Do you believe the Lord God hears all our prayers to Him? Do you think He hears us when we ask Him to take our pains and bad thoughts away?Ayodele B., Birmingham, England (student of Discover course)
Answer given by pastor Christian Salcianu,
6 September 2022, Watford
In the process of a prayer there are several phases. We have knowledge (and even control) on one, for example, (#1) we decide to pray. We know we prayed to God, although at times it may seem like a shot in the dark. But the fact is there, the prayer was said.
On another phase, we can testify, for example, (#4) whether the answer came, did not come, or was not as we expected.
Most probably we have all experienced such instances, when the fulfilment of the prayer could be measured: the surgery was successful, you found the keys, you got the job etc. Or, sadly, not. Or not exactly so, or not at that time…
In between these two (that’s why I counted them as #1 and #4) there are two other phases.
We prayed indeed, but (#2) does our prayer reach heaven? An unbeliever will laugh about that. A sneering apostate will say it only reached the ceiling of the room.
But a believer will answer YES, and we believe that in faith. Several Bible texts will follow to support this.
Then (#3) the way that prayer is answered belongs to God. And He has a solution for all things, because He created all things and He has the power to turn everything into anything.
Now let me tell you there are two others phases, one before all of these, and one after.
Who inspired you to pray? The need, the pain, the reasoning, the former spiritual experience? The right answer, the ultimate force driving you there was… the Holy Spirit! Otherwise you would have carried on doing it your way, like so many other previous instances.
The sincere prayer is selfless: you admit you have no resources to solve your problem. And it’s denying self to ask for outward help. The beauty is that the Holy Spirit is the one wooing us to go to God. (Would He do it if He knew He would not answer it? Just think about that for a moment…)
May I call this stage ground zero (#)?
And then, later, phase #5, is when the answer does not come as expected. But it comes later, in a better way, at a better time, fulfilling that real need, and you give glory to God. And one wonders, wasn’t God the one really involved all the way through?
All right, maybe you haven’t explored the intimate spiritual exercise of prayer with these lenses. It may have even sounded like a clinical approach. Forgive me for the theory and let me bring in a couple of Bible verses or more for each phase, very practical, I hope. And I will select only from the book of Daniel and from Jesus’ words (or things connected to Jesus). Why these two? Jesus, because He is the ultimate example. Daniel, because he is a human example.
Ground 0. Who inspires us to pray?
It is the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ words about the work of the Holy Spirit are clear beyond any debate, bringing the good news: “The Spirit of truth […] dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). “He will teach you all things” (14:26). “He will guide you into all the truth” (16:13). An apostle confirms later: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself…” (Romans 8:26). The Holy Trinity is involved, read in Galatians 4:6 ”God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ”Abba! Father!”
Jesus continued, talking about the world (and we are included), “when He [the Spirit] comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).
When in a crisis, prophet Daniel turned to the inspired Scriptures to see what is to be done. The Bible says that “he perceived from the book” the matter which constituted the focus of his prayer which follows. The Scripture prophecy was plain—70 years of captivity. But the issue was not just arithmetic, a counting of years, a cold and fixed deadline, but a matter of heart, repentance, conviction. So then, says Daniel, “I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking Him by prayer and pleas…” (Daniel 9:3).
If you pray, when you pray, it is nothing but an answer to the invitation of the Holy Spirit. He is ready to bring in yet another conviction. To make you better. Your answer belongs solely to you.
Phase 1. Do we (need to) pray?
Facing death by a king’s decree, Daniel went to his companions and “told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery [of the king]” (Daniel 2:17-18).
Even Jesus did it and He encouraged us to do the same. Please read Matthew 6:5-15. You will see Jesus’ thoughtful advice: “And when you pray, you must not be like… But when you pray, go into… And when you pray do not… Pray then like this: [and it follows Our Father].”
The template is there. We need to pray.
Phase 2. Does our prayer reach God?
First, make no mistake: prayer is not an issue of informing (Him), like knocking to a door, forwarding a letter, posting an envelope… But it is rather an issue of acknowledging (to Him). See Matthew 6:8 “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
See also the testimony from an angel, telling prophet Daniel … “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard…” (Daniel 10:12)
Phase 3. Does God answer?
You can see once more how the above verse ends: “your words have been heard and I have come because of your words.” Indeed, it may take a time—in this case, for Daniel it took three weeks to come, due to a great controversy between good and evil (more on that in our Focus on Prophecy course). But the angel confirms the prophet’s prayer has been heard and answered. There may be other obstacles (see v.13) but God had already answered. Also, in 9:23 the angel testifies about the swiftness of the process in heaven: “At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out.”
Visible or not, immediate or not, it is there. Jesus confirmed: “Pray to your Father, who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).
Phase 4. Can we see that it was God who answered?
Daniel testifies for God to his companions, to the king, and then even the king does it too. From his praying place Daniel says “Blessed be the name of God… He reveals deep and hidden things… To you, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for You have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of you, for You have made known to us the king’s matter.” (Daniel 2:19-23). Towards the end of the chapter even the pagan king says: “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries.” (Daniel 2:47)
When Jesus faced one of the most challenging moments, that is, in front of Lazarus’ tomb, He prayed for the resurrection of a four-days-dead-person. The beautiful words show us not only His faith, but give us a glimpse of what happens behind the visible:
“Jesus said to her [Martha]: ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’” (John 11:40)
“So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe…’” (John 11:41-42).
You know the story, “the man who died came out” (v. 44).
Phase 5. What to do when the answer does not come as/when expected?
This is the key thing, the main struggle, the most hated part of the entire experience.
We are honest and realistic enough to admit that yes, our prayers do not always get the answer we expected. Maybe not then, maybe not quite so, maybe not at all…
Waiting for the prodigal son (or daughter) to come back, or even waiting to have that baby in the first place; looking forward to God taking your pain away, healing that disease, ending that unbearable suffering; hoping that a regime, a war, a pandemic, a crisis will end sooner; that violence will get justice; trying to quit that destructive habit; seeing with despair how things seem to rather crumble and everything falling apart in your family life, personal affairs etc. One can name it. What to do then?
The answer, painful now, but rewarding later, is: wait. Wait in faith.
It was God who prompted you to pray, in the first place. (Would He do it if He knew He would not answer it? Just think for a moment, again.)
He has heard you, He has provided for a solution—in heaven’s books that is noted—all of the universe is a witness. At the appointed time it will be made known to you. It may be now, tomorrow, or many years from now. It may be at the end of this life. It may never be here, but only in heaven. Just think about Elijah, getting the answer right there, right then. Abraham, going uphill to sacrifice his son, got the answer at the end of the climbing. Job, losing all but faith, knew God better after weeks. Moses, trying to deliver his people after his… 40 years—a failed revolution; spent another 40 years, exiled; and then another 40 years, with the people, in the wilderness. Or just think of John the Baptist, being decapitated. And he was the greatest of all times.
All learned to surrender. You will understand, I hope, that prayer is very simple and very complex, going hand in glove with faith. Thus helping us to understand God better.
Let me share with you a beautiful passage from the little book Steps to Christ.
“When our prayers seem not to be answered, we are to cling to the promise; for the time of answering will surely come, and we shall receive the blessing we need most.”
And while fully aware that waiting (yes, clinging) is a struggle, let me end with another inspiring quote from the same book:
“God never asks us to believe, without giving sufficient evidence upon which to base our faith. […] Our faith must rest upon evidence, not demonstration. […] We can understand as much of His purposes as it is for our good to know; and beyond this we must still trust the hand that is omnipotent, the heart that is full of love.”