Do you feel that all of your prayers are answered? Jesus said, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22). But if we feel our prayers are not answered, we may develop serious doubts about our faith. Let’s look at some reasons why prayers do not seem to be answered.
One reason is that mechanical prayers are not answered. These prayers are just words. You know in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where Hamlet is about to kill the king, but he cannot do it while the king is praying? Hamlet is afraid that if he kills the king during prayer, the king would go straight to heaven. Then you find that the king is saying, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” So he wasn’t really praying at all.
There are prayers that are just words, like a mumbling prayer when we don’t really know what we are praying about. Often we are like the child who goes to the parent and hems and haws, standing on one foot, then the other, until finally the parent asks, “What do you want?” The child does not know, so the parent says, “Come back when you know.” Until you are clear on the intent of your prayer, how can you expect an answer?
Another barrier to prayer being answered is conflict—a lack of correspondence between our prayer and our actions, like when a person prays for good health but does things that are unhealthy. If you are serious about your prayer, show it with your actions and not only with your prayers. The old saying, “Actions speak louder than words,” applies to prayer as well.
I remember a time when I had trouble with a frozen shoulder, and I was conscious that I was not praying about it. Finally, I thought perhaps I ought to pray about it. When I did, it became clear to me that I could not just say, “Well, I prayed about it and I don’t need to do anything else.” I needed to take action.
Part of my difficulty was that I did not know what the appropriate action was. In the end, I was led to a solution that worked, but I had avoided praying about it because I did not want to do what prayer might have told me to do.
You know the saying, “Be careful what you pray for, because you might get it”? Well, there is also a saying, “Be careful what you pray for, because you might get an answer you don’t want to hear.”
Ill will is another barrier to prayers being answered. Psalm 66 says, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” And in the New Testament: “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 23,24). Don’t make the offering until you are reconciled, and then you can offer your prayer out of a clear heart with good will.
There are some prayers that we don’t realize have an element of ill will. Have you ever prayed that you would win the lottery? Would that imply that someone else should not win the lottery? Or consider the person who hears fire sirens and prays, “Dear God, don’t let it be my house!” Does that mean it should be the neighbor’s house? I guess we could pray for a false alarm. But there are times that we pray for a personal outcome that, if it were realized, would hurt someone else. Such prayers are not heard.
For this task, we want to focus particularly on prayers that are too external or too short-term, where we ask on a different level than the Lord answers. This can apply to prayer for ourselves as well as to prayer for others.
Here’s an example. I know someone who prayed for a certain car. I think it was a red Buick. He got this car but it was a lemon. The problem was that his prayer was too external.
Here’s a more challenging one. Imagine you have a friend in the hospital. Do you pray for your friend to become well? Suppose it is 108 The Joy of Spiritual Living that person’s time to die? Do you really want your prayer to override the appropriate next step in your friend’s life?
So if you pray for yourself or for others on too external a level, as if you know what is best, then you are going to dislike the answer. Or you would not want the prayer to be answered.
The Bible teaches that when you pray, you should go into your closet. Guess where the closet is. It’s upstairs, on the highest level of your spiritual house. Get as high in your house as you can when you pray. Then see what happens to your prayers.
Think on as deep a level as you can about your prayer, and see if that changes the feeling of the prayer. What are you really praying about? What do you truly expect out of the prayer?
When doing this task, I found myself praying about the expansion of our church facilities. What happens when you pray from a high level about something like that? I couldn’t pray that we get our new building within a year, because maybe that’s the wrong timing. Or that it be a certain size—maybe that’s wrong for our future needs. When I sent my prayer to a higher level, the prayer changed; instead of praying for a specific outcome, I could pray, “Whatever happens, let us approach this in a way that is in the spirit of your kingdom.” Because maybe we get what we pray for, but everybody gets so mad at each other that the whole thing falls apart anyway.
Lift your prayer to a high level and you find that the nature of your prayer changes. The power of prayer grows when you raise your awareness as close as possible to your Higher Power, so that your prayer is in that spirit.
Here is the amazing thing: prayer really comes into us from above. Often we think prayer comes from outside, from circumstances, but it’s the prayer that comes into our hearts from our Higher Power that is really answered. But first you have to rise to a high enough level to see what that prayer is.
What is the essence of the thing we pray for? It is hard to let go of your own external will, which is accustomed to demanding its own way. It can be like a difficult negotiation. It’s hard to let go of your will and say to your Higher Power, “It is your divine will that counts.”
Task 20 ~ When you are praying:
Remember that you are a spiritual being.
Pray for enlightenment to see the situation spiritually.
Ask for the strength and ability to make changes and do whatever your Higher Power leads you to see.