Why God Answers Prayer

…or, not.

Your life isn’t everything you hoped it would be, is it?

Something or somebody, has let you down. Maybe a spouse. Maybe a career. Maybe your health. Maybe a friend. Maybe a child.

Maybe you.

Maybe God.

Disappointment

You prayed big prayers. You dreamed the big dream, you reached for the stars. But sometimes, like Charlie Brown, all you have to show for your high hopes is a rock in your trick-or-treat bag.

Don’t worry, it’s no shame to admit.

I admit it: Life has often disappointed me. Even with the occasional, unexpected blessing, life has proven to be pretty average for me. I don’t plan to live happily, ever after. At least, not in this life. But, Dawn and I have come to believe that we need to embrace our disappointments because they direct our greatness-thirsty hearts to the one thing that is great in this life: our Almighty, All-Glorious, All-Wise, All-Powerful, Most Holy, Unchanging, Merciful God. Nothing less will satisfy our souls.

“Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases,” the Psalmist tells us. (Psalm 115:3) And sometimes His pleasure is to answer prayer in unusual, unexpected, undeserved ways.

Surprise

About twelve years ago, I learned some valuable advice at a men’s retreat. Chip Ingram was the speaker, and he shared this very practical nugget: Take whatever challenge, difficulty or spiritual growth issue you’re dealing with right now, and search the Bible for a verse(s) that applies to that issue. Then, do this:

  1. Memorize that verse.
  2. Turn it into a brief prayer addressing your issue and write it on a 3 x 5 card.
  3. Meditate on that verse, and pray that prayer daily.

I’ve taken that advice and applied it to many, many life issues since then.

One particular issue about ten years ago was that I was very discouraged professionally. I wasn’t enjoying my job. I wasn’t earning very much. I had no career goals or plan. And I was still struggling through the “Who am I?” questions that plagued me following my departure from pastoral ministry.

Here’s how I applied Chip’s advice to my career discouragement:

  1. First, I memorized Ecclesiastes 2:24-25, “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?”
  2. Next, I wrote this prayer: “Father, please give me enjoyment in the work you give me to do. And please align my gifts, training, skills and interests with my source of income.”
  3. Then, I prayed that prayer for three years.

Three…

Years…

Then in 2005, through completely unexpected turns of events, God opened a door for a new career path in a new job in a new company. And almost simultaneously gave me additional work writing adult discipleship material for a three-year contract. I love the work God has given me, and I’m still blown away that I get to do it.

Answers

So, why does God sometimes answer prayer in such wonderful ways? And, why does He seem to do this so rarely?

  • It’s not because we deserve a break once in a while.
  • It’s not because we finally earned enough blessing points.
  • It’s not because we didn’t give up praying.
  • It’s not because we have huge, mountain-moving faith.

It’s because God is the invisible governor of every detail of our lives. And if you are a follower of Christ, He is constantly at work through a thousand unnoticed details doing just one thing: making you more like Jesus…

whether you got the answer you wanted or not.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son… — Romans 8:28-29

Over years of difficulty, we learn to hope in God alone. We repent of sins. We learn humility and love and patience. We learn to make wise choices. We grow in our effectiveness as Christ’s followers. Our expectations align better with God’s will. We better understand God’s ways, and people, and ourselves. We pray more selfless, God-honoring prayers. We find new opportunities.

And once in a while, oh so rarely, it all seems to coalesce in a bright super-nova of blessing.

Thanks be to God!

No, life probably won’t be everything you planned, but it will be everything God planned.

And that’s what makes our average lives worth living.

Meditate on this, from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Q. 98. What is prayer?
A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.


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