Effective prayer doesn't always have the result you might expect
Everybody, it seems, is looking for the secret to effective prayer.
We singles would like to discover the formula that would get God to provide us with the perfect spouse, and the sooner the better, thank you very much.
Every so often, you'll hear a sermon on effective prayer. Unfortunately, many of those messages are dishonest. They promise things God is never going to deliver.
Preachers of the prosperity gospel are especially guilty. To hear them talk, God is little more than a cosmic bellboy, obligated to give us whatever we want if we plug in their formula.
Effective prayer can be disappointing
We can get what we want, all right, but only if it's what God wants for us. Some people believe God gives us things that are bad for us, to teach us a lesson. I don't believe that's true. A father doesn't hand his toddler son a sharp knife, to teach him a lesson.
No, we can get into plenty of trouble without God's help. What's disappointing about effective prayer is that we ask God to give us what's best for us, then we're mad if it's not what we want.
Can we start recognizing that God knows what's best for us better than we do? Can we remember that God knows the future and how things would turn out? Finally, can we grasp that God loves us so much that he's not going to enable our selfishness?
If we loved ourselves as much as God loves us, we wouldn't ask for the dumb things we do.
Effective prayer isn't about formulas
You have to do this, then you have to do that, then you finish the whole works by asking "In Jesus' name." I'm sure you've heard those never-fail formulas for prayer.
Except they do fail. If they always worked, the word would get out so fast the Internet would literally melt down.
God's not a genie, who will obey if you say the right magic words in the right order. He's not ultra-picky and will reject your prayer if it's not exactly perfect. He created the Universe, but he doesn't make prayer so complicated that only a physicist can understand it.
Prayer may take many forms, but it is basically talking with God.
Does effective prayer change anything?
Secretly, we want to change God. We want him to change his mind. We want him to do an about-face and give us what we want.
The Bible has instances in which that seems to happen, like Abraham "bargaining" with God over Sodom and Gemorrah, and whether they should be destroyed if just a few righteous people could be found there. In reality, God knew the facts about the situation and Abraham didn't.
The real question, though, is whether we want to second-guess the Being who created the Universe, who knows all things, and who loves us more than we love ourselves. When you put it like that, the answer is pretty obvious. It would be even stupider than me, who doesn't even play, questioning Eric Clapton about how he plays the guitar. Well, a mundane example, but you get the point.
Sure, we want the situation to change to our liking, but is that what we should be praying for as obedient Christians?
When you work for someone you trust implicity, you don't question whether you follow his orders; your only valid question is how would you like me to do it?
What effective prayer changes in you
Yes, that's the secret: effective prayer changes you.
That's a problem for most of us, because we don't necessarily want to change. We want God to change so he'll change our situation or change his mind and give us what we want. But change can be good. Really.
Often God changes you by giving you understanding of the situation. That's awesome! It's like your eyes are opened for the first time and you grasp what's really happening. You see the reasons for things, and if you're open-minded enough, you get a sense of God's incredible love and care for you. It just makes you feel great all over.
That happened to me once in a bad job situation. God reached down, pulled me out of it, put me into a better job with more pay where I was appreciated instead of abused. To feel the Almight's hand on you is almost indescribable.
Sometimes effective prayer changes your point of view, from struggling to acceptance. You let God be God, the ruler over your life. You feel an immense lightening of your load, as if somebody took a crushing weight off your shoulders.
Finally, the most important change it makes in you is that you come to understand that it's about God, and not about you. You see more of the big picture of life.
You know that no matter what happens--even your death--you are firmly held in your Father's hands and absolutely nothing can snatch you out of them. You are on your way to him, as surely as you have a soul. You are his child, destined to be with him in heaven forever.
That change in your knowledge is the most profound of all.