If you prayed for a thousand years, your prayers would not make you any more acceptable to God than when you first prayed.
Our prayers are answered, not because of what we do or who we are, but because of who God is. This is the consistent testimony that we find in all of Scripture. God responds to our request for forgiveness and guidance “for His name’s sake” (cf. Ps. 31:3; 109:21; Jer. 14:7). The Bible tells us that if we ask Him for something to eat, He will not give us a poisonous scorpion, but enjoys giving us much better things (Luke 11:12, 13). God delights when we call on Him in prayer. God hears and answers our prayers based on His goodness, faithfulness, and love—not ours. Even if we prayed every moment in our life, we could not pray enough to deserve acceptance with God.
The sobering fact is that our human condition is much more disastrous and self-focused than we think. But the good news is that God’s grace is even more amazing than we can imagine. This holds true for our prayers as well. It is God’s grace that permeates His desire to respond to our prayers and to our needs. Many of our appeals to God are often prayed for quite selfish reasons. I might pray for success in the cause of God because I am also playing an important role in it. I might pray that some- one’s life be spared because I do not like living alone. I might pray for the conversion of a person because my life will then be much easier. I might ask God for specific things because I have become used to a certain standard of living and I am not content with less, and the list could go on.¹
Unfortunately, sin causes us to insert ourselves into the center of our world, making life and many of our prayers all about us. In our self-focus we are driven by our wants, our perceived needs, our feelings. Because we are self-focused, we tend to be scorekeepers and compare ourselves with others, which leads to a life of discontent and envy. But prayer that is pleasing to God is not just praying about getting things—no healthy relationship works that way, much less with a sovereign God. Prayer in which God delights has God in clear focus. Because we delight to remember who He is, we have faith in what He can do.
HE LOVES TO GIVE
It is amazing and a mystery of God’s grace that He even listens to the best of our prayers. Yet the good news is that God also hears our most feeble prayer. He is always ready to hear every sincere prayer. He loves to answer our prayers and delights to send His help. He has a thousand ways to help of which we know nothing (Jer. 33:3).²
The only reason that can explain this amazing fact is that He loves us. He loves us tenderly. He desires the very best for us. In His grace He wants to gift us with what we really need. Because He is our Creator and Redeemer, He knows better than we what is needed. Therefore, He gives in response to our prayers that which we could not even ask.
Ultimately, our relationship to God in prayer is a matter of trust. Do we trust Him enough to commit our lives fully into His hands—without any hesitation? Do we dare to ask things that only He can provide, and do we fully trust Him that He will provide whatever our need is in His own good timing? This will work only if we humble ourselves into the mighty hand of God, trusting that He is good; trusting that He hears; trusting that He is prepared to bring relief and has a thousand ways to help of which we did not even think. This was the experience of many people living in biblical times (e.g., Ex. 14:13, 14; 2 Chron. 14:10-12; 20:15, 29; Luke 1:46-55). When they were confronted with insurmountable challenges and difficulties, God provided help and a way out that humanly speaking couldn’t have been expected.
SAFE IN HIS LOVE
When we pray, we are taking a step of faith by trusting God to care for us for His own sake. When we orient our lives according to His will, we invite Him into our work, our families, our friendships, our dating, our marriages, our parenting. We don’t have to be in church to pray to God. It can happen on our commute, while washing the dishes, or doing the laundry. It can happen while we are at our computer or at our workplace. It can take place in meaningful ways when we carve out special time for God.
Prayer cultivates a heart attitude that recognizes and acknowledges God’s sovereignty and love.
Such prayer can change our attitude. In fact, it can change our lives by teaching us to focus on God’s character and by trusting His timing. Prayer provides a much-needed new perspective that comes only when we have God in clear sight. Being in the presence of God refreshes our life. It strengthens our faith. It ignites hope. It celebrates God’s abundant grace. It inspires courage and grants us a holy boldness to approach God. Because we delight in our powerful Creator and loving Redeemer, we are freed from craving the next things or wanting to have more for ourselves. Sin causes us to look horizontally at the things in this world for what can be found only vertically in God’s presence.
OUR FATHER . . .
Perhaps this is the important and beautiful aspect that Jesus wanted to teach us in the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that for many unfortunately has become mere lip service. It has morphed into a thoughtless routine because we are repeating it without thinking. And yet, if prayed deliberately and with purpose, it is perhaps the most dangerous and revolutionary prayer there is:
“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen’ ” (Matt. 6:9-13, NASB).³
Only this focus on doing God’s will, on fostering His kingdom, on worshipping His name, on delighting in who He is and what He stands for, enables us to become more like Him: forgiving those who have done us wrong, being able to overcome temptations, receiving from Him all we need to live a life that is pleasing to Him and that will be a blessing to others.
If we put God first, if He is our soul’s desire, if God is the delight of our hearts, and if He broadens our minds, we do not need to worry. If we grasp a glimpse of who God really is and what He has done for us, we will be in awe and the desire of our prayers will reflect some of that same selfless love and beauty that characterizes God. When our prayers have God in clear focus, we can know that what He gives is enough to satisfy all our longings.