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Living Together in Unity

Psalm 133-1

It was like a Beatrix Potter story come true in our own back yard!

Two squirrels were fighting high up in our tree. My son turned to look just as one threw the other to the ground. The victim landed on his back and stayed there, stunned. As Seth was thinking about going to check on the squirrel, the neighborhood cat, who likes to hang out in our yard, beat him to it. The squirrel came to his senses just in time, jumped up, let out a screech of horror, and raced back up the tree.

I’m sure the brother squirrel apologized. The mother squirrel scolded. And everyone drank some chamomile tea.

Because the little squirrels couldn’t get along with each other, they left one of their number vulnerable to another threat. Thankfully, the drama in our backyard had a happy ending—for everyone except the cat.

Sometimes Christians struggle to get along, too. We’re still human after all. There are just so many different ways to not see eye to eye!

Yes. It’s challenging. But when we don’t make the effort to live in unity, we leave each other vulnerable to an even bigger threat:

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” –1 Peter 5:8

Not to mention the damage our disagreements do to our testimony.

It’s good and pleasant when God’s people live together in unity. It’s dangerous to all, though, when they don’t. Let’s learn a lesson from the squirrels: be thankful for our shared refuge (for us, in Christ, rather than in a tree)—and stock up on calming, chamomile tea!

Father, thank You for all our brothers and sisters in Christ, for adopting us all into Your family. Though it’s sometimes hard to get along, help each of us with this. Please give us patience with each other and the ability (and desire) to forgive quickly. Show us the bigger picture: we’re vulnerable to Satan’s trickery whenever we fight. Give us a Spirit of unity to stand together in You, come what may, for the glory of Your Kingdom and the good of all humankind. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

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Trying to Pray Daniel’s Way

Praying Like Daniel“But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.” –Daniel 6:10

“Then they told the king, ‘That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.’” –Daniel 6:13

The Bible tells us that Daniel prayed three times a day. But it doesn’t tell us how long he prayed each time. I kind of wish it did. Daniel is such a great role model; I’d like more detail, please. But maybe the leaving out of the detail was intentional. I’m guessing Daniel probably talked with God about whatever needed talking about at the time for as long as it needed to be discussed. If we’re going to follow his example, that’s probably a good way to start.

Then why does the Bible tell us, specifically, that he prayed three times a day? I think that little detail is helpful. If we want to talk with God about whatever needs talking about, having set times to sit down and ask Him if there is anything that needs to be talked about is a good thing. I imagine Daniel greeting God each morning, worshipping Him, thanking Him, asking for guidance for the day to come. Around midday, he probably checked in to thank God for how the day was going, to make sure he was still on course, to present any new business or concerns, and to learn if God had any new directions for him. Then maybe just before bed, he’d meet with God once more to go over the details of the day, thanking God for its surprises, asking forgiveness for his own failings, and enjoying God’s presence as he prepared to go to sleep.

Of course, I don’t really know if that’s exactly how Daniel prayed, and I certainly don’t believe we have to pray at three, precisely-specified times each day. But I like the idea of starting and ending the day with God, checking in with Him as needed in between. Daniel is such a great role model. I’m glad God gave us all the detail about his life we need.

Father, thank You for giving us everything we need to live faithfully for You. Thank You for Daniel’s example and for the examples of other people we meet in Your Word. Help us remember to communicate with You often about anything we need to discuss and with listening hearts to hear anything You may choose to impress upon us. We love You, Lord, and long to live Your way. Thank You for teaching, guiding, and correcting. Amen.

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When Praying Is All You Can Do

Note: I originally posted these thoughts at Wildflower Thinking. As I was preparing this week’s The Conversation Begins post, though, I remembered this post from 2009. These thoughts provide a foundation for the post I’m working on, so I’m posting them here for you now.


Praying Is BigFor the past few weeks, I’ve been pondering a phrase that most of us use. I’ve even used it myself, but I’m questioning whether it’s true. It may be very true, but lately it seems wrong to me.

The phrase is: All we can do is pray.

It seems to me that if prayer is talking to the God Who created the universe and all that is in it, the all-mighty, all-powerful, for-Whom-nothing-is-impossible God of everything, that prayer is doing something pretty big. God raised people from the dead. God fed thousands of people with only a few pieces of bread and fish. God pulled a coin out of a fish’s mouth in order to pay His taxes.

And so I would say that prayer is not a last resort. It’s should be the first thing we do whenever we need help—and, in reality, considering how much power an all-powerful God has, it’s probably all we need to do. We give Him our problems; He doesn’t need our help.

Imagine a little kid facing a big school bully. He knows the bully is bigger than him and will win, but he also knows his big brother is bigger than that bully. Would the kid face the bully alone? Or would he get help from the one who can spare him some pain?

I’m raising boys, so I know they don’t always go for the logical answer there, but, then again, neither do we. We put up our little fists and try to fix the situation alone while God quietly waits for us to pray. Then, when we’ve exhausted ourselves with the effort, we sit back and tell God that the situation seems pretty hopeless, but He’s welcome to give fixing it a try. If God is God and has all the power to do anything, that seems like living backward to me.

Prayer is not our last resort. Prayer is our best first move. It’s the most effective action we can take.

On the other hand, sometimes we do pray first. Then we do what we can do—as we should. God may use us to answer our own prayers, so we should do what we can. Yet sometimes we use up all our ideas and exhaust all our resources until finally we know that praying really is all we can do.

But even then, even when we reach that point, there’s more going on than just prayer.

Paul said, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). I think he must have been writing about just such a situation. As we wait for God to act, we joyfully anticipate whatever He will do, knowing without a doubt that is it God Who will do it, and that He will get all the glory, honor, and praise as He deserves. We joyfully hope for the best because God is in charge, and He loves us.

As we patiently wait for Him to act, we learn that God’s timing is perfect and that His plans may be different than ours. Have you ever prayed, like I have, “Lord, we’re running out of time here. If You’re going to do something, You’d better do it now. Really, Lord, now. Now would be really good.” But only God knows when the timing is right; deadlines mean nothing to Him for He can work around them easily. Or we may see a perfect opportunity for God to fix everything in one fell swoop. So we tell Him about it, then sit back and watch to see Him work. But His plans aren’t ours, so He doesn’t do what we suggest. He’s working on a bigger, more perfect picture than we can see or imagine. So we patiently wait some more, knowing God is truly in charge. Yet while we wait, we faithfully pray—and we grow ever closer to God.

I leave you today with two thoughts:

  • Prayer is not meant to be only a last resort–always pray first, then pray all the way through.
  • When prayer is a last resort, when it’s truly all that we can do, know God is at work. Trust Him as you faithfully and continually pray.
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The Conversation Begins: Worship

Psalm 34-3Worship. Praise. Adoration. Acknowledging the greatness of God and declaring our love for Him. This is what He created us to do! What’s more, doing so reminds us of our place and helps us to keep everything else in its place. Only God is worthy to be over all—always! Everyone else, everything else, must be of less importance than Him. Worship helps us to remember this.

But as a form of prayer, worship hasn’t always come easy for me. Sitting down with God to tell Him how amazing He is often feels like a contrived activity. I can make a list of words that describe God, believe with all my heart that these words belong to Him, and present the list as a prayer, but somehow, for me, this always seems to lack something. God deserves so much more!

Of course, no word in the human language will ever be enough for God, so perhaps I’m experiencing the limitations of language and becoming frustrated with them. But David didn’t seem to have this problem. His worship psalms have inspired countless numbers of lovers of God.

So have many modern hymns and praise songs. I was standing next to a new acquaintance at an event that included a time of worship recently. She leaned over and whispered, “I just love singing! These songs are prayers to God.” She was so right.

This is probably why when my words feel inadequate, I turn to the Psalms or turn on my favorite worship music. I hear those words, take them in, voice them myself, and add prayers of my own to them as I sing. I have a few books of written prayers that help me in the same way. The original words may not be my own, but when I consider the words carefully, then express the thoughts to God in my own way, sincerely from my heart, I can’t help but worship God. Music and written prayers are helpful tools when we allow them to prompt prayers of our own.

I’m coming to realize, however, that worship can go even deeper than that. This morning, I read Isaiah 64:8, “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” This analogy is perfect for what I’ve been coming to understand. The clay exists for the potter’s use. It has no say in what the potter does with it. The potter takes it as it is and molds it into something beautiful. Then its beauty reveals the potter’s skill.

When we strive to live every moment of our lives in submission to God, making ourselves totally available for His purposes, then all of life becomes a form of worship. Our lives begin to reveal the majesty and worthiness of God. His work in us shows through our lives, effectively demonstrating His ability, His nature, and His character for the world we encounter to see. Under His authority, everything we do becomes a genuine act of worship.

Living this way isn’t easy; we want to live our way. But our God deserves no less than our belief that His purpose for us is better than anything we can imagine for ourselves. When we truly want to worship, we place our lives in His capable hands.

Father, You deserve all worship, all glory, all adoration and praise. Please help us to surrender our lives to You daily, knowing that the result will be better than anything we ever could think up on our own. You are worthy of our trust. Your decisions are the best. You love us more than we love ourselves. Make us over in Your image for the glory of Your name. Please use us as You will. Amen.

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When Can We Pray?

The Conversation BeginsTwo more W’s! That’s all I have. Two more questions starting with one of the five W’s and then we’re moving on in this series to explore as many different kinds of prayer as I can think of. (There are 23 on my list so far.) For fun, I invite you to brainstorm your own list, keep it to yourself for now, check off the kinds of prayer I write about each week, then let me know at the end if I missed anything, so I can add it to my list. I may even invite you to write a guest post about it!

Today, however, I want to talk about when. When can we pray? My short answer, of course, is anytime we want to talk to God. He’s always present. He never sleeps. He will hear our prayers whenever we want to talk to Him. One of my favorite Bible verses about prayer shows this: “But Jesus often slipped away to be alone so he could pray” (Luke 5:16, NCV) Whenever Jesus felt the need to talk with His Father, He made Himself scarce so He could. God invites us to do the same.

Though we are welcome and encouraged to talk with God anytime, setting aside a specific time for prayer each day, when possible, is a helpful discipline. What time of day is best for this? Whatever time works best!

I once read a book for women on disciplining every area of life. This book had some helpful tips, but I found myself arguing with the author often as I read. She seemed to believe that whatever worked for her would work for everyone, and so she presented her ideas as rules for all women to follow. When she got to the chapter on prayer, she wrote that everyone must pray first thing in the morning. To make her case, she cited several Bible passages in which people were praying in the morning. Unfortunately, she ignored all the Bible passages about people praying in the middle of the day, in the evening, all night long, and at other random times of day. Using her method, I could have made a case that the Bible says we all have to pray at just about any time of day I preferred.

We Get to Talk to GodBut that would have been a misuse of Scripture. The Bible doesn’t tell us when we have to pray. It simply tells us that we can and that God hears us and that we’re blessed when we do. Remember this: talking to God is something we get to do because He has invited us to. He loves us and He loves it when we want to talk with Him. If my kids or my husband only talked to me because they felt they had to, that they had some kind of duty or obligation to fulfill, my feelings would be hurt. Of course, if that were all I could get I would take it because I adore my family! But I wouldn’t feel we had a healthy relationship. And I would be right. I want the people I love to talk to me because they love me and want to share their lives with me! (And I am so thankful they do!)

God wants us to view prayer the same way. He wants us to love Him, respect Him, tell Him what’s going on in our world, seek His wisdom and help, and enjoy just getting to be in His Presence. King David says it best: One thing I ask from the Lordthis only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). Nothing gave that man more joy than to be in God’s Presence.

That said, I really do like to pray first thing in the morning. I love starting my day with God, and I encourage you to try it if you haven’t already. If you can’t form a complete sentence before noon, though, you might find another time of day more beneficial; that really is okay. I think there’s something to be said for bedtime prayers, ending the day with a conversation with God about all that went right and all that went wrong and all that we’re hoping for come the new day.

Then again, if you have lots of littles in your house, practicing a consistent prayer time may be an exercise in futility. Instead, keep a prayer journal and pen on hand, then watch for those rare moments when everyone is happy and occupied. Grab your journal and pen, sit down quietly, and pray while the moment lasts. Some may think this is just asking for chaos to ensue, but if you’re serious about finding a daily time to pray, ask God to give you these moments on occasion, then learn to make the most of them. Be thankful for however many He provides.

To summarize: we can pray anytime, anywhere, about anything. God is with us. He loves us, and He loves to hear us pray. Whenever we’re ready to talk with Him, God is ready to hear the words we’ll say.

Father, thank You for the privilege of prayer. Call us to it! Help us to choose a regular time for prayer and to develop a consistent routine. Then remind us to talk to You throughout the day. Prayer is how we share our lives with You, the One Who loves us like no one else can. We love You, too. Amen.


I’m sharing this post with the Thought-Provoking Thursday link-up. Click here to read more posts shared there.

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Finding the Meaning in Meaningless

I woke up early this morning. Following my usual routine, only earlier, I got my first cup of coffee, sat down with my Bible, devotional books, and journal, and started my day. I asked God to show me His message for me today. Then I opened my Bible to find this:

Ecclesiastes

Our God has a sense of humor. I laughed right out loud. Thankfully, I know that life isn’t meaningless and that the author of Ecclesiastes knew it, too. At least he’d learned it by the time he finished writing his book. From some of what I read today, though, I think he knew it sooner, too.

In chapter 2, verses 24 and 25, he wrote, “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” Then in chapter 3, verse 14, he wrote, “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.”

Before these verses, he had written about all of his failed experiments in finding meaning in life. He concluded that wisdom, pleasure, folly, and toil are all meaningless, meaningless, without any meaning at all. Between these two verses, he wrote about there being a time for everything, about God making everything beautiful in its time, about God putting eternity in the human heart. In 3:13, he came to the conclusion that finding satisfaction in life is a gift from God.

And so, if “everything that God does will endure forever” and “nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it” and if satisfaction “is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” then our lives and activities only have meaning and purpose if we are participating in God’s work at His leading. He doesn’t need our help, but He invites us to join in because He loves us. He created us with a desire for Him. He created us with a need for meaningful work, for relevance. We find the second when we seek Him first.

Wait! Haven’t I read that somewhere else? “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”Matthew 6:33. Those are Jesus’ words from His Sermon on the Mount. To find meaning and purpose, we need to seek God and do whatever work He has for us to do. With Him, daily drudgery becomes a relevant contribution to His kingdom. Challenging opportunities become joyful privileges because we know they show our Father’s recognition of our growing maturity. We find our life’s significance in living every day for Him.

Father, thank You for inviting us to participate. Open our eyes to whatever activities You have for us to do. All of life is meaningful when we’re serving next to You. Please find us faithful. Amen.

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How Do We Pray?

The Conversation BeginsWelcome to the fifth installment of The Conversation Begins, my 31+ non-consecutive-day series on prayer. (If you missed the first four posts, you can click here and scroll down to read through them. The oldest posts will be at the bottom of the page.)

Today I want to talk about how. How do we pray?

We simply talk to God.

God doesn’t make prayer complicated; He loves us and He wants to hear our voices. He also wants us to learn to listen for His, but that’s a subject for another post—or two—or more. Learning to recognize God’s voice is a skill to develop over the course of a lifetime, perhaps the most worthwhile skill we can develop in the time we have on Earth.

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, He didn’t tell them to bow their heads and close their eyes, to kneel or lie prostrate. He simply gave them words. We call these, The Lord’s Prayer, of course, and they model prayer perfectly! (Of course.) Many books and sermons have been written on this prayer, so I’m not going to analyze it here except to note that this prayer acknowledges God’s Fatherhood, sovereignty, and holiness, surrenders our will to God’s, asks God to meet needs, asks forgiveness and forgives others, seeks protection from temptation and evil, and ends in worship of our always-worthy God. These are elements of prayer we can strive to cover in our conversations with Him every day.

But we don’t have to cover them all every time we pray. There are a lot of helpful formulas out there that we can use as tools for prayer, but please remember, they are tools—not rules. When you learn about a friend’s tragedy, make that the focus of your prayer. If a conflict arises or a financial need, talk to God about it right away. If you’re fighting temptation or catch yourself in a sin, tell God what’s going on, confess your wrongs, ask Him to help you choose right or to make things right. We don’t have to focus on every aspect of prayer every time we pray. Instead we have many conversations with God covering different subjects throughout each day.

How We PrayAnd we don’t have to wait until we can kneel or close our eyes or get to church to pray. If the clock tells you it’s time for your dad’s surgery or your son’s test while you’re sitting in a meeting, think a prayer right where you are. Kneeling, bowing, and closing our eyes can help us to focus or remind us of our position before God. Praying at church allows us to be heard with other believers who are all talking together to God about the same thing. It’s important to pray in these ways sometimes, but they aren’t essential every time we pray.

There is one how that is essential to every prayer, though. This concerns our attitude. Whether we’re approaching God on our knees or while driving in the car, we need to approach Him with respect, humility, and a sincere heart. If we don’t believe He is listening to us, that He loves us, that He is able to keep His promises, and that His plans are perfect whether we understand them or not, our prayers will be hindered.

Suddenly I’m remembering the climactic scene from Gone with the Wind where Scarlett is ill. She has just suffered a miscarriage after falling down the stairs. She’s been crying out for Rhett, but no one has heard her. When someone finally does, when she finally has the opportunity to ask for him—something he’s desperately waiting for—she says, “Oh, what’s the use.” And that’s the end of the relationship. If Scarlett had only believed that Rhett would come if she called, he would have, and the story could have ended happily.

That said, our God will never give up on us like Rhett gave up on Scarlett, but He will wait until we call on Him . . . in faith . . . with the right attitude. Desperate for more of Him in every area of life, eager to see His Kingdom come and His Will done, that is how we pray.

Father, thank You for making it so easy to come to You. Thank you for encouraging us to do so. Thank You for waiting patiently. You are God, and there is no other. We need more of You. Amen.


 

Today I’m sharing this post at the Thought-Provoking Thursday Link-up. Click here to see what other posts are being shared there!

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Where Can We Pray?

The Conversation BeginsJust in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m starting this 31+ non-consecutive-day prayer series by answering the five W’s and H: Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How—not necessarily in that order, of course. I can’t be too predictable. So far I’ve written about what prayer is and who can pray. I’ve also touched on why and how we pray because it all kind of goes together. That’s okay. Repetition reinforces learning no matter our age.

Today I want to look at the question, “Where can we pray?”

Anywhere!!! Prayer is communicating with God. God is everywhere. Therefore, we can pray anywhere.

We don’t have to wait until we go to church or kneel beside our beds or sit down for a meal. If you feel grateful for something God is doing in your life, thank Him where you are. If you see an accident on the highway, pray for the victims as you drive past the scene. If you receive an e-mail notice with a prayer request, pray over it as you read. This kind of praying is the topic of my book, Parachute Prayer. I invite you to read it for many more prayer prompts like these.

In the meantime, let me throw out a few more ideas regarding where we can pray. These are for when we’re craving times of deeper, more focused prayer:

  • My personal favorite place to pray is in my journal. When I pick up my pen and start writing in that book, it doesn’t matter where I’m seated physically—my mind is focused on God as I’m writing. This doesn’t work for everyone; God has wired us all a little bit differently when it comes to how we concentrate best. My journal just happens to work best for me.
  • Hiding in the closet is another favorite of mine. Until recently, I thought this was unique—maybe strange. It’s not. It’s actually a pretty common mom thing. For some inexplicable reason, a closed closet seems to be an effective kid-free zone. That makes it Mom’s Sacred Space. Maybe there’s just something more personal about talking to God while seated . . . or lying . . . or crying in a small, enclosed place. (Just be sure your kids know where to find you if they need you. We wouldn’t want them to think that you abandoned them.) If there’s no room for you in your closet, try the Susannah Wesley approach and pull your apron over your head. This amazing woman taught her kids to respect this signal that she was taking a time-out for prayer. The concept is the same.
  • One church in our community has developed a prayer trail—a place where people can go to pray as they walk the carefully maintained path. I also know of people who simply pray for their neighborhoods as they walk through them. Studies have proven that we think better when we’re in motion. I’ve experienced this as some of my favorite writing ideas have come to me during long runs. God’s Spirit can also use the opportunity we provide by walking to help us remember things for which we want to pray. I do think our intent matters, though. God may take our prayers less seriously if we’re thinking, “I’m running, so I may as well pray,” rather than if we deliberately go on a walk because we want to pray. Let me clarify just a bit. If I’m running, and God brings a prayer concern to mind, I can pray while I’m running. That’s a Parachute Prayer. It’s a good thing. God gets my attention, and I respond to Him. But if I know God is calling me to a more focused time of prayer and I say, “Sure, God. But how about letting me accomplish two things at once? Let’s talk while I run,” my need for real communion with God probably won’t be met. God will patiently wait until I choose to set my heart wholly on Him.
  • I also like to pray while I’m driving. Sometimes if I have a ways to go, I’ll turn off the radio and have a talk with God. If you choose to give this a try, please remember not to close your eyes. Keep them on the road. Turning off the radio demonstrates an intentional decision to set our hearts on God and pray.
  • One final idea: we can pray in bed in the middle of the night. Sometimes this one really is more of an “I’m awake, God, so I may as well pray” kind of thing. But I don’t think He minds under these circumstances. Sometimes He wakes us up to talk to Him, putting specific concerns in our hearts. Other times He listens to whatever we have to say then helps us fall back to sleep—not unlike a parent who helps a child who wakes in the night.

We really can pray anywhere! God loves it when we choose to set our minds and hearts on Him.

Where do you like to pray?

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Book Review: “Glory Days”

Glory DaysMax Lucado’s new book, Glory Days, takes us through the Book of Joshua with courage and determination and God right by our side. I loved this book! It’s a quick read, but it’s full of knowledge and wisdom we Christians need. Someday I’m going to read it again, slowly, taking my time on all the questions for reflection included at the end of the book. For now, I’m savoring truths about Joshua and Caleb (my favorite as presented through Lucado’s eyes) and Rahab and several modern-day Promised Land dwellers whom Lucado introduces to his readers in this book.

Lucado starts out by explaining how we have three choices for our existence now: slavery to sin, free from sin but wandering in the wilderness, dwelling in the Promised Land. He then goes on to show us how we can experience that Promised Land life right now. Most chapters start with a Bible story from Joshua, some with a modern experience that parallels the Bible story in some way leading into that story. Then, as he reaches the end of the story, Lucado quickly switches, showing how we face similar challenges and can respond triumphantly by trusting in God to show us the way and to fight for us in order to glorify His name through us for all the world to see.

My words are not enough to express how highly I think of this book. Just know I recommend you read it! Thank you, Thomas Nelson Publishers, for sending a complimentary copy in exchange for this review.

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Who Can Pray?

Psalm 1As we continue our conversation about prayer, let’s consider the question, “Who can pray?” Anybody can pray! We just might not all get the desired response. Let’s take a step back and think about this.

Some people say God only hears the prayers of Christians. They get this idea from Bible verses that talk about God only hearing the prayers of the righteous. (Proverbs 15:29, Proverbs 28:9, Isaiah 1:15 are examples). In fact, David said that if he had cherished sin in his heart, God wouldn’t have heard his prayer (Psalm 66:18-20). These verses are true as presented in their context (the verses that surround them) or under the specified circumstances, but we run into trouble if we claim they present a hard and fast rule that God must obey all the time.

First of all, such a rule would give us the power to limit God. We don’t have that kind of power. We never will. God can hear anything He wants to hear. God can hear everything everyone on the planet is saying all at once. He may choose not to hear, or to ignore or disregard, some prayers, but He does so at His discretion, not ours.

Second, if God only heard the prayers of the saved, no one could be saved. God wants everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9), therefore, He hears the prayers of those yet-to-be-saved—especially when their hearts are turning to Him. He welcomes these prayers—maybe most of all! If someone is seeking Him, He hears and responds (Deuteronomy 4:29, 1 Chronicles 28:9, Jeremiah 29:13).

The Conversation BeginsHere’s a simple way to understand the idea of God not hearing some prayers:

Imagine your three-year-old has been on a rampage all day. You served him breakfast; he told you it was yucky and refused to eat. You served him lunch; he yelled, “Yucky! Yucky! Yucky! I want ice cream.” You served him dinner; he leaned over to his sister and said, “Mommy only makes yucky food.” To your frustration, she joined his game and dumped her food on the floor.

When the last mealtime battle of the day is over, your son comes to you all sweetness and sunshine. “Mommy, I love you. Will you bake me some cookies for dessert?”

You think: “I have had enough of this child for this day.” You say, “Guess what, Kiddo! It’s bedtime. Go get your pajamas on.” Another battle ensues, but you are not baking cookies. You don’t even respond to the request.

Admittedly, that’s a very simplistic, very human example. God is neither simplistic nor human. Yet, if someone is constantly calling him unfaithful, unable, or non-existent, encouraging others to do the same, He’s not going to pay attention to that person’s self-centered prayers. He will respond with loving discipline (note: loving discipline, never petty vengeance). He will continue to woo that person toward a loving and mature relationship with Him. He will not take away that person’s freedom to choose nor compromise what’s right to make a deal. He acts in accordance with His child’s behavior, teaching with the kind of patience mothers everywhere wish they had.

So anybody can pray. But God does not receive all prayers in the same way.

Let’s consider the flip side:

You and your three-year-old are enjoying a great day together. He eats the food you serve and asks for more. He even helps you feed his sister. Then he plays with her while you do the dishes. He folds washcloths and matches socks while you’re folding laundry. He cuddles close and listens attentively during story time. When he asks for cookies, you bake them joyfully. In fact, you make up your mind to bake him cookies before he even thinks to ask. Sharing cookies is the perfect end to this fantastic day.

Again, very simplistic, very human, but with a level of truth we can grasp. God created us to love and enjoy Him. When we do so by spending regular time with Him in prayer, He enjoys our company and enjoys answering our prayers—within the scope of His plans—for us, for others, for His Kingdom, for eternity.

  • Will He always give us the cookies if we’re living His way? No.
  • Does He only give us what we want if we’re living His way? No.

That’s not how the analogy works. (And for the record, if ever you think you’ve found a formula for getting God to give you what you want every time, you need to rethink it. You have thunk something wrong.)

God loves each person He has made and longs to enjoy a relationship with each one. He sees what we can’t, though, and answers our prayers according to His Will, for the good of His Kingdom and the glory of His name. Prayer is a conversation with Him about this relationship, about the business of His Kingdom. We pray to develop this relationship, to more deeply understand our loving God and His plans for us. That’s why anyone can pray; God wants relationship with everyone! But self-centered prayers with no regard for God are meaningless and likely to be ignored.

When we delight in God, He delights in us. Our prayers become more effective as the relationship grows. Anybody can pray. But if we want to be sure that God’s hearing our prayers, we have to want God.