Many become discouraged or turn away from God because of their frustrations with praying to God. Let’s be honest. The majority of our prayers are not answered as miracles were not the norm in Jesus’ time and certainly seem rare now. We will look at how the Bible is often misinterpreted which leads to disappointments in our prayer life, but often we stop bothering to pray because we overlook the most important reason for talking to God.
Momma always said to hang out with the right people so to make wiser choices. The main reason for talking to God is for relational purposes – personal growth and character development. Spending time with God makes us a better person as we begin to understand things from God’s perspective. I am definitely a better husband, father, and friend because of God’s influence in my life. If our entire prayer life was only asking God to help us love others as we want to be loved, that would be enough reason to pray.
The truth is not even an all-powerful God can create and guarantee life without death, violence, suffering, and struggle and yet there be free will necessary for authentic relationships. A wife prays for her alcoholic husband to stop drinking but God is going to respect ones choice. Abstaining for someone else seldom lasts anyway. Two people often pray for the same job. One may pray for rain while another for the rain to stop. We pray for miracles but our sufferings may help others more. It did in Jesus’ life. Martin Luther King’s suffering moved the scales from the eyes of many how they tolerated bigotry. I truly believe once we get to know who God really is we will trust God to give us what we would have asked if we knew everything God knew.
Certain interpretations of the Bible often get in the way of rational thinking. One may quote that I wrote: “I hate hamburgers.” What I said is: “I hate hamburgers compared to steak.” The Bible records letters written, not a bunch of separate sentences to quote out of context. When the Bible says to turn the other cheek, it is not encouraging women to accept physical abuse from their spouses. Many passages are quoted out of context to confuse people about prayer:
- James 1:6 is quoted: “But when you ask, you must believe…” The sentence before in verse 5 is not included which says: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault…” We mustn’t doubt God’s desire to always give good gifts despite our failings. This passage is not promising that God will remove all suffering from our lives by simply asking. The writer in the same breathe says to count it joy when facing trails and to persevere (v.2). Perseverance is unnecessary if God simply grants miracles. Biblical writers don’t always say every time what is implied throughout Scriptures – God will always give us what we would have asked for if we knew all that God knew.
- James 4:2 is quoted partly: “You do not have because you do not ask God…” But, the next sentence/verse says you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives to satisfy selfish desires. The context is how God always answer prayers if one seeks to make peace with oneself and others despite human, internal struggles with selfish desires. There is always an implied qualification to the promise of answered prayer – there must be a desire to do God’s moral will which is always in the best interest of all.
- Mt 7:7 says: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” The passage says if we parents give good gifts despite our imperfections, will not God as our perfect Parent always give good gifts when asked. First-century readers would not assume this was a blank check for any request. Verse 12 in this context encourages to do unto others as you would have them do to you. Ask God for the desire and heart to fulfill this good gift toward others. God will help us to be the kind of person we desire to be. I know I am a better man the closer I keep getting to God.
- I John 5: 15 says: “And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.” Verse 14 adds some context – “that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us.” God isn’t trying to hedge His bet. The world is a pretty big place to manage. God is a reliable, loving Creator. In this context because God is who He says He is, we can rely on the promise of external life given in verses 13, 16-18. God desperately desires to give the hope of eternal life to those that wish to be with God forever.
The most important reason for praying or talking to God is to ask for His influence in becoming the kind of person we deep down wish to become. Prayer is also sharing with God our heart’s desires, but the biblical writers didn’t always add: “but God you know best!” Do we trust God to give us what we would have asked if we know everything God knew? Finally, let’s read the entire bible passage to see what God said to someone else, and then reflect on what God may be saying to us – what to be thankful for, what to confess, what actions to take.