I grew up surrounded by Christians who prayed and held a firm expectation that God could and would intervene when we asked him to. And I still hold that belief, though I have learned that God doesn’t always work in the way I want or in the timing that I request. Still, I am in awe we are invited into the work of God in the world through prayer. We instructed to approach God with the confidence that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14).
And we have stories about the way God answers prayer. He heals bodies and minds. He providentially arranges situations for our good. He revives weary churches. He turns the hearts of kings and nations. And we invited by Jesus himself to bring these prayers to God in the intimacy of a child speaking to her father (Matthew 6:9-13).
As a child I was primarily interested the cause and effect of prayer. When we pray will God really do what we ask? As I have grown in faith, I have experienced the secondary effects of prayer—namely that I am changed by prayer, even prayers that are not for myself.
I am indifferent or hard-hearted in many circumstances. Sometimes it is my own self-centeredness and other times I experience “compassion fatigue” as I face the needs of the world. If I add the name of person or a situation to my prayers and pray for them regularly I will find my heart expanded. Even if I was previously frustrated with someone, I will see little changes in their life or small interactions with them as encouraging. Or prayer for the needs of a group of people will cause me to hear the news differently and respond to desperately sad situations with more prayer instead of greater fatigue.
Another way that prayer has changed me is that time spent with God contemplating his purposes will change what I pray. I am quick to solve a problem in the most efficient way possible but often God works in a different way. I have experienced God as infinitely good and loving toward us but in a mysterious way that requires our trust. Sometimes, he gives a new direction in which we can pray and other times I feel as though I am invited to just watch and wait on what he will do.
I’ve also learned to sit with God in uncertainty or pain and be at peace. Experiencing the presence of God even when his response to my request is silence has been one of the richest experiences of my life. Even now I am in the middle of high risk pregnancy and do not know what the next few months of my life with be like. I can have a difficult, painful day and still experience the peaceful presence of God. It doesn’t stop me from asking for healing and safety but I am certain that I have never been abandoned and that my pain is not a sign that God does not care for me.
If prayer has been especially challenging for you because nothing ever seems to happen, I encourage you to consider how God may be changing you as you pray. Do not give up on this open invitation to relationship with God. Take the encouragement of the Apostle Paul from Romans 12 with you as you pray: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”