“It is better in prayer to have a heart without words, than words without a heart.” — Mahatma Gandhi
When it comes to prayer, there are two types of people: those who claim to always have their prayers answered, and those who, because replies to their prayers are so rare, deny the effectiveness of prayer and even go to the extreme of doubting the very existence of God.
Who is right? We’re told that “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”? (Matthew 7:7). So, why aren’t all prayers answered in real life?
I consider myself a religious person–basically Christian, although I also embrace the wisdom of all major faiths, and all these faiths have one thing in common: they advocate prayer as a means of communicating with our chosen “Higher Power.” Furthermore, they, like Christianity, also, quite confidently, state that all prayers are answered, so what seems to be the problem? Why do so many prayers go seemingly unanswered?
I don’t think the problem is because of an indifference on the part of God, nor is God selective in answering prayers. The problem lies with our misunderstanding of what prayer is, and our express role in prayer. Prayer isn’t just a one-sided communication–and prayer is communication!
Let me explain it this way. Envision an imaginary couch on which lies a gangly young teenager, spread horizontally and comfortably across it, occupying the major part of the couch, his two thumbs intently texting a message to one of his buddies. Let’s call this teenager, Tom. Tom is so busy texting–concerned only with the social affairs of his life–that he is unaware of his surroundings, including his father who is also seated comfortably in a lounge chair, reading the afternoon paper.
All is quiet.
Suddenly, Tom stops texting and glances at his watch. It’s four o’clock. He turns his head towards his father.
“Hey, dad! I’m hungry. Give me ten bucks so that I can go to buy myself a pizza.”
Dad puts down his paper and glances over towards his son. He knows that Tom’s been lying on the couch, texting, since about noon. “Why don’t you get yourself a part-time job so you can earn some money and buy your own pizza?”
“Aw, come on, Dad! Do you always have to nag every time I want something?” Tom sits up.
“Your friend, Jerry, has a job at Circle-Four drive-through, why can’t you–“
“Stop it, Dad!” Tom interrupts. “For one thing, Jerry told me that the Circle-Four isn’t hiring right now. Besides, it’s on the other end of town. How am I supposed to get there? I don’t have a car.”
“Try taking the bus,” father suggests. “I often take the bus. It’s fun. You get to meet a lot of interesting people–“
“In winter? Me, take the bus? You crazy? I’d freeze to death waiting for a stupid bus at the bus stop.”
“Well, there’s Nick’s Hardware. I know he’s hiring, and he’s just three blocks from here …”
- Do you see what’s happened here? Tom sent a request to his father–a prayer–he needed ten bucks.
- Father responded, but not in the way Tom expected, and Tom wasn’t about to agree with his father.
- Tom didn’t agree with his father, nor did he want to put any of his own effort into having his desire fulfilled–the desire to have his father buy him a pizza. He didn’t want to listen to some wise counsel that would ultimately help him become more independent and less reliant on others for his sustenance.
- Has Tom ever thanked his father for the comfortable living and blessings that he has already received in the past? Tom didn’t live to become a teenager solely through his own merits. He had a lot of parental love, care and help along the way.
God answers every prayer. God talks to us constantly, in innumerable ways. The problem is that we’re not always willing to uphold our end to help us experience the fulfillment of prayer. Thus, it seems to our stubborn, often limited reasoning, that God isn’t listening–and, in extreme cases, we even accuse Him of not even existing!