Everybody 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.
Once in a while 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.
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. Jesus said if a son asks his father for an egg, will that father hand him a scorpion? No, God is not a careless father.
But effective prayer can be disappointing. That happens when we ask God to give us what's best for us, then we get 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. I wish I could click "Undo" on some of my past prayers.
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.
The Holy Spirit acts as an editor on our prayers, putting them in order before submitting them to Jesus. Then Jesus acts as our Advocate with God the Father, pleading our case as a lawyer would before a judge.
I used to think effective prayer required working myself into an emotional state so Jesus would know I was serious about my request. In retrospect, it was just another immature attempt to manipulate God. I don't do that any more.
We eliminate a lot of wrong thinking if we remember prayer is simply talking with God.
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 Gomorrah, 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 implicitly, you don't question whether you follow his orders; your only valid question is how would you like me to do it?
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 Almighty'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.