The Benefits of Prayer
Prayer is the technique by which every person, no matter their earthly accomplishments, social status, or national origin, can effectively and immediately approach and communicate with his Maker. We cannot imagine that a loving and merciful Creator would not make himself easily accessible and approachable by his creations. The Father/Child relationship is the preeminent relationship in the universe of universes, so much so that God himself reaches down to the human realm, past all spirit personalities (even past the Christ), to personally indwell the minds of his earthly sons and daughters.
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”
– 1 Corinthians 3:16
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.”
– 1 Corinthians 6:19
It is by means of this indwelling spirit that God is aware of every action and reaction of His earthly children. He does not look down from His heavenly station and peer into our lives. He actually goes through our lives with us as a part of us. Thus, not one of us can do anything that God does not know about. Jesus told us:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
– Matthew 10:29-31
So clearly God hears all prayers. But does He listen, or give heed and respond, to all prayers? The answer is no. While God makes Himself available to His children at all times and under all circumstances, man must open the human end of the channel of communication in order to make available this ever-flowing stream of divine ministry. When man hears God's spirit speak within the human heart, inherent in such an experience is the fact that God simultaneously hears that man's prayer. However, when the human heart deliberately and persistently harbors the concepts of sin and iniquity, there gradually ensues the loss of personal prayer connection between man and his Maker.
If man turns away from the divine will, the very act of such deliberate and conscious disdain by the creature figuratively turns the ‘ears’ of God away from hearing the personal petitions of such lawless and disobedient humans.
“If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable.”
– Proverbs 28:9
Jesus, quoting from the Hebrew prophet, tells us:
“This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’”
– Matthew 13:13-15
Even the forgiveness of sin operates in this same unerring fashion. The Father in heaven has forgiven us even before we have thought to ask Him; this is an established fact.
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”
– Colossians 2:13-14
But such forgiveness is not available in our personal religious experience until such time as we forgive our fellow men. God's forgiveness in fact is not conditioned upon our forgiving our fellows; but in experience it is exactly so. We might understand that by saying that God’s forgiveness has already been sent and is at the door. But it is our forgiveness of our brothers that opens the door so we can receive it. So we see that prayer does not change the divine attitude toward man; but it does change man's attitude toward the changeless Father.
Jesus established the fact of the synchrony of divine and human forgiveness by way of the prayer that he taught the apostles.
“Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
– Matthew 6:11-15
This rule also applies in the area of mercy:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
– Matthew 5:7
“Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.”
– Proverbs 21:13
And also to judging:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
– Matthew 7:1-5
In fact, it applies to all areas of our lives:
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
– Matthew 7:12
Thus, when we have become wholly dedicated to doing the will of the Father in heaven, and to treating others fairly by forgiving them, showing mercy, and not judging them, we can be assured that He will listen to our prayers.
But listening to our prayers does not mean that He will grant every request. Many times, the things we ask for are things we are not prepared to receive. We have not truly counted the cost and the unintended consequences of our prayers being answered in the way we request. For example, we may pray for a marriage mate. But are we really equipped to receive a good and compatible partner? Have we developed patience and the ability to compromise? Can we trust? Can we be faithful? It would be better to pray for those qualities first, and when we have acquired them, then we will be in a position to receive a loving, thoughtful and compatible mate. Until then, answering the prayer may subject the praying individual and the acquired mate to unnecessary grief and tribulation.
As a wise father does not literally answer the foolish prayers of his ignorant and inexperienced children, neither does our heavenly One, albeit the children may derive much pleasure and satisfaction from the making of such absurd petitions. No, the Father gives to us the things that are best suited for our needs.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
– Matthew 7:9-11
The lessons Jesus gave as to prayer show that it is appropriate to include in our prayers petitions for our own needs, including the forgiveness of our sins. (Matthew 6:11-12) But the larger portion of our prayers should focus on giving thanks and seeking help to do the divine will, trusting that the Father will provide everything we need. As Jesus said:
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
– Matthew 6:33
“[P]ray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
– 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18
When we practice these things in connection with our prayers, we can be assured that the Father will not only hear our prayers, but listen and respond according to our needs.
And we do not want to forget that the Father sees us as eternal beings.
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
– John 17:3
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.”
– John 6:47
This means that the answers to some of our prayers may come after we begin the heavenly assent to the Father, when we are more prepared and better able to receive the responses we seek. If we do all things mentioned above and do not receive what we are asking for, then we can be assured there are other factors that come into play that perhaps we are not aware of. Instead of being ‘no,’ the answer could be ‘not now.’
Notwithstanding, the children of the Father should not hesitate to offer our prayers of thanksgiving, as well as our petitions for spiritual growth, spiritual insight, even our daily needs. We should be comfortable in communicating all things, even foolish things, to our heavenly Father. In many cases, the very vocalization of our absurd petitions reveals to us their folly and thereby we answer our own prayers.
Know, too, that our God is not a sensitive egoist, or a harsh potentate who must be placated and appeased by our self-deprecation. He is a loving, caring Father who wants our association, who seeks our association. He reached down to us first; He indwelt us before we even asked for it; He sent His son to reveal His true nature because He wants us to truly know Him; and He wants us to pour out our hearts to Him.
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”
- John 4:16-19
We can, therefore, have faith that whatever we pray for, He will always provide exactly what we need. And He will never be late.