It is difficult to discuss prayer without also mentioning "sin". This word conjures up all sorts of reactions when uttered in polite company. Christians use the word not just to describe acts which violate a moral code, but more fundamentally to describe an attitude or state we adopt which resists God - usually in favour of our own desires. In this state, God can seem distant and prayer difficult.
I can think of relationships with friends I have hurt or who asked me to do something one way and I insisted on doing it my way. Meeting up again, I felt guilty and a barrier began to form between us. However, when complete forgiveness followed a genuine apology, the barrier was removed and the relationship restored.
A similar pattern can be seen when we resist God. A barrier forms between us as a result of sin. However, Jesus said he did not come to condemn but to save. Because he died for our sins, we can receive forgiveness and approach God with a clear conscience. If we continue to resist Him in our everyday lives, the barrier begins to rebuild but complete forgiveness is assured when we turn back to Him and admit our fault. It’s not a formula but I have found that approaching God in faith, with a repentant heart, has always resulted in this barrier crumbling away and a beautiful sense that my Father is near and listening.
So what do I say to Him then? I often use the Lord’s Prayer as a structure. When I don’t, apart from sorry and thank you, I normally ask God for stuff. A few requests currently out there are for a record deal, love, restored relationships, protection for existing relationships, wisdom concerning life decisions, strength, courage and help writing this article simply with love and without heresy. Then there are prayers for others I love - for all sorts of blessings, including healing particularly but also joy, love, unity and a knowledge of God. Too seldom are the prayers for world peace and the relief of global poverty and, as I write, there are fewer prayers offered up for my enemies than I would like to report - Jesus instructed us not simply to love our enemies but also to pray for those who persecute us.
There are several memorable occasions when I have experienced my own or someone else’s healing after prayer offered to God through Jesus. Not as dramatic but only yesterday, my girlfriend laid her hand on my ear and prayed for it to be healed in the name of Jesus. It had been blocked with wax for about two weeks. This morning, as I began my day, it suddenly popped and my hearing was restored.
It is impossible to prove whether this was a coincidence or an answer to prayer? I like to think it was the latter and thank God for it, but I would be willing to believe my ear was ready to pop anyway. Meanwhile, a long list could be written of unanswered prayers. Perhaps longer still though would be a list of miracles and blessings from God for which I never even thought of asking.
The Gospels describe how Jesus went to great lengths in encouraging his disciples to pray and he made great claims about how faithful God would be to answer. We have heard of many miracles Jesus worked but he told his disciples that anyone who has faith in him “will do even greater things than these” [Jn 14:12]. He told them that he, Jesus, would do anything they asked in his name.
I don’t fully understand the discrepancy between this picture and the impotency I often feel when I ask God to do stuff. Occasionally, I ask God what he wants and then listen. After all Jesus did teach his disciples to pray “thy will be done”.