God Knows What We Really Need

Be Ready for What You Pray For
By Brian Lawrence

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7)

The word "pray" or "prayer" appears in the NIV version of the Bible 347 times. Prayer first appears in Genesis 20 and last appears in Revelation 8, spanning nearly the entire Bible. Throughout God's Holy Word, we are shown how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13), where to pray (Matthew 6:5-6), when to pray (1Thessalonians 5:17), why to pray (2Chronicles 7:14), and whom to pray for (Matthew 5:44). We are shown model prayers by our patriarchs (Genesis 32:10-12, Deuteronomy 9:26-29, 1Kings 8:22-53), requests for prayer by unbelievers to believers (Exodus 8:28), and the results of prayers answered (Genesis 20:17, Genesis 25:21, 1Samuel 1:19). We can read about prayers of anguish (1Kings 19:4), prayers of repentance (Ezra 9:5-7), prayers of praise (Psalm 66:20), and prayers of intercession (1Kings 13:6). Prayer is one of the cornerstones of the Christian's life.

During my short time as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I've seen many prayers answered and many not answered. Recently, though, God taught me a valuable lesson about being ready to respond when He answers a prayer. And through this lesson God drove home several important points about prayer and the Christian life. First, what we pray for should be for God's glory and not our own. Second, when we pray, we must expect God to answer the prayer. Finally, when God opens the door we've prayed for, we must act.

Even our failures, or should I say especially our failures, God uses for our growth and for others' benefit. From my own failures, God taught me three lessons about prayer.

First, what we pray for should be for God's glory and kingdom. Matthew 6:33 says, "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

There is an unfortunate movement among supposedly Christian organizations, especially those on television, called the "name it and claim it" movement. What this movement falsely teaches is that God put us here for our benefit, not for His, and therefore, if we believe we should have it, God will give it to us. If we believe we should be rich, we will be. If we believe we should have power, we'll have it. A spin-off of this movement are those television evangelists who say if we give to them, God will give back twice, three times, maybe even ten times as much. To put it bluntly, this is wrong. This is seeking our glory and not God's.

When we pray, we must examine our motives. Why are we praying for what we're praying for? Is it for God's glory or our own selfish wants? Even when we pray for the healing of others who may be gravely ill, we need to examine why we want that healing. If it's not for God's glory, why should He honor that prayer? If we have a relative dying of cancer and the only reason we want them healed is because of our own grief, is that for God's glory?

Notice what John 14:13 says. "And I will do whatever you ask in my name,..." Jesus had just finished telling his apostles that they would do greater things even than He. And then He tells us, He'll do anything we ask him. But what does that mean? Asking in Jesus' name does not mean simply repeating, "I ask all this in Jesus' name" at the end of our prayer, and then, no matter what the prayer was, Jesus will answer it. The rest of the verse says, "...so that the Son may bring glory to the Father." Therefore, whatever we ask Jesus to do, He'll only do if He can bring glory to God. Even Jesus must bring glory to God in all He does. So too, must we. We need to align our prayer life with God's kingdom, not the other way around.

The second point I learned from my experiences is that after we've prayed, we must be watchful and ready for God to answer that prayer and to use us for His kingdom.

We've overcome the first hurdle and adjusted our prayer life so that our prayers are for the glory of God. Now what? Now, be ready. God will start answering those prayers. When He does, we need to respond. For example, if we ask God to put those in our path whom we should witness to, then we need to watch and pay attention to whom God puts in our path. And when someone is put in our path that is lost, we need to respond and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even if we don't feel like it at the moment.

To put it in the world's terms, say you ask your boss for a chance to be project lead. At first he says no, but you persist and week after week you ask him to give you a chance. Finally, after months of pleading the boss promotes you to project lead. Only, instead of responding by working harder and validating his trust, you slack off. You just don't feel like leading at the moment, so you don't. You let the project deadline slip. Nothing is done to specification. Quality is down. Do you think your boss will let you do that again? Not for some time, anyway.

It's the same way with God. If we ask Him for something and He delivers, but we don't respond, what makes you think He'll be quick to answer our prayers again anytime soon?

If what we've prayed for is for the glory of God, and if we're watching and ready for God to answer the prayer, when He does, we must be willing to yield to the Spirit and act. Oftentimes, the way God answers a prayer is by opening a door. We still have to step out in faith and go through that door (see Hebrews 11:8). We can't sit back and passively wait for God and expect Him to give us everything we ask for without some kind of effort of our own.

Usually, our failure to act is selfishness. Sometimes, fear works it's way into the equation as well, but even fear is based on selfishness. In some of my own failures, I realized that some of them were a mixture of fear of what to say, and selfishness; I was preoccupied with matters pertaining to my own interest and didn't want to take the time. Both reasons quenched the Spirit. I failed to take up my cross those day and crucify myself so that I could live in the Spirit (see Matthew 10:38 and Romans 6).

Fortunately, our God is a God of second chances, and He uses our mistakes and our failures to help us grow and to teach us. Examine your prayer life and be sure what you're praying for is for the glory of God. After you pray, be watchful and expect God to respond. And when God responds, yield to the Spirit and walk through the door He has opened.

Sometimes the answer to what we prayed for is surprising to us because it is not according to what we expected. This happens because the Lord knows what we really need. We may ask for material prosperity, but He knows what we really need is genuine peace and joy. Or we may pray for strength and security, but deep within we are really longing for eternity.

And thus, according to His infinite wisdom, and as the Master of all things that He is, the Lord knows how to answer the real and true desires of our hearts -- for after all, it is He himself who placed those noble and genuine desires in our hearts to initiate us and stir us up into accomplishing His divine purpose in each of our individual lives for His glory.

Some people may not get what they are praying for and trying so hard to achieve at the present moment or at some point in their lives, yet it doesn't mean that the God-given noble desires of their hearts are not being answered or will not be answered by the Lord.

We may be praying for some earthly authority over other people, but deep within our being what the Lord really has planted in our hearts is the divine desire to serve Him through our fellowmen.

When prayed for, no God-given desire is left unanswered -- for it is a seed from heaven planted in the God-fertilized soil of our hearts. No rain that falls from heaven shall accomplish nothing. Just as no word of the Lord that proceeds out of His mouth shall return to Him void.

"So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."
(Isaiah 55:11)

People may be desiring and praying for one and the same thing to have when only one of them can have it at a point in time. But the Lord knows how and when to answer every one of them; for He knows what the real desire of their hearts truly is -- for it is the Lord who called them and initiated them to that desire.

In time, some of them will be in one place, others will be in other places. Some will be doing one task, others will be assigned other tasks. But ultimately, no one of them will be doing the task not according to the true desires which the Lord has planted in their hearts. When their individual seasons come in their own times, they will be like the season of bloom.