This is the final message in a series on How Prayer Can Change Your Life and it has to do with the attitudes we need to have when praying for our problems. Ms. Ellie thought she would kill two birds with one stone by having the sixth graders in her Sunday School class write letters to a missionary couple they sponsored. The project would teach her students the importance of encouraging others and at the same time bring some encouragement to the missionaries. After giving the assignment she told the class, “Now I don’t want you to get disappointed if the missionary couple doesn’t write a letter back to you because they are very busy people and doesn’t have time to write to everyone who writes to them.” One student wrote, “Dear Missionaries, We are praying for you, but we don’t expect an answer.”
Unfortunately, that’s often the attitude we have when we send a pray up to God. We pray, but we don’t really expect an answer. We send up a lot of prayers but we don’t really expect a lot of answers to come down to us. Why is that? Just maybe we don’t receive what we are praying for because we’re not praying with the right attitude. Today we’re going to look at four attitudes that are really important when praying for your problems. These attitudes will increase the effectiveness of your prayers.
FIRST, YOU MUST BE WILLING TO LET GOD ANSWER IN HIS OWN TIME. God often delays sending the answer to our prayers. We have to let him answer in his own time. A good example of a man who prayed and prayed, but God delayed the answer to his prayer is Zechariah. His story is found in Luke, chapter 1, verses 5 through 20. There we find Zechariah being visited by an angel who tells him his prayers have been answered. His wife Elizabeth is going to have a baby and it’s a boy! Now how do I know that Zechariah had been praying for a baby boy? I know that because every Jewish couple prayed for a son. Every Jewish couple held out hope that if they had a son, he could be the promised Messiah, the Anointed One who would rescue his people from sin.
From the first day of their marriage and on, Elizabeth and Zechariah prayed for a son. They must have prayed that prayer a thousand times if not more. So when the angle of the Lord came to Zechariah with the news, “Your prayer has been answered,” Zechariah didn’t believe it. I hope that if an angel of the Lord comes to me, and tells me my prayer has been answered, that I would believe. But apparently Zechariah just could believe what the angle said. Why was he such a skeptic? Zechariah had long given up on expecting an answer to his prayer for a son. He was an old man and his wife was long past the age to bear children.
In verse 13 the angel clearly says, “Zechariah, your prayer has been heard.” The word “heard” there literally means “It’s already happened. It’s a done deal.” This isn’t “the check is on the way.” This is “the money is in the bank!” Or in this case, “the bun is in the oven.” God had heard Zechariah’s prayer the first time he prayed it, and he granted Zechariah’s request a long time ago, but sometimes God delays the sending of an answer. There’s no delay in God’s hearing the request. There’s no delay in God approving the request. But sometimes God delays the sending of the answer. The answer is given at just the right time – God’s time. When we don’t see an immediate answer to our prayers, we tend to get discouraged and give up or worse yet, we get angry with God.
When my children were little, they’d often ask for something and I’d have to say, “Not yet. You have to wait.” As they got older they learned to accept that answer without making a fuss. But when they were young and less in control of their impulses, they’d carry on, stomp their feet, start to cry and maybe even have a full blown temper tantrum. As they matured they began to understand that “not yet,” doesn’t mean “not ever”. When my son, David, was twelve he asked me, “Mom, can I drive your car?” I said, “Not yet. You’re not ready to drive my car.” David had to wait until he was older, until he had his permit from the state of Pennsylvania, before I could let him drive my car. He thought he was ready to drive long before he was old enough. He thought he was prepared to drive long before the state of Pennsylvania thought he was.
When God delays the giving of an answer, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s saying, “Not ever.” It may mean he’s saying, “Not yet, you have to wait.” When the time is right, God will give you the answer to your prayer. Other things need to happen first before it will be the right time for God to give you the answer. First, God needs to prepare you for the answer. I think of Habakkuk in the Old Testament. God was making him wait and he cried out to God, “How long, O Lord. How long are you going to let my prayer go unanswered?” When we are made to wait, we can find ourselves getting impatient and even frustrated like Habakkuk; maybe even angry.
It’s very difficult to wait for a prayer to be answered. We think if God sees what we’re going through, why doesn’t he help us? Why isn’t he responding? That’s a legitimate question. If God hears and if God cares and if God has the power to do something about our situation, why doesn’t he? The answer is – he’s waiting until just the right time. He’s waiting until everyone involved is ready. Now the problem is: we usually think we’re ready for the answer long before God thinks we’re ready. We think we’re ready to receive the answer but God is preparing us to receive the answer. He’s waiting for us to grow up so that we’re ready to receive the answered prayer. God is more interested in making us into mature Christians than he is in making our lives easier. He’s more interested in changing what’s on the inside of us than he is in changing what’s on the outside of us. When you realize that, you’re one step closer to receiving the answer from God that you’ve been praying for. When you realize that, your prayers will be very different. Instead of praying, “God, please change my spouse”, you’ll find yourself praying, “God, please change me so I can be a better person to be married to. Change my attitude about my marriage and prepare me to receive your gift of a loving relationship with my spouse.” Once your attitude is what God wants it to be, then he can go ahead and give you what you’ve been praying for.
Maybe your prayers are for financial help right now? Before God answers your prayer for financial help, he’s going to wants you to have the right attitude toward money. Are you praying for someone in your life to change? God may be waiting for you to change first before He can give you the answer to your prayer. You see, God is never too late. His timing is always perfect. We may not understand His timing, but it will always be perfect. Think back to Zechariah. If God had answered Zechariah’s prayer for a son any earlier, he would have just gotten an ordinary little Jewish boy. Instead, he got an extraordinary little Jewish boy who turned out to be the forerunner to the Messiah. Instead, he got John the Baptist, the last of the great prophets who pointed the way to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
SECOND, YOU MUST BE WILLING TO LET GOD ANSWER IN HIS OWN WAY. You must be willing to let God answer in the way he knows is best. God’s ways are higher than our ways and he is willing to give us far more than we can ask for or even imagine. Think of Hannah in the Old Testament. She prayed relentlessly for a little boy. All she wanted was an ordinary little boy to love. But when God answered her prayer she was given Samuel, the greatest of the Old Testament Prophets. God had something much bigger in mind for Hannah and for her people.
There are two problems or pitfalls when we pray. One is that we ask too little of God. The other is that we want the answer too quickly. In writing to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul includes a prayer for them. He ends that prayer with by saying, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21) Paul is saying that the God we serve is so big and so generous, that we can’t even imagine what he is able to do for us. We can’t even begin to imagine how powerful and compassionate our God is.
When we pray, we ask too little and we expect it too quickly. It takes time for God to prepare our hearts and minds to receive immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. John D. Rockefeller once said, “I would never give a man a million bucks all at once because he couldn’t handle it. I would however give it to him over time, a little at a time, until I saw he could handle it.”
The truth is, if God had answered some of our prayers just the way we asked him to, we would have been shortchanged. Instead, his answer – given in his time and in his way is far greater than anything we could ask or imagine.
Zechariah prayed for an ordinary baby boy, but God waited until he could give Zechariah far more than he could ask or imagine. He had to prepare Zechariah and Elizabeth to be the parents of the forerunner to the Messiah. Hannah prayed for an ordinary baby boy and God gave her Samuel, the greatest of the Old Testament Prophets. You, too, must be willing to let God answer in His own time and in His own way.
THIRD, YOU MUST BE WILLING TO LET GOD ANSWER IN HIS OWN POWER. If you don’t let God answer in His own power, then you’ll always be trying to answer your own prayers in your own power. You don’t to do that. Trying to answer your own prayer will give you an ordinary outcome rather than an extraordinary one. That’s what we call a miracle – something extraordinary that is done by the power of God. If you want a miracle, then you have to be willing to let God answer in His own power.
We learn from Zechariah and Elizabeth that God often waits until a situation is humanly impossible. When did God give Zechariah and Elizabeth their little boy? It was after they were physically unable to have children. Then God answered their prayers. Why did God wait? Because when God intervenes in an impossible situation, he gets all the credit. He gets all the glory. When God answers your prayers in his own power, it’s clear who is responsible for the answer and who deserves the glory.
A similar thing happened to Abraham and Sarah. God came to Abraham and said, “You’re going to be the father of a great nation.” Abraham said, “That’s great, Lord, even though I don’t have any children.” So Abraham waited and waited and nothing happened. Sarah didn’t get pregnant. So he thought he’d help God out and he went and took for himself a second wife and he had a son to her. But God said, “Abraham, that’s not the plan. That’s not how I’m going to do it. You have to let me answer in my time and in my way and in my power.” So at the age of 99, with Sarah 90, God comes to Abraham and says, “Abraham, you’re going to be a father.” Romans 4:19 says, “…Abraham faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”
I need to warn you about something. When you pray for your problems, they just may get worse before it gets better. You may be praying for your marriage, and God may allow it to get worse before He’s going to make it better. You may be praying for a child who is struggling, and God may let that child get worse before he gets better. You may be praying about your finances and God may allow them to get worse before they get better. Why is that? It’s because God wants to demonstrate His power in your life by making something happen in a seemingly impossible situation so there is no doubt whose responsible for the answer to your prayers and who should be given the glory.
Think of Mary and Martha in the Bible. Their brother, Lazarus, got sick and they sent word to Jesus. They said, “Lazarus is dying. Come quickly.” Jesus was only a few miles away when He got the news. He could have showed up before Lazarus died, but he waited for three days. Four days later he shows up and Mary and Martha let Him have it for not coming sooner. They said, “If you had come when you got the message, Lazarus would still be alive! Now he’s dead and it’s too late.” Jesus explained, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” (John 11:14) He told them, “Your brother will rise again.” (John 11:23) They thought he was talking about the resurrection at the last day. Jesus explained, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die…” (John 11:25) Then Jesus went to the tomb, had the stone removed from the opening and shouted, “Lazarus, come out.” And Lazarus came walking out.
Jesus waited until it was humanly impossible for Lazarus to get better and then He demonstrated his power. What would have gotten their attention more: for Him to heal Lazarus when he was sick or for Him to raise Lazarus from the dead? Which would have caused them to give more glory to God? Which would have caused them to recognize God’s awesome power more?
You must be willing to allow God to answer your prayers in His own time, in His own way, and in His own power.
FOURTH, YOU MUST BE WILLING TO LET GOD ANSWER FOR HIS OWN PURPOSE. God answered Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayers because he needed a John the Baptist to announce the birth of his son, Jesus. The same is true for Joseph in the Old Testament. God allowed terrible things to happen to Joseph. He was betrayed by his brothers, beaten and thrown into a well, sold into slavery, unjustly accused of something he didn’t do and thrown into prison, and when everything looked completely hopeless, that is when God answered Joseph’s prayer for help. He raised Joseph up to be second in command to the Pharaoh. Why? Because He needed someone who could save the Hebrew people from famine and starvation.
Never forget that life is not all about you. You exist for God’s purposes, not vise versa. God’s ultimate goal for your life on earth is not comfort, but character development. He wants you to grow up spiritually and become like Christ. The apostle Paul tells us, “As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like Him and reflect his glory even more.” (2nd Corinthians 3:18b) And the Psalmist says, “I call upon the God Most High, to the God who completes what he began in me.” (Psalm 57:2) God will complete the work he began in you as well as you let him answer your prayers in His own time, in His own way, in His own power, and for his own purpose.