I think that Christians (myself included) sometimes fall victim to the false notion that more prayer = answered prayer. It goes something like this: “If I really want to hear God’s voice and see evidence of His presence in my life, I need to spend at least an hour praying every day.” It’s like there is some prayer quota that must be filled before God will answer or direct. While it is true that any relationship will benefit from intentional investment of time, approaching God with any kind of formulaic expectation is sure to be frustrated. God answers prayer in upexpected ways, and at unexpected times. Sometimes when we pray in alignment with God’s will, we see very blatant provision or healing. Sometimes when we think we are praying in alignment with His will, we feel unheard. Sometimes we haven’t prayed at all, and God shows up.
I really have come to love the verse from Romans 8:26-27 that says, “ In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” I find this incredibly freeing and encouraging. The Holy Spirit is able to search my heart and groan when I don’t know how to pray! We all know the feeling of emotional weight that is carried with us throughout the day, and how that weight changes with every new day and circumstance. The image of the Holy Spirit looking through the computer like files of cares going on in my brain at any given moment and shooting texts to God on my behalf comes to mind. There are verbal prayers that I have never even uttered that have gone forth because God knows my heart. Isn’t it interesting to think that the triune God can initiate our prayers for us?
If this is true, then why pray? I think the answer is that God delights in us being part of His unfolding story. When we clue into His actions in the world, in our lives, in our communities, we are blessed. Our awareness of who God is and how He works grows when we pray. He longs for us to understand the full extent of His love in relationship and when we pray, our eyes are more open to seeing. God doesn’t need our prayers to stimulate His action, but He wants us to be fully cognizant of His reality.
I will close with two stories of yesterday. I have a phone that needs to be constantly plugged in. I have been functioning with said phone for several weeks now and making it work. I don’t really want to go and buy a brand new phone, so I have been putting off doing anything about it. Yesterday, I stopped into my friend’s pawn shop to see if he had any old phones he was trying to offload. While there, talking about family and life, in walks another friend. This friend, I come to find out, has an old phone that he has been meaning to post online and sell. In all of this fun fellowship taking place in the pawn shop, I was connected with an answer to prayer. I could have popped onto eBay myself and taken care of this issue weeks ago, but in God’s greater story…all three of us were blessed by this encounter. All three of us got to witness God’s timely provision and care. (All three of us go to church together.) I don’t think I ever prayed for God to provide a new phone, but here is an interesting circumstance that I attribute to Him. I realize that many people would claim this is mere coincidence and I am spiritualizing this moment. When you allow Christ to inform your life, however, everything is impacted. Even phones.
Perhaps ever more poignant is the prayer that was answered for my son yesterday. Just two days ago, he shared how he doesn’t feel like God answers his prayers. I asked him if he prays to God specifically about certain things on his mind. He confessed that he could probably do better. That was the extent of the conversation. Then yesterday, I get a call from his school about a class that needs changing in his schedule. The administration felt he needed to change it to be better prepared for next year. What the administration didn’t know was that this one class has been the source of all kinds of angst for this kid. Most days, when asking about how school went, he shares how frustrated he is with this one period. A change of this one class could potentially make a world of difference for my son in his outlook. When my son came home from school, I shared with him the news along with the idea that perhaps this was an unexpected answer to prayer. Viewed through the lens of my Jesus goggles, this was God showing up in a blatant way to remind my middle school guy that He cares about every facet of his life. Phones and class schedules. Nothing escapes His notice. Nothing is to trivial to pray about.
Lord of the universe, who condescends to our level, thank you for the times you blatantly show your care. Thank you for answers to prayers that we don’t even pray. Thank you for your surprising action in the world that often escapes our notice. Thank you that your action doesn’t depend on my faithfulness. You will be about your purposes and I pray that you will make us more and more aware of how deeply involved in our lives you really are. Help us to pray in alignment with your will for your glory’s sake. Amen.