prevents God’s answer to this prayer?”
“What do I feel about the situation, is there some long held belief that I need to get rid of, or am I holding some kind of offence.”
An answer will come, perhaps not immediately, but in time a thought will come to you about this. When it does don’t judge it, look at it, examine it objectively as if it is not you that you are looking at. Note how you are feeling about it as you think about it, what emotions does it bring to the fore?
When something is revealed, accept it, acknowledge that this opinion, belief, emotion or offence was part of who you were then release it. The act of observing is, as the bible says, shining a light on darkness, and that will remove the power of the issue over you.
There are many ways and techniques that can be used to restore your mind, but until you do, then it is impossible for you to walk in the creative power that God gave you, and as a result, have the life that you were designed for, no matter how much you pray for it!
May all Israel, Honour YHVH.