My Experience with Prayer
This is part of the SpokaneFāVS Understanding Prayer series.
By Andy Pope
Throughout my life, agnostics and atheists have advised me they accept my right to adhere to my belief system, although they disagree.
“I personally don’t pray or believe in any kind of higher power,” they often explain. “But if it comforts you to do so, I think that’s great.”
The practice of prayer can certainly have a comforting effect. Paul writes:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7
Prayer Brings Comfort
We who pray have certainly felt that sensation. It’s an experience beyond normal notions of comfort. It’s a sense that a troublesome situation has been put in the hands of the One who can actually do something about it. Then, further down the road, we may find that something actually is done about it. And that peace is consumed in praise.
But if we want to be truly honest with ourselves, we do not always receive that peace. Often, the prayers are spoken in anxiety. And often, when we are finished praying, the anxiety remains.
This is why James writes:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” – James 1:5-6
We all have doubts, and some of us have them very often. Scripture appears to suggest that praying in a “state of doubt” is ineffective. So we need to find ways to overcome doubt in order for our prayers to be stronger. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he points to one such way:
“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” — 2 Timothy 2:13
Aside from being a truthful statement about the nature of God, this is also a very useful psychological tool. When I find that I am “wavering” and projecting more doubt than faith, I can recall this Scripture, and find reassurance in the fact that God does not waver. Paradoxically, my faith increases at such moments. As I remind myself of this truth, my formerly doubt-filled prayers become full of faith.
So we are to pray in confidence. But our confidence is not to be placed in our own power, which is limited, but in God, whose power is infinite.
But what if we do so, and prayers still go unanswered? James writes:
“The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous person has great power to prevail.” – James 5:16
Note the word “righteous.” If there we are hanging on to sin in our hearts, our prayers will not work for us. God is far more concerned with the healing of our sin-infected minds than He is in answering prayers that only reflect our unhealthy desires.
This is why John writes:
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” – 1 John 5:14-15
It Must Be God’s Will
We can pray as fervently as we wish without wavering, and yet if our prayers are not in line with God’s will, He will not honor them. If they are, He will – though not always according to our timetable. We grow in patience when we await God’s answers to our prayers.
Often what I pray for reflects my desire, but God is more focused on the sin that I deny. When I cease to sin, when I arise from my self-centered disposition, when I remember the love of God, it is then that He shows His love in the form of answered prayers. Thus, James writes:
“Draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you.” – James 4:8a
Jesus was human like the rest of us. He had doubts: He had fears; He had anger. But unlike us, He was “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” – Hebrews 4:15b
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16
Are our prayers a certain source of comfort? Absolutely not. Are they answered? Absolutely – eventually – so long as they are in His will. So with prayer, as with every other aspect of the Christian life, the goal is to live one’s life in accordance with the will of God.
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Andy Pope is a freelance writer currently residing in Moscow, Idaho, where he is a member of Moscow First Presbyterian Church. His work on social justice has appeared in Classism Exposed in Boston, Berkeleyside in Berkeley, California, and also in the Bay Area newspaper Street Spirit, where his regular column, Homeless No More, encourages those making the transition from homelessness to housing. An accomplished pianist and lifelong musical theatre person, Andy is also the author of “Eden in Babylon,” a musical about youth homelessness in urban America.