Background Text: James 4:1-3

Devotional Text: Matthew 6:8

Sometimes I think about all the people throughout the world who offer up prayers to God. It's mind-boggling to think that our God does hear our prayers, and since he is a God who knows everything, he knows what is right and wrong for us. God knows each of us individually. God always knows what is best for us.

So, let's look at what the Bible says about how God answers our prayers.

First of all, when we pray to God, we must believe he exists; we must have faith in him.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us, "And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

In this Scripture, we find that to hear from God, we must believe in him. Not only that, but through faith, we need to be earnestly (with all our heart and mind) seeking God. Those who pray, not knowing God, will come to understand that there is no magical formula in prayer. We cannot make God do what we want. If that were true, he wouldn't be God.

Matthew 6:7 says to us, "When you pray, don't be like the people who do not know God. They say the same things over and over. They think if they say it enough, God will hear them."

In the above Scripture, Jesus was not saying that we shouldn't be persistent in prayer. Luke 18:1 leads into a parable about not giving up on prayer, saying "to always pray and not give up."

While the Matthew verses are directed toward those who do not know God and yet use endless long-winded orations to God thinking their words will get results, it is the true believer, who knows God and has faith in him, who should not give up on prayer. It's not fancy or endless words that receive results. It is in the honest trusting that God does hear us and will in his time show us his answer.

Even as Christians, we find books that are not the Bible that tell us if we can just say the right prayers, or pray the right Scriptures, God will give us what we want.

Don't get me wrong here, I am not saying we shouldn't use Scripture in our praying; we use it every time we say the Lord's Prayer. Also, many of the Psalms of David can fit our particular circumstances, and when we don't know how to pray, praying the Psalms can be very helpful.

What I am saying about praying Scripture is this: Although the Scriptures certainly can help us pray, there is no one prayer found in Scripture that will guarantee God will do what we ask of him.

It's important to note that in both Isaiah 25:1 and in Romans 9:14-15, the Scriptures tell us that God does what he says he will do, and that his answer to our prayers coincides with what he planned for us long ago. The Romans Scripture (also found in Exodus 33:19) refers to what God said to Moses: "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."

We often simply say, "God will do what God will do." For there is great mystery in God. We can think of him as a friend, or a father figure, or even as the mighty and glorious God that he is. God is all these to us, and he is so much more.

Not one of us, no, not one, can truly know the mind of God. It is for us to truly believe in him, knowing he is a God of mercy and compassion, and he is a God who does what he says he will do.

Let's go back to why, when we are faithful and trusting in God, we don't always receive answers to our prayers.

The truth is, God always answers our prayers. Sometimes his answer is "no," sometimes it's "wait," and sometimes it’s "yes." Whatever God gives as an answer we can always be assured that it is the right answer for us. For who knows us better than God?

What are We Praying For?

When waiting for God to answer our prayer, we can take some time to ask ourselves about our own desires as we pray. Take for instance the words found in James 4:1-3.

In these verses, James is speaking to Christian believers: "What causes fights and quarrels amongst you? Don't they come from your desires that battle from within you? You desire, but you do not have, so you kill. You covet but can't get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You have not, because you ask not. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your own pleasures."

This battle within us over things we want, things we desire as opposed to what we actually need, is ongoing for some people. God tells us that he places true desires within our hearts.

In this way, he gladly gives answers to our prayers because we are seeking God's will and not our own.

God isn't in the business of enhancing one's ego, or giving something that will be harmful to us or to others. Remember Hebrews 11:6; as we have faith in God, seeking his way, he loves to reward us; and from Matthew 6:8, God knows our needs even before we ask him.

When we read specific verses of Scripture, we discover what God expects from us as we pray. For instance, in the Lord's Prayer, found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4, we are given words to worship our God, to expect he will give to us the basics of life, and to know that we should forgive other people, just as God has forgiven us.

Our basic prayer to God welcomes his greatness and majesty, tells us God will answer our needs, and reminds us to be forgiving people, as we, ourselves, confess our sins to God, who forgives us.

Next week, we will continue this series on how God does answer our prayers.

The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh is the pastor of Schenevus United Methodist Church in Schenevus, New York.


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