Saturday, December 17, 2016

#13: Prayer

Icebreaker Question:
What are three little indulgences that you like to treat yourself to (doesn’t have to be just food)?  What are three guilty pleasures of yours (things you don't readily admit that you like or that people wouldn’t guess about you)? 

Open With Prayer

Read Lesson:
            As Christians, we know that the Bible talks a lot about the importance of prayer.  But I have to ask, as I did about God’s Word, do we live like it’s really important?  Do we live like it matters? 
            I am going to guess that if we don’t, it’s because we don’t really understand it.  Because once you come to really understand prayer, you cannot help but cling to it with all you’ve got and accept it as a solemn responsibility.  You cannot help but know that there is power in it and that the way you live has an effect on it.  Prayer matters! 

            But I didn’t always believe this.  For years, I thought that if God was going to do whatever He wanted to do anyway then prayer really didn’t do anything but show our dependence on Him and build our relationship with Him.  And if our prayers really didn’t serve any other purpose, then they were just formalities and for our benefit, right?  I didn’t really understand prayer, and so I didn’t really know why it was so important.   
            And I think that this is one of Satan’s most effective tools.  Because if he can convince people that their prayers aren’t really necessary then the church will be ineffectual, lacking the kind of prayers that are necessary to battle the forces of evil and to get God’s Will done.  And we won’t be that concerned with how we are living.  We won’t see the connection it has to our prayer life. 

            But if our prayers are just formalities, why would we be told in James 5:16 that “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”? 
            If they were just formalities, we would be told something more like this, “Prayer is good for a righteous man because it draws him near to God.” 
            But it doesn’t say that.  It says that prayer is “powerful and effective.”  Powerful and effective for what?  I believe that it’s powerful against the kingdom of darkness and that it’s effective for getting God’s Will done.   

            In Job 42, we find an example of prayer being necessary to get God’s Will done.  In this chapter, we read that God is angry with Job’s friends for not speaking of Him what is right.  And He says, “My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly.”  (Verse 8) 
            Now, if God intended to forgive them anyway - if it was His Will and what He planned to do - why didn’t He just do it?  Why require and wait for Job to pray? 
            Because prayer is what gets God’s Will done on earth.  This passage was instrumental in convincing me that prayer really does have an effect, that it’s not just a formality. 

            1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him.” 
            His Will (what He desires to have happen) doesn’t just happen because He is all-powerful and can make it happen.  We have to pray for it, to seek it.  And to obey!  God leaves the responsibility with mankind to put His Will into motion with our prayers.  This is another way that God voluntarily holds back His power in deference to mankind’s free will (as we looked at in other lessons).  He gives us the option of praying or not praying.  And it’s when we ask for something that He wants for us that we get it.  (But this doesn’t mean that we always get what we ask for.  It has to be in line with what God wants for us.)

            But I think that the flip-side is true, also.  If we don’t ask for what He wants for us, we won’t always get it.  As James 4:2 says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.”  
            If we ask for something He doesn’t want, it won’t happen.  But also if we don’t pray for and seek out what He does want, it won’t happen.  Yes, there are times that God still does guide us, provide for us, and protect us, even if we haven’t asked for it.  Because He is watching out for us.  But there are things that we won’t get if we don’t ask for them.  Our prayers and obedience have an effect on getting God’s Will done or not. 

            There are examples in the Old Testament that support the necessity of prayer and the fact that it affects whether His Will gets done or not. 
            In Exodus 23:32, God tells Israel to make no covenant with the people in the land of Canaan after they take possession of it.  But in Joshua 9, we read about the Gibeonite deception and how they did make a treaty with these people, believing that they were from a distant land.  Joshua 9:14 says that in this instance, Israel “did not inquire of the Lord.”  
            God’s Will and plan was that they didn’t make a treaty with these people.  And I believe that God would have uncovered this deception for Israel and would have warned them not to make a treaty with them . . . if they had prayed about it.  But they didn’t pray about it, so God’s Will didn’t happen in this case. 
            Joshua 6 tells the story of the Israelites taking Jericho, with God’s miraculous help.  But in Joshua 7, after Jericho, we read how Joshua makes a foolish decision in his own wisdom.  He had sent men to spy on Ai.  And when the men returned, they said that there were only a few people there and so Joshua should only have to send two or three thousand people to successfully take it.
            So Joshua does this.  And it probably seemed wise to him, a piece of cake compared to the battle for Jericho.  Maybe he even got a little over-confident in himself.  Well, verses 4-5 tell us, “So about three thousand men went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. . . .”  Now, this happened because of one man’s sin, when Achan took some of the things that were devoted to the Lord.
            But what we don’t read in this story, in contrast to many of the other stories during Joshua’s reign, is that he “inquired of the Lord.”  In this instance, he did not seek the Lord’s guidance about going after the city of Ai.  I believe, once again, that God would have revealed Achan’s sin to Joshua and would have advised them not to go after Ai until the Achan situation was handled . . . if Joshua had inquired of the Lord.
            And likewise, 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 says this “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord.  So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.” 
            Was it God’s Will that all this happened in Saul’s life?  Or did Saul have some responsibility in all this, and did lack of prayer and obedience have an effect on what happened to him? 
            “Saul died because . . . he did not keep the word of the Lord . . . and did not inquire of the Lord.”

            I think that it’s important to make a habit of doing this - of seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance and learning to be receptive to Him.  Sometimes even those “insignificant” decisions can have a significant impact on our lives.  Maybe we end up going on vacation the same day that there’s a tornado.  Maybe we choose the cutest dog, but it ends up being the meanest one in the bunch.  Maybe we buy a car that ends up with serious problems.  I believe that God is willing to offer His guidance in these “little” decisions (and in all decisions) if we seek it, but that He doesn’t necessarily offer His guidance if we would rather go ahead in our own wisdom.
            It’s important to learn to inquire of the Lord and to learn to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading.  And the closer you walk with the Lord, the more likely you are to remember to inquire and to recognize the Spirit’s nudges along the way.  And the more obedient you are, the more likely He is to nudge again in the future.  We can deaden ourselves to His nudges by refusing to heed them and to obey. 
            I think that, yes, prayer is crucial in acknowledging our dependence on God and building our relationship with Him (through honesty and transparency).  But it goes so much further than just being a show of dependence and drawing us closer.  It gets His Will done! 

            If we do not see the incredible importance of prayer and if we have a hard time praying, it may be because we have misconceptions about prayer that need to be straightened out first.  I know that I did.  And here are some misconceptions that people might have:

            Misconception Number 1:  Prayer has to be “just right” or God won’t like it.  And that makes me freeze up because I don’t know what to say. 
            Do we feel like we have to know exactly what to pray, in the right attitude and the right words, for our prayers to be acceptable to God?  Do we fear sharing with Him our honest feelings and thoughts in prayer? 
            We need to be able to talk everything over with God, even things that we think He might not like.  Keeping anything back or failing to pray because we fear we might “do it wrong” means that we are keeping a part of ourselves closed off to Him.  And that is not the kind of relationship He wants with us.  It does not show a humble dependency on Him or trust of Him.  It shows that we are trying to “perform” well for Him.  And when we choose performance over humility and transparency then we are living with walls around our hearts, walls between ourselves and Him. 
            But He doesn’t want our performance as much as He wants our heart.  Prayer needs to be honest, not “pleasing.”  Prayer doesn’t need to be polished or follow some formula; it needs to be about presenting to God whatever is in your heart and mind.  Doubts, fears, praise, confessions, and all.  This will bring God closer than any righteous-sounding, perfectly-worded, professional-sounding prayer ever could. 

            Misconception Number 2:  God already knows all that we are going to say, so what is the point of saying it? 
            I think that a lot of us tend to look at prayer as just a mental exercise that we are supposed to go through because . . . well . . . because that’s what Christians do.  So we do it!  But somewhere deep down, it feels like a waste of time.  It feels like an unnecessary task because God already knows what we are thinking.  And so we think that our thoughts are just as good as our prayers. 
            Or are they? 
            I challenge you to find one verse that says that God responded to “their thoughts.”  Instead, we always read, “God heard and responded to their prayers.”  While God does hear our thoughts, they do not call Him into action.  It is our prayers that do.  And this is because we have a right to pray or not, to ask for God’s help or not.  He knows our thoughts, but He responds to our prayers.

            Misconception Number 3:  God will just do what He’s going to do, right?  Prayer doesn’t really have an effect if God is all-powerful and does what’s best in every situation.  So then our prayers must just be formalities, for our own benefit, or just for showing our dependence on Him, right?   
            Well, we already looked at this one.  But once again, yes, prayer is a way to acknowledge our dependence on God and to draw close to Him.  But it is so much more powerful and important than that.  As I said, it gets God’s Will done on earth.  And parts of God’s Will don’t get done without it. 
            Yes, God is all-powerful, but I believe He voluntarily limits His use of power on the earth.  He has decided to work on earth (in a large part) in response to man’s prayers and cooperation.  This is just the way that He has ordered things to work, giving man a certain dominion and ownership and responsibility over the affairs of earth.  He works with and through human beings.  And that’s a humbling, sobering thought.
            Here’s an eye-opening passage to consider:  In Ezekiel 22, the Word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel and tells him all about the disgraceful, ungodly things that Jerusalem is guilty of doing.  And then in verses 30-31, we read this:
            “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.  So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”
            The people’s sin earned them serious consequences and punishment.  But God wanted to relent.  He wanted to be talked out of destroying them, as He had at other times in the Old Testament.  And He would have . . . if only.  If only He could have found at least one godly person who would “stand in the gap” for the people.  One godly person who lived rightly before Him and who sought to intercede by prayer for the people of the land.  He wanted someone to appeal to His sense of mercy, but He found no one.  So He dealt with them out of His sense of justness.  
            That is so sobering to me.  God doesn’t just do whatever He wants.  He needs and wants righteous people to stand in the gap for others.  He relies on us and our prayers to get His Will done.  This is why a sensitive heart to Him is so important. 
            After I realized that God doesn’t always just do whatever He wants but that He oftentimes waits for our prayers, I felt a much greater responsibility to do my part to seek the Lord, to remain connected through prayer and the Word, to learn to listen and obey, and to try to live righteously.  Because as the Bible says in James 5:16, the “prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  And I want my prayers to have impact for God’s glory, for His will, and for eternity.

            Misconception Number 4:  Prayer is sort of a name-it-and-claim-it thing, right?  Ask for what we want and we will get it? 
            I’ve noticed that a popular teaching out there is that because we are the children of the King, we should be living in royal abundance.  Yes, this is an attractive idea to us because we all want things: more things, better things, impressive things.  We don’t like to do without, to be in need, or to settle for less.  But this kind of teaching is off-base Biblically, waaaayyyy off-base.  Because when you look at Scripture, you see that the purpose for everything is God’s glory, not our comfort or pleasure.  Even the Son’s purpose is to bring glory to the Father.             
            John 14:13:  “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.”
            Of course, it does please Him to see us happy and to give us things to enjoy.  He wants us to delight in Him, His creation, and His blessings.  But it is another thing to pursue happiness as an end in itself, to be so overly concerned with our own happiness that we fail to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness, generosity, contentment, and joy in the life that we have.  And we fail to “seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness.” 
            God wants us to be joyful, not pursue happiness.  He does not necessarily call us to either abundance or poverty.  He calls us to be joyful in whatever circumstances we are in.  It’s not about what we have or don’t have; it’s about our heart’s attitude toward God.  About glorifying Him regardless. 
            And prayer is not so much about getting things from God.  It’s about getting God.  It’s about getting a deeper, more authentic relationship with Him through our honesty and transparency, and it’s about focusing on what will bring Him glory and accomplish His eternal purposes.  Because it’s all about Him, by Him, and for Him, regardless of what clothes we wear, house we live in, or car we drive.    

            Misconception Number 5:  Isn’t prayer just talking to God, as we were taught when we were young? 
            No.  Another important part of prayer is listening.  This, I believe, is a severely neglected skill - learning to hear the voice of God and the nudges of the Holy Spirit.  And this depends on our desire to hear, on whether or not we obey the nudges that we do get, and if we remain in Him and let His words (His Word) remain in us.  This leads to powerful prayers. 
            And prayer is also about fully opening up our lives and hearts to Him and to the Holy Spirit.  And this can only happen by honesty and transparency with ourselves and God.  Humility demands transparency.  Anything less is trying to fool God.  And prayer also, as I said, is about getting God’s Will done.
            So how do we hear God?  How does He speak to us?  There are a few ways that I know of (and there are probably more).  He can speak to us through . . .  
            1.  His Word (His primary way of speaking to us and the yardstick we measure all other messages by)
            2.  Our circumstances

            3.  Our conscience and convictions (and what I mean here is the Holy Spirit, that small voice that guides us) 
            4.  His creation and the natural world.   
            5.  Other people
            6.  His slowness, as we call it.  (During times of waiting on Him, we struggle with what’s really inside of us.  And we find ourselves face to face with things He wants us to deal with or face up to, things we didn’t know were there.)
            7.  A sense of peace or unrest  
            8.  Dreams (Be careful about reading too much into these, but there may be times when a dream is telling us something.)  
            9.  Our spiritual ears, when we feel like Someone spoke to our minds
            10.  A deep gut-feeling about what we are supposed to do or a sense that we know the message He is trying to get through to us, even if we don’t “hear” any words in particular.
            Maybe you can think of more or have examples from your life.

            Misconception Number 6:  But if God wants to get a message through to me, He’ll do it.  I don’t really have to put so much effort into praying and listening, do I? 
            While we may not hear His voice with our physical ears or see His presence go by as they did in Bible times, God is still active in this world.  He is always speaking.  But . . . we only hear Him if we listen. 
            Matthew 11:15:  “He who has ears, let him hear.”  
            Actually, I should say, more accurately, we only listen if we want to.  I think that many of us do hear Him, but we ignore it.  I do not think that He forces us to listen to Him, but His message gets through to those who tune their ears to hear Him. 

            Misconception Number 7:  Prayer is just too hard.  I don’t know why, but it is! 
            Why is it so hard?  It’s really just honestly talking to Him, learning to listen to Him, and responding to what He tells us.  At the very minimum, He simply wants to be let into all areas and concerns of our lives.  He wants us to talk to Him as we would talk to a friend – because the relationship matters. 
            This really should be exciting, not scary or burdensome.  To think that we can communicate with the God of the heavens, the God who loves us and wants to be close to us.  The God who wants to be included in our lives and to include us in His plans.  It should be humbling and it should be sobering, but it shouldn’t be scary or difficult. 

             In addition to the misconceptions about prayer, there may also be other reasons that we do not pray or that make it hard for us to pray.  Reasons such as:           
            1.  We don’t think He’s really listening or really cares.
            2.  We are afraid to be a burden to Him. 
            3.  We are afraid to anger or disappoint Him with what we might say. 
            4.  We don’t want it to seem like we are using Him just to get what we want. 
            5.  We don’t want it to seem like we are taking Him and all of His previous goodness for granted by asking for more things.
            6.  We don’t believe that He will do what we are asking.
            7.  We don’t believe that He can do what we are asking.
            8.  We’re afraid of getting a “no” response.
            9.  We’re afraid to pray the wrong words or in the wrong attitude.
            10.  We’re afraid to be that honest.
            11.  We don’t like admitting that we need the help or that we can’t do things on our own.   
            12.  We don’t know how to pray.
            13.  We feel like we’ve pushed Him away and like He wouldn’t want to hear from us anyway. 

            Once again, prayer shouldn’t be as hard or scary as we make it out to be.  Prayer is about coming to a loving God with our heart’s desires and requests, hurts and needs, confessions and praise.  It’s about getting His Will done.  And it’s about learning to rely on Him, to listen to Him, and to trust in His goodness and faithfulness, no matter how He answers.  Our job is simply to ask and to know that He will answer in His time and in His way, out of His love and wisdom!      

Effective Prayer!
            John 15:7:  “. . . ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
            Mark 11:22-24:  “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered.  ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’“   

            One of the most damaging things to a young or weak believer’s faith is not having an important prayer answered the way they expected.  When a desperate prayer is not answered the way we want, it can destroy our faith in God.  All of a sudden, we question our faith, our God, how He views us, how we view ourselves, etc.  We feel like our faith was weak, like God didn’t care, and like He let us down.  And many people end up retreating from God in confusion and bitterness. 
            Trust me, I have had disappointing answers to prayer, too.  And these were times I was praying earnestly and with great faith that God could do it.  In fact, I was sure that God would do it, basically claiming His answer ahead of time and thanking Him for it.  (The name-it-and-claim-it teachers would have been proud!) 
            And yet, He did not.  The adoption never happened.  My young aunt and my mother-in-law still died, even though I was sure that healing them would help unbelieving family members believe in God.  Families still broke apart.  I pray about salvation for a lot of unbelievers I know, and most of them still refuse to acknowledge God.  I prayed for years and years about financial strain, only to have years and years of continuing financial strain.  (It has only just recently relaxed a little.  Thank You, God.)  I know how it feels to have many important prayers go “unanswered.” 
            [And of course, when I say “unanswered,” I mean “not answered the way we want.”  God always answers, just not always the way we want Him to.  Yet, to be fair, I am sure that more prayers are answered the way I want than I realize.  I just don’t take the time to see them. 
            I pray every day for safety for my family, every time they drive anywhere.  And every day, they come home safely.  Every fever or illness we get, I pray for healing.  And we have always gotten healing within time.  But how many times do I forget to count those as answered prayers?  I need to open my eyes more and count the blessings.]
            But the problem is not prayer or our God; it is our understanding of prayer and of God.  We will all have disappointing and confusing times.  None of us are immune, no matter how strong our faith is.  So this is not an issue just for the weak or new Christian, but for all of us.  But if we can get a clearer, biblical picture of prayer and of God, it will help our faith survive the disappointing and confusing times.

           First off, prayer is not a magic formula to get what we want.  Even Jesus and Paul did not get an important prayer answered.  Jesus asked for the cup of death to be taken from Him, if it was possible.  And Paul asked for the thorn in his side to be removed.  And neither of them got it. 
            And yet, I don’t think we would doubt the strength or purity of their faith.  They didn’t get the answer they wanted because it wasn’t God’s Will, because God knew that “no” was the best answer.  In Jesus’ case, it was best for everyone.  And in Paul’s case, it was best for humbling him and for the development of his faith, for helping him learn to truly know and trust the sufficiency of God’s grace.  Those are two incredibly important lessons to remember when prayers aren’t answered the way we want. 
            Jesus poured His heart out in prayer and requested what He wanted, yet He added, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”  Above all, Jesus knew that God’s Will is more important than any request of ours.  God’s Will takes precedence.  Jesus models for us the proper way to end all prayers.  When we pray, we are not placing an order with God.  We are sharing with Him our heart and our deepest desires, yet we still need to seek His Will above ours.  We need to be willing for Him to say “no” if He has a better plan, even if we don’t understand it and it hurts.  Not my will, But Yours be done!  He is God and we are not!
            And Paul shows us that when God says “no” to our desperate prayers, it is the perfect time to truly learn how sufficient God and His grace is.  By not always getting what we want, we learn humility and that God is enough for us. 
            For most of us, we live from one “happy thing” to another, asking for more and more things to make our lives better and to keep us fulfilled.  Our satisfaction and fulfillment is found in things.  And I think we will all face discouraging and confusing answers to prayer to move us from finding satisfaction and fulfillment in things to finding it in God alone. 
            It is generally only in the pain and the “no” answers and the long waits that we stop playing with our toys and start wrestling deeply with the things of God.  It takes our eyes off of temporary things and puts them on eternal, spiritual things.  It shifts our focus from the condition of our “nice, little lives” to the condition of our souls.  It humbles us because we learn that “it’s not all about us and what we want.”  It tests what is really in our hearts and forces us to choose: walk toward God or away from Him.  Make Him Lord of our lives or be our own god. 
            And if we cling to God through the pain, even if we don’t understand, we find out that He is indeed enough for us.  We learn to desire Him above what He can give us.  And this is far more important and valuable than any particular answer to prayer.  (But it does really hurt to get to this point!  Pruning and spiritual growth always hurt!  But it’s eternally worth it!) 
            Verses like the ones above can make prayer sound so neat and tidy, like a blank check or order form.  Until you look deeper, at Scripture as a whole.  Because there is so much more to prayer than “ask for what you want and you’ll get it, if you believe.” 
            And so, I want to (as briefly as possible) sum up my view of effective prayer.  (This comes from the Understanding God’s Will series.  And the full version is in the UGW Q9 posts of 2013 at, starting with this one.)

            1.  First off, I think Mark 11:22-24 is best understood when we bring it all back to what Jesus said at the beginning: “Have faith in God.”  Our problem (at least, my problem) is that oftentimes, we are putting our faith not in God, but in our faith.  (We looked at this a bit in the “A Full, Abundant Life” lesson.) 
            We put our faith in the idea that our strong faith will get God to do what we want, instead of putting our faith in God to lead us to do what He wants and to answer as He knows best.  We try to manipulate Him with our “strong faith,” like saying, “See how much I believe in You to do this?  So now You can’t let me down.”  We ask for what we want and feel like it’s what God wants for us, too, and so He must answer the way we want.  Because we are asking in faith. 
            But this is not “having faith in God.”  It’s faith in my faith.  It’s faith in myself to get something accomplished - based on what I do or don’t do, or believe or don’t believe.  And this is misplaced faith! 
            “Name it and claim it by the strength of your faith” is not a godly way.  It’s a spiritual-sounding, super-subtle way of elevating ourselves over God, of turning God into our errand boy.  We act like we are in control and that we get it done - by our prayers, beliefs, and level of faith.  But God is so much bigger than that.  And Jesus says, “Have faith in God!” 
            Does our faith rest on our own presumptions about how God should answer prayers or does it rest on who God is and His wisdom, strength, and timing?      
            In fact, sometimes God shows me what a big God He is by not answering my prayers as I think He should.
            We say, “I have faith in You that You can do what I am asking You to do.” 
            But God might just be saying, “Yes, but will you still have faith in Me if I don’t do what you’re asking Me to do?”
            I’m learning that I need to focus less on my faith and if it’s “strong enough” to convince God to do things my way, and I need to focus more on the God who is in control.  I need to focus less on the answer that I want and more on what God is doing, how He is leading, and what He is trying to teach me through it all. 
            Genuine faith in God is not one that says, “I asked for this and I believe that You can do it, so I’m claiming in faith that You’ll do it.”  (Unless it is in reference to a clear biblical promise God has given us, like for wisdom.)  That’s presumption about what God wants and about how He should answer. 
            Genuine faith in God is a faith that says, “I can’t see what’s ahead and I may not get what I want, but I still believe in You.  I believe that You can do what I am asking.  But if You don’t, I know that You are good and that You will work all things out for good.  You are God and I am not!”  This is putting our faith in God.  This is humility.  (And this is quite a hard journey, learning to get to that point of trust.) 
            It’s letting God be God, while we are the children at His feet.  We can ask, but we have to let Him decide how to answer.  We can desire and plan, but we have to include Him in the planning and be willing for Him interrupt and change our desires and plans.  And when He wills that a mountain moves, it will move when we pray.  But in His time and in His way!   

           2.  Another problem comes when we “claim” answers to prayer that He hasn’t given us.  And I think we need to not be claiming specific answers or blessings as much as “instructions” or “help along the way.”  (We definitely need to ask for what we want and need, with thanksgiving, according to Philippians 4:6-7.  But it says nothing of claiming a particular answer.  We ask.  God answers.) 
            Sometimes, the problem is just that we are focused on the wrong thing.  We are focused on the end when we should be focused on the journey.  We are asking for what we want instead of seeking what He wants for us.  We are waiting for a particular answer instead of accepting the one that God gave. 
            We cannot expect Him to give us whatever we ask for, if we are asking for things that He has not promised in His Word or things that are not a part of His Will for us.  But if we ask for the things that are His Will and things that He has promised us in the Bible (like wisdom and peace and forgiveness), we can expect Him to give us those things. 
            And the Bible is full of promises to guide us and help us on our journey through life.  We should look for and cling to those, not to what we think He should give us.  We need to be less about leading and demanding and more about following and submitting!  And we need to remember that God doesn’t often reveal His answers ahead of time, no matter how much we plead.  Because it’s the journey and the struggle that build godly character. 
            If He’s making us wait, there are reasons.  Sometimes it’s that there are issues inside of us that we need to discover and work through.  Sometimes it’s to help us go deeper or higher in our walk with Him.  Sometimes it’s that we are unknowingly blocking Him by our own sins or desires.  Sometimes it’s that our desires need to change because we are asking for the wrong things.  And sometimes it’s just because He’s working on the answer, but it’s not ready yet.
            (And sometimes, like in Daniel 10:12-13, it’s because of the heavenly battle that is going on.  Daniel had to wait three weeks for his answer.  Yet, it’s important to note that what he was waiting for was godly wisdom and knowledge, not just something he wanted for selfish purposes.  And while he was waiting, he humbled himself.)
            But we are hasty.  We are impatient.  And we think everything hinges on us: on our prayers, our strength, our resourcefulness, and our faith.  And so we get discouraged with ourselves, our faith, and Him if we have to wait too long.  We feel that we let ourselves down, that we let Him down, and that He let us down.  All because our prayers “didn’t work.” 
            But it shouldn’t be this way.  Our “faith” should not hinge on how and when God chooses to answer.   
            I should not be limiting God by my expectations and putting parameters around Him and how He works in my life.  I cannot determine how He will answer.  I cannot know how He should answer.  And so I should not be overly focused on “the answer.” 
            I should be focused more on how I am walking with Him on this journey through life, while still pouring out my heart and my desires to Him in transparent, humble honesty, like Jesus did.  This keeps my heart open to Him. 

            3.  In order to best understand verses like Mark 11:22-24, it would be wise to do a quick review on other “prayer verses” to see what they add to our understanding.  This will help us see some of the pitfalls in the “name it and claim it” interpretation of the Mark verses and some of the dangers of isolating verses.   
            1 John 5:14-15:  “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him.”
            James 4:2-3:  “. . . You do not have, because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
            John 14:13-14:  “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
            Yes, this last one sounds like the Mark 11 passage:  Ask for anything and Jesus will do it.  Wow, that sounds great!  What an awesome power - to be able to get anything we ask for.  But!  I don’t think that’s what Jesus really meant.   
            I cannot just ask for what I want and believe that my faith will make it happen.  Because it also says that it has to be in line with His Will.  Sure, we can ask for whatever, but He “hears” the things that are in line with His Will.  And when He hears the prayers that are in line with His Will, we can be confident that He will do them. 
            And those verses also say that we won’t get what we ask for if we have selfish motives, and that we have to ask in Jesus’ name, for the glory of God.  But this is not a blank check.  We can’t just add “in Jesus’ name, Amen” to the ends of our prayers and expect God to give us what we ask for. 
            So what does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name?  I like to think of it this way: 
            Let’s say that I work for a company, and I go to an office supply store to get some supplies for my boss.  Now, I am going there in his place - in his name - to get the things that he wants.  As long as it’s on his list and in line with his needs and what he wants for his office, then it’s in his name.  (In God’s case, it’s the things that glorify Him, things that He wants for us, and the things that get His Will done). 
            But if I don’t ask for it, I won’t get it.  And as soon as I ask for something off of the list - something that I want but that he doesn’t, or something that I think he wants but he doesn’t, or something that’s improper or out of line with what the office needs - I am asking in my own name.  And I can’t put it on his tab or claim that it’s his will.
            When we consider all of these verses together, it weeds out a lot of the requests that we make. 
            How many of our requests are in our own names, for our own desires and purposes?  Even prayers for healing or blessings can come from our own desires and our own thoughts of what we need.  God doesn’t promise to give us whatever we want, but He will give us what He wants for us.  And He often has important things to teach us during the wait and during our struggles with unanswered prayers - if only we will take our eyes off of our requests and put them on Him.        
            We want to lead and have control by our prayers, whereas true faith in God says, “Whatever happens, I still believe in You.  And I will follow where You lead.” 
            Our hope should not be in the idea that God will eventually give us what we want if we just hang in there long enough and drum up enough confidence in Him to do it.  (Oh, how many times I fall into that!) 
            Our hope should be in the fact that God is here now and that He is working things out in His time and in His way, even if they don’t match our time and way.  It’s not letting the darkness and confusion pull us away from God, but letting it draw us even nearer to Him. 
            When we have learned to seek, desire, and enjoy Him more than what He can give us then we will find peace, contentment, and joy, even in the hard times.  Because our faith will be in Him, not in some idea of who we think He should be and how He should act and what He should give us.     

            4.  On a similar note, how many times do our requests and our desires for an answer become idolatrous pursuits, taking our focus from God? 
            I think sometimes this is why many of us end up in the refining “furnace of long waits.”  To purify our hearts, to help us weed out wayward desires and idols, and to help us refocus on what we should be focused on: God! 
            And most of us don’t do this on our own, not when things are going well and we are getting what we want.  Because when things are going our way, we are content to float and to live self-centered, temporally-focused lives.  And we think our relationship with Him must be pretty good for things to be going along so nicely. 
            And so He puts us in the “furnace of unanswered prayer, of having to wait on Him for a long time” so that we can discover the idolatry, selfishness, pride, self-sufficiency, and sin in our hearts, so that we learn that we need to be pursuing God - not a comfortable, little life - and letting Him fill our hearts and lives with what He wants for us. 
            Oh, how many times I do that to myself!  Making an idol out of some thing or some answer that I am waiting for.  I pray and wait and struggle and plead and doubt and get discouraged.  And then, I get to a point where I get so depressed that I can’t pray about it anymore, where I realize that I’m worse off to keep dwelling on this concern or request.  And it’s usually then that God shows me that I have lost focus on Him and that I have been consumed with my request.  I have been trying to manipulate God with my prayers and with my “faith” in Him to answer the way I want or think I need. 
            And it’s hard to do, but when I get to this point - when the answer I want or when my desire for an answer has become an “idol” - I need to take my focus off of my request and put it back on God.  I need to “give up” and give the Lord permission to answer as He will and to work in His timing.  I need to get out of the way and let Him do His work.  Because whatever His answer is, it’s ultimately by Him and for His glory.  And so I pray:   
            “Lord, forgive me for making an idol of this request and for pursuing the answer when I should be pursuing You.  I leave it in Your hands now, and I ask You to do as You will and to give me the strength to face this ‘unanswered’ prayer gracefully and to accept whatever answer You do give me.  I know You are good and I trust You.  I may not have the great faith that I wish I did, but I am putting my pathetic, little faith in You right now.  Thank You for being a big God who can see what I can’t see and handle what I can’t handle.  I lean on Your strength now.  May You be glorified through this.” 
            Gods knows that we have the ability to do this - the ability to make an idol out of our own lives.  And so maybe He allows enough waiting and enough unanswered prayer so that we get to the point where we loosen our grip on the thing we are asking for and we begin to reach for Him instead.  Long waits and “no” answers help us hold things more loosely, keep our focus where it belongs, and remember Who owns it all, Who it’s all about, and Who deserves the glory.

            5.  Okay, now this is a lot to think about already.  But there is more.  (And even more than what I am saying here.)  On top of all that I’ve already said, there are many more verses that shed light on why our prayers may not be effective.  We have a much greater responsibility than we realize in making sure that our prayers get heard. 
            For one, maybe part of the reason that our prayers aren’t “working” and that it seems like God isn’t listening is because . . . God isn’t listening! 
            Psalm 66:18:  “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;”
            If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened!   If we harbor sin in our hearts, He is not obligated to listen to or answer our prayers.  Because we have put up a wall between us and God.  We are blocking God from hearing our prayers and from answering them.
            In fact, look at the very next verse after Mark 11:22-24 (the verses where Jesus tells us that we will get anything we ask for, if we believe) . . .      
            Mark 11:25:  “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins.” 
            And this echoes Matthew 6:14-15:  “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” 
            If I am unforgiving toward others then I am blocking God from forgiving me and I am harboring sin in my heart.  And the Lord will not listen to me while I am in this condition.
            Forgiveness is not so much about the other person; it’s about our relationship with God.  The Word makes it clear that the responsibility rests with us to forgive others (even if they don’t want it or we can’t tell them that we forgive them).  And if we don’t, it is sin that we harbor in our heart and it blocks God from forgiving us, which blocks God from hearing our prayers.   
            And even worse, unforgiveness towards others (or any resistance to confessing any sin in our lives, for that matter) shows hard-heartedness, which is diametrically opposed to a healthy, open relationship with God.  And we will further block ourselves off from being sensitive to the Holy Spirit.  And the longer we resist, the more we will entrench ourselves behind the wall that we have put up between us and the Lord, growing more numb, desensitized, and self-justified.  And the more we cut ourselves off from God’s love, protection, and help, the more we open the door to evil in our lives.
            “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”  (Ephesians 4:26-27)  
            It’s all about your heart and if you humble yourself before a holy God. 
            But how many of our prayers go unheard because of our heart’s condition and our attitude towards others?  Where does the devil have a foothold in your life?  Pride, bitterness, envy, gossip, idol worship, unforgiveness, ungodly speech, getting drunk, cheating, giving into temptations, lust, affairs, sex outside of marriage, acting out in anger, worry, irrational fear, etc., are all sins that need to be confessed and repented of, if we want God to hear our prayers and to have the most effective life for Christ. 
            2 Chronicles 7:14-15:  “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.” 

            6.  Here’s one for husbands.  1 Peter 3:7:  “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect . . . so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” 
            The degree to which we treat others with consideration and respect, particularly regarding a husband’s treatment of his wife in this verse, is the degree to which our prayers are unhindered.
            And here are three that scare me:
            Proverbs 21:13:  “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.”
            James 4:17:  “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” 
            Romans 14:23:  “. . . everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
            Yikes!  The first verse tells me that God does not listen to us if we ignore those in need.  And the second two broaden the definition of sin.  Sin is not just doing things that we know we shouldn’t do; it’s also sin to not do what we know we should do and to do anything that doesn’t come from faith.  And sin hinders prayer. 
            This really opens up a whole new side of our responsibility, of what God expects from those of us who call ourselves Christians.  Do we ignore needs that we see?  Do we turn a blind eye at injustice?  Do we fail to treat others kindly?  Do we fail to do the good that we know we should do?  This is sin! 
            Do we decide things based on what our faith tells us to do, or do we just do what we think is best?  What, in our lives, are we doing that is a result of faithlessness?  Do we hoard money because we don’t have faith in God to provide?  Do we seek our own ways out of trials because we don’t have faith in God to help us through?  Do we look to satisfy our desires outside of the boundaries God has given because we don’t trust that God’s way is best?  Do we fail to obey because we are afraid of what obedience will cost us?  This is sin, too!    
            We can open up to just about any passage in the Bible and find something we should be convicted about, something that will lead us toward a deeper relationship with Him and a better idea of how to live righteously, which leads us toward more “powerful and effective” prayers.  But how many of us take the time to do that?  How many of us read the Bible with the intention of seeking to live more righteously?  Or have we become comfortable in our own little world, behind our walls of fear, self-sufficiency, self-centeredness, and sin?    
            1 John 3:21-23:  “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.  And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”  
            Notice that it’s not just an inactive, passive command to avoid doing anything that doesn’t please Him.  It’s an active command that instructs us to live our lives doing the things that please Him. 
            But we shouldn’t look at obedience as a way to manipulate Him to get what we want or as something that we have to do, out of duty or irrational fear or to earn His love. 
            The desire to obey is the natural response of a heart that properly fears God, of a heart that is so full of His love and of love for Him that you deeply desire to do His Will and bring Him glory.

            7.  Now, let’s look again at John 15:7:  “. . . ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”  If we ended with that verse, it would sound like a blank check.  But most of us don’t realize there is a beginning to that verse, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” 
            As it talks about only a couple verses before, we need to abide in Him as a branch abides in the vine, and this will lead to fruitfulness.  But not the fruit that we decide to grow; fruit that the vine wants to grow through us. 
            We need to be remaining in Him and storing up His words in our hearts.  Really understanding the Word of God and the character of God (as seen in the Word) will help us understand which prayer requests are in line with His Will and which are not.  But we have to remember to never leave off the first part of that verse.  It is what the rest of the verse hinges on.  And abiding in Him and His Word is a lot of responsibility. 
            And if we go on to the next verse, we find out what kind of prayers God is talking about.  Is it really “whatever you wish”? 
            Verse 8:  “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  God grants the prayers that are centered on bearing fruit for the Father’s glory, that show others that we are His disciples.  And this comes as a result of remaining in Him, which means way more than just reading our Bibles, going to church, and praying every now and then for what we want.  [And I wonder if the "if my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish" part really means "ask whatever you wish, according to my words (according to the promises that I give you in the Bible), and it will be given to you."  Because that makes sense, too.] 
            Remaining in Him, as a tree branch remains connected to the trunk, means being vitally connected to Him.  It means absorbing and living in His Word, love, power, grace, etc., and it means desiring what He desires.  It is not a casual thing, and it is not about just getting our wants and desires fulfilled!
            Am I abiding in Him daily?  Or am I just running to my Vending Machine God to ask for what I want or think I need?  Do I have my plans, pleasure, and glory in mind, or God’s?  (And here’s a scary question:  Does my life currently show obedience and reflect His glory and His love and His Word?  How about in my home, in how I treat others, in how I speak and think, when I am in a crowd, when I am alone, etc.?)    

            8.  Summing up all that I’ve learned so far, I’d have to say that our prayers are most effective…
            - when we are living righteously,
            - when they are in line with God’s Will and are unselfish and are in Jesus’ name (according to what He wants),
            - when there are no un-confessed sins blocking our relationship with God (meaning that we need to clear the air with God and others, seeking forgiveness from God and those we have wronged and forgiving those who have wronged us),
            - when we (especially husbands) treat others with consideration and respect,
            - when we are doing the good we know we need to do,
            - when we are living and acting in accordance with our faith and not doing anything that doesn’t come from faith,
            - when our hearts don’t condemn us (because we have actively searched them and we have righted any wrongs, and not just because we are ignoring any conviction),
            - when we obey His commands and do what pleases Him,
            - when we believe in Jesus and are loving one another,
            - when we are remaining in Him and His words remain in us,
            - and when we are living for and bearing fruit for His glory!

            This is a lot to consider.  It is very sobering.  And it is life-changing! 

            Prayer is not about getting our way, about getting God to give us the answers we want.
            It’s about getting God’s Will done.  It’s about learning to follow Him.  It’s about our relationship with Him and our spiritual growth.  It’s about our heart’s sensitivity to Him and our desire to live life with Him, doing our best with the Spirit’s help to transform ourselves to be more like Him.  It’s about drawing near to Him in genuineness and humility, about being desperate for Him, needy for Him, dependent on Him. 
            And this is why and how we should pray.  Because we need Him and because He wants us to let Him draw near.  And He can handle anything we bring His way, every prayer we lay at His feet.  We just need to learn to be willing to accept His answers.
            And this becomes a lot easier when we really grasp His love for us.  More than reaching for things He can give us, we should really be reaching for Him and for a greater understanding of His love.  That is what will carry us through anything.  And we need to be immersing ourselves in Him daily if we want to have the greatest amount of peace and joy possible.  Peace and joy in the midst of unanswered prayer do not come to us apart from abiding in Him daily. 
            [And according to Philippians 4:6-7, peace comes when we present all of our requests to God, with thanksgiving.  The thanksgiving part is crucial.  It is what reminds us Who we are praying to, what He has done for us in the past, what He is capable of, and that He is good and will answer in the best way.  Because He is a good, loving, heavenly Father. 
            Whenever you are discouraged with prayer or life’s circumstances, practice thanksgiving.  This will also help keep evil away because demons thrive on negative emotions, which are “welcome mats” to them.  Even a demon that tormented Saul in 1 Samuel 16:23 was driven away when David played his harp.  Thanksgiving and praise help “shut the door” to them and drive them away.]   

Waiting for Answers
            As I grow through the times of unanswered prayers and longs waits, I’m learning to not let my faith in Him hinge on how He chooses to answer.  I’m learning to let Him be God!  In the name of transparency and dependence on Him, I do pray for specifics and I pour out my desires.  I believe that He can do what I am asking . . . if He chooses to.  I have no doubt that He is capable.  But in the name of humility, I have to allow Him to answer as He wants.
            Unanswered prayers and long waits are very teachable moments in our lives.  And they can either be times to get bitter and angry, or times to draw near to God and experience enormous growth in our Christian character and our faith. 
            So how long do we continue to hang in there and pray for something that doesn’t seem to be happening?  When it seems like God is not listening and it hurts us to have to plead again about a certain request? 
            I’ve pleaded with God for things that haven’t happened or that were a long time in coming.  And this is the best advice I can offer right now.  If you have considered and applied all the “Effective Prayer” lessons above and yet God is still not answering, hang in there and keep praying about your concern until one of five things happens.  Until . . .
            1)  God says “Yes.”   
            2)  God says, “No, My grace is sufficient for you.” (And sometimes a “no” is actually a blessing in disguise.) 
            3)  God has strengthened your conviction that this is indeed the way you are to continue praying, and you need to persist in prayer until it happens.
            4)  God has purified your desires through the trial and the waiting, and He has shown you how to change your request to be more in line with His Will.  Or . . .
            5)  You realize that you have made an idol out of the request and the answer that you want. 
            And if that has happened (#5), let go of the prayer request.  When we have been so focused on a request that we have lost our focus on God, lost our confidence in God, or have caused ourselves emotional distress, then we need to confess it and to fully hand the request over to Him to do with as He pleases.  We need to let it go. 
            And while we are in the long waits and facing unanswered prayer, we need to praise Him.  And to keep praising Him - until we have Him so clearly in focus and at the forefront of our minds that our desire to get what we want pales in comparison to His glory and His love and His presence.
            Also, if it seems as though God is not answering your prayer, ask yourself if there is anything that you should be doing or not doing.  Sometimes, we pray “lazy prayers.”  We ask God to do something for us while we ignore the resources and wisdom He gave us to do it ourselves, such as praying that God gives us a healthy body when we won’t exercise or eat right, or praying for a job when we won’t go out looking for one. 
            Or we pray prayers from the wrong angle and we need to slightly shift what we are asking for.  Instead of praying, “Lord, change my spouse,” it would be far more effective to pray, “Lord, help me see what I can do/think/change to make this marriage better.”  Sometimes, to get our prayers answered, it takes tweaking them a little or praying that God opens our eyes to the answer that is already there.
            And I firmly believe that God allows us to make our own choices.  He does not force us to do what He wants.  So if you are praying for God to make someone do something or not do something – such as to become a better spouse, to become a Christian, to stop using drugs, etc. –remember that God does not force people to do things His way.
            Yes, it is His Will and desire that people come to Jesus and that they become better spouses, keep their vows, kick a drug habit, stop living in sin, etc.  But He won’t force them to do it.  They have to choose to.  So if you prayed that God would make someone do such-and-such and it didn’t happen, it’s not that God failed you.  I’m sure He knocked on the door of their hearts, but they chose not to open it.  He tried to show them the truth, but they kept their eyes closed.
            But while “Lord, save so-and-so” may not necessarily be an effective prayer, I believe that we can and should pray that God places the Truth in their paths and that their eyes and ears are open to it, that their minds understand it, that their hearts are soft and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s calls, and that God surrounds and protects them with His angels to keep them from the diversions, lies, and blinders of the Evil One.  The person ultimately has the responsibility and option of choosing to believe or not, but we can pray for the best possible conditions to help someone see the Truth.
            I did this once for a friend.  I prayed over and over that God would put the Truth clearly in her path and protect her from the diversions of Satan.  And one day, she called to tell me that while she was in the stall in a public restroom, she looked down on the floor and there was a pamphlet explaining the way to salvation.  She came to Christ not long after.  God works in mysterious – and amusing –ways! 

            Summing it all up, when it comes to prayer and faith, what we should want more than anything is to get to the place where we can take His hand and walk forward into the darkness in faith.  Faith in Him!  Because even if we don’t get what we want, we know that He is a good, loving Father who will work all things for good!

            Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  

Bible Verses:  
            1 Samuel 12:23:  “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. . . .”

            2 Chronicles 7:14-15:  “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.” 

            Philippians 4:6-7:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

            1 Peter 3:12:  “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

            1 Peter 3:7:  “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”

            James 4:2-3:  “. . . You do not have, because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

            1 John 3:21-23:  “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.  And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”

            John 15:7-8:  “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

            Mark 11:22-24:  “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered.  ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’“   

1.  What thoughts has this topic triggered in you?  What can you learn about prayer from these Bible verses?  (Look at each one.)  Any other Bible verses you want to bring up?    

  Do any of the misconceptions about prayer or reasons for not praying resonate with you?  Can you think of any assumptions you have had about prayer and faith?  What other things trip us up when it comes to prayer?  Share your experiences.

3.  What are some other wrong ways that people see or treat prayer (such as, like a magic spell or superstitious ritual, or maybe as a last resort or a way to manipulate God)?  Why do we pray?  Why do you pray?  (Think of things like "to inform God of what's going on down here," "to convince Him to do what we want," "because it's a requirement," etc.  Brainstorm as many reason you can think of why people pray.) 

4.  Has your understanding of prayer changed over the years?  Or does anything here challenge you?

5.  While I don’t always understand prayer or God’s ways, I do believe that prayer really does matter.  Do you think it really does?  Why or why not?  What do you think the purpose of prayer is?

6.  How does prayer “work”?  Such as . . .
            Can we pray “blanket prayers,” like praying for a whole year of safety, or do we need to pray anew for safety each day? 
            Is there an “expiration date” on prayer – do we need to keep praying certain prayers to keep them active or can a prayer that we prayed years ago but gave up on still be in line to get answered in God’s time and way? 
            Do we need to be specific or can we pray in generalities? 
            Can we ask God to make people do things – such as to become a Christian or to be a better spouse – or does God not control a person this way?  Do we have to adjust our prayer a little to make it more “answerable”?
            Does our level of “how much we really want what we are asking for” affect whether our prayers get answered or not? 
            Does our position during prayer affect the effectiveness of our prayers?  Kneeling with eyes closed and hands folded?  Walking around with eyes open while we clean house?
            Is spoken prayer more effective than silent “in your head” prayer? 
            Is emotional “crying out to God” more effective than calm prayer?
            Does our attitude during prayer affect the outcome?  Does a positive attitude attract positive results?  Does a negative, discouraged, heartbroken, or worried attitude cause prayers to not be answered?
            Does expecting that God will give you want you want show faith or presumptuousness?  Does it show that you are really trusting God or that you are just using Him as a Vending Machine?
            But doesn’t it show doubt to ask for things without really expecting Him to give it to you, or does that show that you are willing for Him to say “no”? 
            Can Satan and demons hear your thoughts and your silent prayers, and might this somehow give them ammunition to use against you? 
            Is it more effective to have a bunch of people praying for something or is one person’s prayer enough?  What if it’s a bunch of less-righteous people compared to one very righteous person? 
            Do your prayers have more power the longer you pray for something and the more you “fight for it in prayer,” or is it effective to pray one time for something, especially if it is something God is willing to do? 
            As we read earlier, Daniel (in Daniel 10) wrestled in prayer for three weeks for an answer, but the angel was dispatched with the answer the first day Daniel sought understanding.  Would the answer still have come eventually if Daniel had just prayed the first time and then waited patiently, or were the additional three weeks of prayer necessary to help the answer get there? 
            Does God prompt us to pray sometimes, like waking us up in the middle of the night with a strong burden on our heart to pray for someone?
            Can you think of other things?  Is it even worth contemplating these things?  And what do these things mean for us?  (And for the record, I don’t have answers for these.  They are things I have wondered about.)    

7.  Is there anything about prayer that still confuses you or that you wonder about (such as the “Tell the mountain to move” verse – I still struggle with this one)? 

8.  What does it mean to “believe that you have received it, and it will be yours”?  What does “does not doubt in his heart” mean?  And what kinds of “mountains” might be included in this verse?    

9.  The widow in 2 Kings 4:1-7 was told by Elisha to gather as many jars as she could from her neighbors because God would miraculously fill them with oil that she could then sell to make some money.  And God filled every last jar full of oil.  So basically, the amount of oil she received depended on how many jars she gathered, in faith, trusting that the Lord would indeed fill them. 
            How might this relate to prayer and to faith?  How can we practically apply a story like this?  How might we hinder God’s abundant, generous answers to our prayers?  Examples?   
            But on the other hand, how might we misapply or misunderstand an example like this (and can you think of others from the Bible)?  How can we balance faith and realistic expectations?  Or is there little to no room for realistic expectations when it comes to faith?   

10.  How do you best understand and explain the “Tell the mountain to move” verse, especially since we don’t always get what we ask for, things we really believed we would get?  Is it a lack of faith or something else?   

11.  Compare Mark 11:22-24 (which says that you can move mountains if you believe in your heart that you have received what you asked for) with Luke 17:6, “[Jesus] replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.’” 
            What are these passages saying about faith?  Why does one say you only need faith “as small as a mustard seed” and the other make it sound like you need huge faith, that you need to be able to claim that you already received what you asked for?  Are these saying different things or the same thing?  What do these mean for our lives? 

12.  Do you believe that “Not my will, but Yours be done” should ultimately be the final plea of every prayer?  And if so, can we ever really believe that we will definitely get the specific things we are asking for?  Can we know for sure that what we are asking for is God’s Will?  Is believing that He can do what we are asking as effective as believing that He will do it?  How do you balance asking in faith but being willing to accept His answer? 

13.  What are some important elements of prayer, or different parts or kinds of prayer? 

14.  Is there a “right” way to pray?  A proper formula?  And what is our part when it comes to prayer, and what is God’s?  And are there any prayers that we should pray every day?   

15.  What part does “thanksgiving” have in prayer?   Why is it so important?  What effects does “thanksgiving” have on us and our prayer life?     

16.  When and how and why do you pray?  And what do your prayers usually center on?  Is there anything that you need to do more of or less of when it comes to prayer?

17.  Is it easy for you to be open and honest with the Lord when you pray?  If not, what do you hold back and why? 

18.    Have you had any positive experiences with prayer?  What has it taught you?
            [My answer:  There are probably so many that I never even noticed.  I fail to acknowledge and thank Him for so many answers to prayer.  I wish at times that I kept a prayer journal of every prayer I made, because I bet that I would see a lot more answers than I thought there were.  I have a tendency to dwell on the ones that He doesn’t answer the way I want Him to.  And that skews my perspective.
            But as far as one answer that I have seen, God brought the van that we needed at the right time.  And since we really needed to know if it was the answer we were looking for, I prayed, “Lord, please give us a clear sign that this is the vehicle You want for us.  We can’t make a mistake.” 
            And while we there, for no reason that we could tell, the car that we drove there died in the lady’s driveway.  It had no problems like that before.  And we had to get it towed home while we drove our new van home.  (“Very funny, God!”  Now I try to be a little more careful in the wording of my prayers.  Just kidding.  Kind of.)]     

19.  Have you had any disappointing experiences with prayer?  What effect has this had on you?
            [More than I wish.  I am still learning to understand prayer and I don’t think I’ll ever really know how God decides things, why He answers some prayers and not others.  I still wish at times there was a formula for effective prayer.  But as I am learning, God is not that easy to understand.
             I used to have such simple ideas about Him and how He worked.  Kids think in very “black and white” ways.  But He is much more mysterious than that.  And the funny thing is, the closer I grow to Him, the more mysterious He becomes. 
            And He definitely cannot be manipulated by me or my prayers.  I am learning that my part is to ask, to obey, to seek righteousness, and to rest in Him.  His part is to answer as He sees fit.  I am learning to trust in His wisdom and to praise Him whether He answers “yes” or “no.”  I am learning to let His grace be sufficient. 
            But it has not been easy.  In fact, it almost becomes harder in some ways because letting go of misconceptions and assumptions is not easy.  It hurts and it shakes your faith to the core sometimes.  Just being honest!]

20.  What feelings and thoughts come up when God doesn’t answer prayers the way you thought He would or wanted Him to?  How does it make you feel about Him?  About yourself?   

21.  What are some reasons God might say “no” or “not yet”?  How should we respond when our prayers don’t get answered the way we want?

22.  If God doesn’t give us what we want in answer to our prayers, what might He give us instead?  Brainstorm and think of “answers” He might give us that we might not recognize as answers.  Do you have examples from your life?

23.  Sometimes we have to wait for a long time for God to answer a prayer.  How do these waits and His silence make you feel?  How do we sometimes handle these long waits and times of His silence?  How should we?  

24.  Do we tend to put prayers in God’s hands in faith, only to take them back again and worry over them and try to make things work out the way we want?  How can we break this cycle?  What can help us leave a request with Him?

25.  How long should we pray for something when it doesn’t seem like God is answering or doing anything?  Is there a point when we should stop asking and learn to be content with things as they are?  How can we know when that point is?  And how can the “waiting” be put to good use?   

26.  What do you think about the “Effective Prayer” section?  Did anything stand out to you, scare you, sober you, or surprise you?

27.  When the Bible talks about “harboring sin in your heart,” does it mean that long-ago, forgotten sins will block your prayers, or does it mean that ongoing, unconfessed deliberate sins will block them?  What do you think it means?

28.  What else blocks our prayers from being heard?  What helps them be heard?  How should this knowledge affect us?  And how can we be careful to make sure that our ideas of how prayer works don’t turn prayer into a “magic spell” or a legalistic formula?   

29.  Do you agree that sometimes we have “faith in our faith” instead of “faith in God”?  What does this look like?  How does it affect us?  What does it mean to "have faith in God, instead of in our faith"?

30.  Can our presumptions (our expectations) of how God should answer our prayers negatively affect our faith?  If so, how?  Do you have any examples?

31.  What are some “wrong motives” that we have when we pray?  Even when praying for some good, godly things?  Examples?

32.  Are there any prayers we shouldn’t pray or prayers that won’t be effective or successful just by their very nature?  Do you agree with my idea of “lazy prayers,” that God might not “answer” prayers when He has already given us the wisdom to handle it ourselves but we refuse to do it?  Examples?  And how can we alter these kinds of prayers to be more effective?

33.  Are there any prayers that are exceptionally powerful or “answerable”?  Or things God has promised us in His Word that we have every right to ask for?

34.  Romans 14:23:  “. . . everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
            Such a small sentence but such big meaning and implications.  What do you think this verse is saying?  And can you come up with other examples of things that we do that are not from faith?

35.  Have you ever clearly heard from God before?  How has He spoken to you (doesn’t have to be verbal)?  In what ways?  And how did you know it was Him?

36.  We looked at this last lesson, too.  Do you agree with me that the Bible is God’s main way of speaking to us and that it is the measuring stick by which we judge all other messages?  If so, what does this mean for us and for our prayer life?

37.  How do you think Christians, in general, view prayer?  What effect does this have on our country and on God’s Kingdom?  How should we view prayer?

38.  How would we live differently if we viewed prayer properly and if we saw it as a serious responsibility?  How might living this way affect us, our families, our churches, our country, and the kingdom of God?     

39.  The Lord’s Prayer:
            “Our Father in Heaven, (if You really are listening and care at all about what’s happening here on earth),
            hallowed be Your name (even though I carelessly say “Oh my G**,” “G** D*** it,” and “J**** C*****” all the time),
            Your kingdom come (just so long as it doesn’t interfere with my kingdom),
            Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (as long as You don’t ask me to do anything that I don’t want to do and as long as You do everything that I ask You to do).
            Give us today our daily bread.  (And to ease my fears that I might not have enough, why don’t You also give me tomorrow’s, next week’s, and next month’s daily bread right now?  Or at least give me more than my neighbor.  It’s not fair that they have so much more than I do.) 
            Forgive me my trespasses, (which are not nearly as bad as the trespasses of others against me.  So I don’t think I can really forgive them or that I should have to.  In fact, make sure You bring down on their smug, little heads all the pain that they have caused me.  Make them pay!)
            And lead me not into temptation (for I am rather enjoy looking for it myself),
            but deliver me from the evil one. (Even though I sometimes invite him into my life with my choices and make all sorts of compromises with him.  And I’m not even really sure if there is an “evil one.”  It’s too mystical-sounding.  So it probably doesn’t even matter how I live my life because I am a Christian and You love me and You wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me.)
            For Yours is the kingdom, but let me have the power and the glory for now, and I’ll worry about “forever” when I get there.  Amen
            Something just doesn’t sound right here, does it?  But is there any part of this prayer that’s convicting?  Read it again!  Is there any part that honestly fits with how you are living?

40.  If you had to briefly explain prayer to a new Christian, what would you say?

41.  Are there any other thoughts you want to share or questions you want to ask the group?