When my children were younger, I was involved with Moms in Prayer. Moms in Prayer is an organization of groups of people who gather for one hour each week to pray for their school age children, their schools, teachers, and administrators. Spending hours with other women in prayer is a decision that I will never regret.
Moms in Prayer used a format of identifying one of God's attributes, with appropriate Scripture, and then praising God for that quality, after which we confessed, thanked God, and broke into groups of two or three to pray for our children. Looking back on a binder of weekly prayers for my son (I had prayed just as fervently for my other two, but I must have re-purposed those binders long ago) reinforced two often overlooked truths about prayer:
Prayer is a Long-Term Enterprise
Ten years ago I was no doubt frustrated that God didn't answer more of my prayer requests right away. The process of reviewing two inches of sheets of paper, each containing sincere prayers for my son, from my perspective today and knowing the person that he has become, demonstrates in a new way that God was and is busy answering more prayers than I thought.
I realize now that my prayers were for aspects of my son's life that would take time to develop. I prayed for his attitude and confidence, for his faith, for direction, and for things like the volleyball season. Volleyball was awesome. There wasn’t much evidence of answers to some of my other prayers.
Biblical characters prayed often, and many of them did not see answers right away. For example, while Daniel was in exile he prayed for the Lord to "look with favor on your desolate sanctuary" in Jerusalem. It would be years, decades, before Jerusalem was rebuilt to be again inhabited by the Israelites, but God absolutely answered Daniel's prayer. It just took a while for the results to be seen.
It would have been nice if God had given all positive, snap-his-fingers kind of answers, but that's generally not God's style. What I now realize is that it is in the long view of my children, and my prayers, that answers will begin to be apparent. Their adult lives are just beginning, and I still have a lot of praying to do.
Prayer is a long term enterprise, and our job is simply to pray and to trust God.
Prayers are Everlasting
God doesn't need three ring binders to remember our earnest prayers. I don't remember all of the prayers I have prayed, and I don't even remember all of the people for whom I have prayed.
My two-inch binder is a record of more prayers than my little brain can handle, but God remembers them all. Think about that. God is outside of time; he knows all of the prayers that we have ever prayed and all of the prayers that we will pray.
This causes me to lift my perspective and consider what my prayers might sound like to God's ears. Are they whiny complaints about random stuff or do they come from a heart of love and obedience to the Lord? Are my prayers self-satisfying or are they God-glorifying? I'm afraid too many of them are the former.
Phillip Yancey wrote, in his book Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference:
I pray to restore the truth of the universe, to gain a glimpse of the world, and of me, through the eyes of God. In prayer I shift my point of view away from my own selfishness. I climb above timberline and look down at the speck that is myself. I gaze at the stars and recall what role I or any of us play in a universe beyond comprehension. Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God's point of view. (Italics mine.)
Too often I see reality from my own limited point of view, which is actually not reality at all. Reality can only be clearly seen and understood from a much higher view; God's perspective. When I do not get an answer that I desire, I have the opportunity through prayer to raise my point of view so that it is a little bit closer to God's.
Thank God for the Privilege of Prayer
Finally, this prayer flashback just makes me tremendously grateful. God desires us to be in intimate relationship with him, to pray regularly and about anything and everything. Amazingly, he invites our conversation, no matter where we are spiritually, because he wants us to know him better. May it be so.
How have you seen your prayers answered or your perspective changed over time? Would you say that you know God better through your prayers?
"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people." Ephesians 6:18
Judy Allen is an Area Director with Community Bible Study, and she also writes and speaks with the goal of making the transformative truth of Jesus Christ more impactful in our daily lives. Judy writes at connectingdotstogod.com and contributes to the Unlocking the Bible blog. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and best friend, Dan.