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If I Pray More, Will God Answer Me?

I have a lot more questions about prayer than answers. Somehow, thirty years of following Jesus has done little to minimize the mystery of this Divine tango. And maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

So I am currently facing a situation that  compels much prayer. Yet all the while I’m pleading with God, my brain is pushing back. I don’t doubt God hears me, or that He will answer in His time or way. What I doubt is that the amount or intensity of my prayers have any bearing on those answers. I mean, if I pray more, will God answer me? If I pray less, will He not?

It’s like saying that lifeguards only save drowning people who cry “Help!” at least ten times. Drowning people who only cry “Help!” once, should start paddling faster. Point is: God saves those who call on Him. So what does it matter if I call on Him ten times or once?

Nevertheless, Scripture seems to suggest the opposite. “Keep on seeking. Keep on asking. Keep on knocking” Jesus said (Matt. 7:7-11). And then there’s the parable of The Unjust Judge and the Persistent Widow (Lk. 18:1-8) wherein Christ flat-out says that the woman’s persistence moved the Judge’s hand. In other words, if I pray more — harder, longer, with more passion and persistence — I have a better chance of God answering me.

Which is where my brain kicks in.

Because if God answers us based on the amount and intensity of our prayers, isn’t that a little like “works”? Salvation by grace and righteousness apart from deeds are integral to Christian theology; I am not saved or made right with God because of anything I can do. If that were the case, I don’t need Jesus. The apostle Paul said we are saved by grace and not by “good works” (Eph. 2:8-9), so that no one can boast. But if I can incite God’s answer by praying more, is that not a type of “work”, a formula for blessing?

I dunno. I guess that’s why me and Him tango…

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{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Michael Bober March 3, 2010, 5:43 AM

    Another thoughtful entry. It reminds me of something that R.C. Sproul said, paraphrasing Martin Luther, of how we're saved by faith alone, "but not by a faith that is alone."

  • Glynn March 3, 2010, 12:07 PM

    I've been asking myself a question lately, and I'm not sure why. What if the point of prayer isn't the result, isn't "the what" of we're praying for? What if the point is the process itself? It sounds vaguely un-American, for some reason.

    I don't have an answer yet; I should just keep praying about it.

  • Mike Duran March 3, 2010, 12:35 PM

    Yes, Glynn. It is often said that prayer is more for us than God, it changes us not Him. This is a real possibility. The problem with this, however, is that it still frames prayer in terms of a "work." The more I do it, the better off I am. Just like exercise, prayer potentially becomes a self-improvement tool. But does God answer us in spite of our prayers or because of them? And where do we stop? If we tithe more, will God hear us more? If we read our bibles more or go to church more, will He be more inclined to respond? Thinking along with you…

  • xdpaul March 3, 2010, 2:42 PM

    Thanks for breaking my brain.

    I think I'll pray for you anyway.

  • Nicole March 3, 2010, 3:30 PM

    "Pray without ceasing." "Faith without works is dead."

    The spiritual forces of evil in high places war against us, against answers to prayer. There is a process which enables us to press on, to keep seeking, which in reality does test our faith and eliminates weak-bodied prayers–prayers that become ambivalent.

    The heart of prayer is seeking after God, to not give up, to pursue the answer because our faith dicates the fervor and need. We do not know the fullness of the spiritual implications nor the timing of the desired response. We hear yes, no, or wait, but the intricacies of arranging specific answers are often revealed in hindsight.

    JMO, Mike.

  • Jeanne Damoff March 3, 2010, 3:31 PM

    Hey, Mike. Along the lines of what Glynn and you already discussed, I believe prayer is as much about "the tango" as the answer, because God's purpose is to perfect faith. Isn't that what Jesus said He will be looking for when He returns? The more time we spend wrapped in His embrace, learning to follow His subtle lead, the deeper our faith grows. In some ways, all of life is the dance floor, but prayer is the gazing-into-your-Lover's-eyes slow dance.

    And yet, at the same time, God desires to give good gifts to His children who ask (though I dare say our expectations often disguise the gifts and make the Giver appear unkind). So, there's the growth-of-faith part and the actual asking-and-receiving part, both of which God has ordained. I would also go so far as to suggest that, God not only knows what we need before we ask, He also knows we're going to ask and what He's going to answer. Which brings me back to square one. He desires faith. When we pray, we exercise it, and that's what pleases Him–not the "work" of prayer, but the faith that motivates it.

    Thinking along with you, too!

    Jeanne

  • Mark March 3, 2010, 6:07 PM

    Could it be possible that the point of prayer in this case if for us. Not only can prayer be about changing us, but it can also be about us truly giving our burden over to God. I know when I pray, I am often able to trust God better. But as soon as I stop, I start worrying about it again. Maybe that's why we are to pray without ceasing.

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller March 3, 2010, 10:34 PM

    Big topic, Mike. I really appreciate what Jeanne said.

    I'm wondering if we aren't supposed to concern ourselves so much about the process of prayer as we are to pray.

    There's so much more to prayer than petition, but I think too often we focus on what to do to convince God to give us what we want. We don't do that in our other relationships, do we? Nor do we stop talking about the things that are on our mind. In other words, I think it's fine to talk to God ten times about something that concerns you, not as a way to manipulate Him or force Him to finally answer, but because you still are thinking about it, care for God's input, haven't figured out what to do.

    I'm thinking, for example, how many times I've asked a certain writing group for input on my writing. I don't stop just because I got an answer once upon a time. If I still need help, I continue to bring my work before my group for feedback. More so with God, I think.

    He says we are to pray; says we are to draw near to Him and He will draw near to us; says we are to seek, ask, knock. Are we working, then, at our relationship with God (rather than depending on His grace)? I don't think so. Faith can only be seen by what we do (see James 1). Jesus says if we love Him, we will obey Him. There is a synergistic relationship between God's work and our faith, lived out. I don't think we can understand it any more than we can understand the Trinity or Jesus the God/Man.

    The best book I've read on prayer is The God Who Hears (InterVarsity Press) by W. Bingham Hunter. Dr. Hunter addresses a lot of questions about prayer. In the intro he says this:

    I passionately disagree with the notion that prayer is a way to get from God what we want. Christian prayer, as explained in Scripture, seems something else entirely: Prayer is a means God uses to give us what he wants.

    Then one page over:

    From a biblical point of view, prayer is related to everthing that we are and everything that God is. God does not respond to our prayers. God responds to us: to our whold life. What we say to him cannot be separated from what we think, feel, will and do. Prayer is communication from whole persons to the Wholeness which is the living God.

    Good stuff, that book. I think I need to re-read it again.

    Becky

  • Mike Duran March 4, 2010, 12:41 PM

    Thank you all for your thoughts! In case you missed it, I like "hard theology" — doctrines and systematized beliefs that put parameters around "orthodoxy." Which is probably one of the reasons I'm so interested in processes (which Becky referenced) and ask such questions about prayer. Prayer doesn't seem to have a simple, defined set of theological parameters. And I guess that kinda bothers me.

    Jeanne, you picked up on the tango / dance theme (not coincidental, methinks!). I am not a good dancer, but I love music. Perhaps I struggle with dancing because I see it as a "performance," rather than an expression — my expression — of the music. In this case, the "music of prayer" is the result, from my perspective, of these theologically ethereal elements. The mystery moves me. (Does that make sense?")

    Anyway, there are several things converging in my life now that are "forcing" me to pray more. It's a good thing, but I have a hard time disengaging my brain. Thank you all for your comments and helping me think this through, er, dance.

  • Guy Stewart March 4, 2010, 3:07 PM

    A classic book on prayer, called…um..PRAYER by O. Hallesby…has helped focus my thought on prayer. In it, he says (among a zillion other things): "It often happens that we slip out of this blessed helplessness…until God makes us humble…and we become reconciled to being helpless sinners who can do nothing but this one thing: permit the infinite God to have mercy on us, to love us and to care for us."____I am, in essence, helpless. That DOES NOT equate with giving up. Infants are helpless — and constantly growing, testing and thinking. For me, prayer is both comforter and motivator. It ALWAYS brings me into the presence of God, sometimes for comfort, sometimes for guidance. Sometimes I hear God speak through His word, the words of others or simply via compulsion. Sometimes He is silent (lots of that for the past few years) — but that's ME, too, stopping my ears and refusing to hear Him. Sometimes I just need to know that He has forgiven me. Sometimes I just need to "be still and know that [He] is God". When I pray earnestly, I find that my brain is more engaged with His brain…and that is NEVER bad…

  • alexandra September 11, 2010, 5:51 PM

    i wish God could just give me somebody to love and by loved by in return, somebody beautiful inside and out that could just give me a chance to show true self..i pray all the time..

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