One of the passages that I read today was Psalm 120. It is, as are many other psalms, a prayer for God’s deliverance of the psalmist from wicked men who seek his life. One thing that I really took note of while reading this psalm was the very first verse: “In my trouble I cried to the LORD, And He answered me” (Ps 120:1, NASB). It’s really quite a simple verse, and is probably one that I’ve read over before quickly and without notice. However, it resonated with a truth that I had read previously today in Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life about the fact that God answers prayer. The psalmist states a simple truth in this first verse of Psalm 120: “when I pray, God answers.”
Though this is a very simple verse with a very simple meaning, it has profound application for our lives. I am certain that I am not the only Christian who has not always experienced a consistent, powerful prayer life in the past. I am not sure what the reasons others may have for a lack of prayer, but to be brutally honest, my reason for not praying—whether I was willing to admit it or not—was never that I didn’t know how to pray, or didn’t have the time, but simply that I doubted its efficacy. That’s bad, especially coming from a minister, but it’s the unfortunate truth. I didn’t really believe that God would answer my prayers. I didn’t think they really had any effect. As a left-brained scientist, I saw nature as a series of causes and effects, and chain of natural events that was only ever broken in Biblical times. My view of God was so small that I subconsciously (though I would have never said this or admitted it!) thought that God was somehow bound by the laws of nature and cause and effect. I found myself saying things like, “Sure, prayer is great, but God helps those who help themselves.” Prayer, to me, was simply an obligation or, at best, a method of requesting forgiveness for sins. If I was experiencing financial difficulty, I didn’t truly pray expecting God’s help, I began searching for ways to “pull myself up by my bootstraps.” When I struggled in school to understand a concept, I rarely prayed for God’s help, but instead would exhaust every other possible option until, sitting in my desk taking the test, I would mutter a last ditch plea for God’s mercy.
But that is not what the Bible teaches. Why would God tell us “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matt 21:22) if He didn’t mean it? Certainly, there are exceptions. Scripture teaches that God will not answer our prayers if we have unrepented sin in our life (Ps 66:18) or if we ask out of selfish motives (Jam 4:3), nor does God always answer the way we want him to (2 Cor 12:8-10), but these are exceptions, not the rule. The rule is: when God’s children pray from a faithful, selfless heart, God always answers their prayers. Recently, Jennifer (my wife) and I have had to trust God more than ever, financially speaking. I am a full time student with a part time ministry position (which does not pay much!) and Jennifer is a waitress. Financially, things have been tight. But I’ve noticed a trend: when I pray for God’s provision, Jennifer makes more money in tips! Thus far, I have not ceased to be pleasantly surprised by the results. There have been a couple times when I even prayed for a specific amount, which God either granted or surpassed! And there’s a corresponding trend I’ve noticed as well: Jenn has had her hardest nights on nights when I didn’t pray for her. Frankly, I’m quite embarrassed to admit that it’s taken me 23 years to really grasp the truth of the Bible’s claims about prayer. My wife, on the other hand, seems to have never suffered from this lack of faith in prayer that has been so epidemic in my life. When she looses her keys (which seems to be a daily occurrence! lol), she’ll pray for God’s help to find them. And, while I’m rolling my eyes and silently laughing that she would pray over such a small and petty thing, she’s found the keys. Sure, some may call it coincidence, but in the words of one man, “I sure have a lot more coincidences when I pray than when I don’t!”
Now, that doesn’t always mean that he will necessarily grant my request. I can remember many times praying in junior high and high school that God would allow me to marry my current girlfriend. Thanks be to God that he denied my requests! (Garth Brooks’ “Unanswered Prayers” anyone? though perhaps “unanswered” isn’t the best way of putting it.) I would have never met or married Jennifer, whom I am eternally grateful for. My relationships as a puppy-love-stricken teenager pale in comparison to the love that Jennifer and I share. God knew that I didn’t really understand what I was praying for, and he, in his infinite wisdom, denied those requests. But, he did answer my prayers–he provided the perfect woman for me to marry. He answered, just not in the way I’d expected. Assuming that I have faith that God will answer my prayer, am not hindered by unrepentant sin, and I’m not asking for something out of selfish ambition or pride (like a Ferrari or the lottery, for instance), “when I pray, God answers.” And while he may not always answer the way I’d like him to at the time, in hindsight I have never been disappointed.
“In my trouble I cried to the LORD, and he answered me.”