Millions of Christians pray daily and nothing seems to change in their lives. Yet Jesus said in John 14:13 “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” Are we asking the wrong things in our prayers and not praying in the right way?
This writing aims to cover two points. What are you asking for in your prayers and how are you praying. Answering these two questions may help to shed light on the above-mentioned dilemma.
Even more, Our Lord Jesus said those who believe in Him will do things even greater than what he himself did during his earthly life. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father,” He said in John 14:12.
Tens of millions of Christians (if not more) go to church every Sunday. They pray and take communion. Many of these people even pray daily, but nothing seems to change. The life remains the same, and we seem hopeless against all types of diseases, illnesses, and the fear of the unknown.
What are we asking for in our prayers?
Imagine a recovering alcoholic. My friend Susanna relayed this story. When she was a young mom out walking her daughter in a stroller she walked in to an upscale restaurant to inquire when it would open and apply for a job. When the owners said they were opening that night she was shocked because the place looked like war zone. Obviously they needed help. She rolled up her sleeves and started unpacking glassware, washing, cleaning, sweeping, and putting the place in order. She worked all day alongside the owners, while her child to slept in her stroller. Offering an extra set of hands allowed them to be ready for their Grand Opening.
As she started to leave, the owners, Linda and Bud, offered to pay her, but instead she said, “I tell you what. I don’t want you to pay me anything for today. I was actually out looking for a job and I would like to come back tonight for your Grand Opening. If you like my work, I would like a job, and if you don’t, then you don’t owe me anything. Fair enough?”
That nigh she returned, dressed in an elegant skirt and silk shirt, hair and make-up done. Susanna walked up to Linda and cheerfully said, “What can I do to help?”
Linda didn’t even recognize her and asked, “Who are you?”
“I was here today with my daughter,” said Susanna, “helping you clean and get ready for tonight.” As recognition spread across Linda’s face, she said, “Wow, you clean up really good.”
It was a busy opening and having had experience in college hostessing, waiting tables, and bartending, it came naturally to Susanna. At the end of the night she had the job.
That night she met the bar manager Eddie and the general manager Susan. In the coming weeks she learned that Susan was working on her degree in landscape design and had no previous experience. She was like a fish out of water. Eddie, on the other hand, had been in the industry his entire life, but, was a recovering alcoholic.
Susanna began taking multiple roles in helping run the business and seemed more suited for a general manager position because of her past experience in the industry. Unfortunately, Eddie began to drink again which affected his work. Susan wasn’t happy or a very effective manager, so, within a month, the owners offered Susanna the job of general manager. Eddie continued to bartend but didn’t have the stress of managing and Susan didn’t have to focus on running someone else’s business and could concentrate on school.
I give you this example and would like to ask a question about answering one’s prayers. Eddie had needed a job, but was getting a stressful job as a bar manager the answer he needed, given his desire to stop drinking? After all, he did fall off the wagon. If you were God, would you answer that prayer positively?
What about the owners? Linda and Bud had known Susan for a long time. She was Linda’s best friend. But was she the answer to their prayer? Probably not. Hiring her best friend, who had no idea how to run a bar, not only put a strain on their friendship, but not having someone with experience almost guaranteed failure for both. Linda and Bud had started a new business without any experience either. They spent a large part of their inheritance remodeling a building they didn’t own and jumped head first into an endeavor they probably weren’t well suited for because they thought it would be fun. When the “new” rubbed off and it was clean running a restaurant and night club was not only risky it was hard work, their solution was to take a cruise.
Had it not been for Susanna telling them shutting down and also leaving their employees without and income for a week or two was a bad idea, they would have been exactly what they would have done.
Now, consider Susanna. Was getting an opportunity to work, even as a manager the right answer? As it turned out, no. Not that she was shy of hard work, but the job required long hours, late nights and it began to put a strain on her marriage. While she did get the ball rolling and helped Bud and Linda find a replacement for her, she chose family over opportunity.
By the way, the restaurant failed within a year.
Do we really know what is good for us and what is not good for us? If you consider the question from our earthly life’s point of view, you probably think we do, but if you consider the question from the point of view of the Eternal Life most people don’t.
God looks at what is good for us from the point of view of eternity not from the point of view of the temporary earthly life. However, he did give us free will. We can make choices and sometimes they are not what is best. Therefore, it is important for those who wish to be closer to God and make the right choices to pray for wisdom and guidance.
What happened to our cast of characters? Eddie left the bar business and went back to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Susan finished her degree and started her own landscaping business and remains friends with Linda and Bud. Susanna chose to go back to school for a nursing degree. Bud and Linda closed the bar. Bud returned to driving a truck and his sister began a business hand painting furniture that was featured in design magazines and creating books on tole painting which are still sold to this day.
How can we know what is good and what is really not good for us? We may start to really understand these things if we seek the Eternal life first and His rigorousness. Then the rest of the things that we need in this world will be given to us in excess, Jesus says in Matt. 6:33 and makes one thing clear if you read Matt. 6:31-33 in reverse order: we will eventually lose food, drink, clothing and all things that you call earthly prosperity if we don’t see His Kingdom and righteousness first.
The point is: we don’t really know what is good and what is bad for us. Putting things in the right perspective, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Rom. 8:28. Therefore, how do you know from the eternal life’s point of view if health or sickness is good for you? Maybe illness prevents you from doing something really, really bad, which could destroy your entire life. Maybe sickness prevents you from taking pride in your earthly possessions and thus aims you to humble yourself and put your life in the correct perspective? The point is no one knows what is good and what is not really good for them from the point of view of accessing Eternal Life.
Only God knows the answer to this question of what is best for us. We learn from Romans 8:28 that all things work for good for us if we follow His purpose and remain in His love. Therefore, what do we ask in prayer? Of course, The Lord’s Prayer, which our Lord Jesus Christ taught us includes everything we need and we should pray it daily. Yet, there is another beautiful word we hear a lot during our worship services, which early Christian fathers have successfully incorporated in a short prayer called Jesus Prayer. The word is “mercy.”
The only thing we can really ask God humbly in our prayer and show that we fully trust Him is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.” (The Jesus Prayer) When you repeatedly say this prayer from your heart with attention, you basically say the following. Lord Jesus Christ, I really don’t know what is really good and what is bad for me. You know, and I fully trust You and love You. Therefore, the only thing I ask is Your mercy and Your will.
How are we praying?
You may have noticed that during prayers your mind wonders around. Sometimes we can go around the world twice – figuratively speaking – in a 2-minute long prayer. Our mind is not fully focused on a prayer.
Imagine this. You stand in front of your boss and present a report, but your mind is wandering elsewhere. You just say words that you are used to and are not really present in the moment. Your boss is trying to tell you something for your own good and you are not listening because your mind is not focused. Is this acceptable? If it is not, then how is this type of behavior acceptable toward God?
Many times we merely recite prayers, but our mind is not fully focused. Church fathers say that prayers are not supposed to be repetitive activity. For example, try to pray the Jesus Prayer, 10-20 times and reflect afterward how many times your mind loses its focus.
Rather, prayer is the place where we focus all our attention on God. It is like a conversation and if we listen closely God will, in his time, give us an answer, but, we can only do this if you ask for his help.
Is God pleased when we pray to Him without focus and ask things that may not be good for us? Would you give your children things that you know are not good for them, just because they ask for them constantly? Would you really be happy giving your children things they ask for, just for the sake of asking, but their mind is not with you, their attention is not with you when they are talking to you?
You see how it works friends? Let’s contemplate on these things. Our Parent wants a healthy and loving relationship, the same we want from our children, not a give and take trade.
This article is an excerpt from my book HOW TO LIVE A LIFE WITHOUT DOUBLE STANDARDS: 16 Questions About Spiritual Life in the 21st Century.