Answered Prayer: Great Expectations

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Is it wrong to place expectations on God when it comes to prayer?

I’m currently working on a picture book on prayer. Here’s a quote:

“I heard your prayer. You thanked Me for breakfast. You’re welcome. Is that such a surprise?” asked God.

Kaitlyn stirred her cereal. “I guess not,” she said. “I just didn’t expect You to answer.”

“And why shouldn’t My children expect an answer when they talk to Me?” 

My critique group flagged the word “expect.” 

I thumbed through my thesaurus, (okay, scrolled) and found “anticipate.” Another writer suggested “wait for.”

And isn’t that the problem? 

Do we really expect, anticipate, or wait for answers from God?

My thinking shifted in a counseling session during which I asked God specific questions and waited for His answers—which He gave. Immediately. I was stunned.

Since then, I’ve been training myself to be still and listen for God’s voice.

Yet I find myself doing the same thing as my character when I pray over a meal. I expect God to respond to prayer—just not at the dinner table. 

Here’s what I’m learning as I seek to dialogue with God:

1. I can’t listen if I never shut up. (My greatest challenge!)

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’” Psalm 46:10 NIV

2. God’s whispers are easily doubted and brushed aside. Yet He continues to whisper. If you think it’s God, go with it. 

“After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” 1 Kings 19:12

3. The enemy talks too. His voice? Loud. Clear. And wrong. Learn to discern.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say . . .’” Genesis 3:1

4. God’s timeframe for answers rarely matches ours, but don’t stop looking and listening. Daniel waited three weeks because of demonic interference. Abraham waited years because he wasn’t ready for his mission. Zechariah and Elizabeth also waited for years, but because of a historical timing issue. 

“Then he continued, ‘Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.’” Daniel 10:12-13

5. God wants to speak to you and is probably speaking right now. Have you prepared yourself to hear Him? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Does God hold a place of reverence and authority in your life? Are you careless with your choices? Are you intentional in following the leading of the Holy Spirit? Character matters. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8

6. God speaks in many, different ways. Dreams, donkeys, writing on the wall. Don’t put him in a box. 

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit’ . . . When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”  Matthew 1:19-21, 24

7. When God speaks, write it down. When you heard Him but didn’t jump on it, record it. When you heard Him and obeyed, take note. Sharpen your sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and keep track. You’ll be amazed at how much God talks once you start paying attention.

“I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.” Habakkuk 2:1

8. Pray together. There is power in prayer, and it multiplies when we come together. My youngest and I have been praying together for over a month now. Both the consistency and the number of answers has staggered me. 

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20

Pray with expectation. God not only hears you, He has an answer as well. 

Activities:

1. Pray together as a family (weekly?) and keep a prayer journal. 

2. In your personal prayer time, use your imagination. Picture your favorite place on earth. Now, imagine Jesus is with you. Spend some time hanging out there. Why did you choose this spot?

3. Challenge yourself to be still and listen this week. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Set a timer and stay put until it goes off. Be reasonable. If this is new to you, start short.

4. Monologue or dialogue? Which characterizes your relationships? Your prayer life?

Prayer: It’s a Group Project

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When you pray, you don’t pray alone.

I’ve been studying prayer and recently, God took me to Matthew 6, the Lord’s Prayer.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven, . . .’” Matthew 6:9 NIV

For this first line, God gave me a picture of Jesus and the Holy Spirit on either side of me as I knelt. Normally when I think of “Our Father” I think of “Our” as the Church, other believers. God is “Our Father.” But that day, God pointed to His Son and His Spirit as part of the “Our.”

Son and Spirit also share the privilege and responsibility of intercession.

These verses point to Jesus as our intercessor:

  • Therefore, I will give him a portion among the great, 
        and he will divide the spoils with the strong, 
    because he poured out his life unto death,
        and was numbered with the transgressors.
    For he bore the sin of many,
        and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:12 [emphasis mine, Suffering Servant passage]
  • Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Romans 8:34
  • Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Hebrews 7:25

Did you catch the “always” in that last verse? If you think no one ever prays for you, think again. Jesus does. Always.

Paul points to the Holy Spirit’s role in intercession:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. Romans 8:26-27

When you don’t have the words, the Holy Spirit does, and those words match what Father God is thinking. Both the Son and the Spirit pray in alignment with God’s will, because They know it perfectly. That’s our challenge. To seek God’s will before we ask to make sure we are in alignment, too.

Remember group projects in school? There was always one person who was content to let everyone else do the work. Prayer is a group project with you, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Here are some tips on how to be a good group member:

1. Pray before you pray. Ask God how to pray for/regarding ___________.

2. God’s Word provides the foundation for prayer. Is there a promise or verse that fits your need?

3. Pray specifically. Jesus often asked what people wanted Him to do for them. Tell Him. 

Enjoy your group project of prayer. You have the best partners ever. You never pray alone.

Activities:

1. Create a family project: Fix dinner, do some yardwork. Give each person a task. What happens when one person opts out? How does this apply to intercession? 

2. Examine your prayers. On what do you base your requests?

3. How can you move your prayers from general to specific?

Pray About Everything

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Everything? Seriously? Who has that kind of time?

However, not praying may cost us more time in the long run. In the Old Testament, Joshua learned the hard way. Twice. Ouch.

Scenario 1: All’s well—or so we thought. 

The Israelites had just come off a big win in Jericho. Woo-hoo! Big shout. Walls came down. Easy victory. The only casualties came in the form of blisters from the trek around the city. Next up? The small town of Ai. Joshua sent men to spy out the land. 

“When they returned to Joshua, they said, ‘Not all the people will have to go up to Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there.’” Joshua 7:3 NIV

Joshua had a choice: check with his Commander-in-chief or follow the advice of his men. Ever been there? Tough choice when human counsel makes sense. Here’s what happened.

“So about three thousand men went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gates as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the heart of the people melted and became like water.” Joshua 7:4-5

Uh-oh. Joshua suddenly found time for prayer. Joshua and the elders face-planted before God and asked the big question. Why?

God answered quickly. There was sin in the camp and Joshua needed to deal with it. God even sifted the twelve tribes to locate the guilty party. Sadly, this came after the deaths of thirty-six men. Fathers. Sons. Brothers. Husbands. Had Joshua prayed before the battle, God would have revealed the problem. The battle would have been postponed while Israel dealt with the sin that infected the camp. 

Pray about everything, even when everything looks okay. 

Scenario 2: We don’t have all the facts. 

In the second scenario, a group of strangers approached the Israelites. They appeared to have traveled a long way and they wanted to make a covenant with Israel. Yet Israel was God’s instrument for judgment on the wicked peoples of Canaan and none were to be spared. 

The travelers looked authentic. Worn clothing. Patched shoes. Dry bread. 

“The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD.” Joshua 9:14

Hmmm. Makes me wonder why they didn’t ask. God always has more information than we do. 

“Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath. Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them.” Joshua 9:15-16

Oops. That didn’t go over well with the rest of the Israelites. They trusted their leaders to seek God. When Joshua and the elders failed to do so, the people grumbled.

Let’s not allow our leadership to take a hit because we didn’t take time to ask. 

Both the asking and the answer take time—yet we gain the divine perspective and the truth, whether it’s hidden sin or the enemy in disguise. 

Pray. About everything.

Activities:

1. Share a time when you didn’t have all the information you needed, and it cost you.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6 [emphasis mine]

2. Is time a factor in your decision of whether or not to pray? What pressures you to rush a decision? What are the pros and cons of waiting? As a family, practice being still and listening in prayer. Start by setting a timer. Develop a daily habit of waiting on God to answer.

3. Will God really answer? Does doubt haunt you?

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

What verses can you add to the ones above?

4. On your next store run, choose notebooks, journals, or even a whiteboard. Keep track of requests and answers. Date them. 

Keep Talking—To Him

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Pray continually. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 NIV

If this verse gives you flashes of life in a monastery, relax. That said, one of the best practical examples of this verse was a seventeenth-century Carmelite monk named Brother Lawrence. He wrote the book, The Practice of the Presence of God. 

Let’s explore some insights into the verse above:

1) Prayer should be regular. Don’t relegate prayer to a few lines at meals or before bed. Make an appointment. What regular task do you have that allows you to pray? Folding laundry? Unloading the dishwasher? Commuting? I’ve found walking provides a great time to pray. 

“We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.” 1 Thess. 1:2

2) Prayer enables personal fellowship with God. Brother Lawrence shone here because he practiced God’s presence wherever he went. His mindset centered on continual fellowship with God. My hurdle? one-way communication. I talk too much. I’m working on stopping and listening. 

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:5-7 [emphasis mine]

3) Be faithful in prayer. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary highlights two words: persistent and consistent. In Luke 18, the parable of the persistent widow speaks to perseverance in prayer. Acts 10 records the conversion of the first Gentile, Cornelius. This man’s consistent prayers and generosity caught God’s attention.  

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. Luke 18:1

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. Acts 10:1-2

4) Eliminate hindrances. Matthew Henry said prayer without ceasing was not praying all the time, but that at the proper time, nothing should hinder us in prayer. What hinders you? For me, the clock tick, tick, ticks. The waiting demands of the day pressure me to cut my time with God short. God often multiplies my time when I make room for Him. 

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8

5) Cultivate an attitude of dependence. Adam Clarke said, “Feel that dependence at all times and you will always be in a spirit of prayer.” When God becomes your Source for all things, you will find yourself often at the Source. My granddaughters look to their mom and dad for everything. My heart toward my heavenly Dad should be just like theirs. 

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

6) Link prayer to joy. I don’t believe it’s coincidental this verse follows last week’s verse on joy. If one is missing in your life, the other might be as well. As with joy, I struggle with prayer. Finding, no, making time. Talking too much. Learning to listen. Like joy, I have to choose prayer and often, it’s work. For now.

Rejoice always, pray continually.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown interpret the Greek as to pray without intermission. Let’s close the gaps in our prayer lives. 

Activities:

1) Be intentional. Schedule a weekly family prayer time. Talk about prayer concerns. Pray for each other. Pair up for prayer one night. Mom, Dad, how about a family blessing? Tailor your blessings to the needs and love languages of your kids. (A great resource is Gary Smalley and John Trent’s book, The Blessing.)

2) Cultivate a sense of God’s presence by setting an extra place at the table, making room on the couch, or saving a seat in the car. How does this affect the conversation or entertainment choices? (Brother Lawrence’s book, The Practice of the Presence of God, is a classic.)

3) Share some long-term prayers. What has kept you going?

4) Share your personal prayer challenges and help each other find solutions. I always think of things I need to do. Having a Post-it Note and a pen handy allow me to jot it down, then refocus on God. 

5) Talk about the need for a two-way conversation. What would family time look like if one person talked the whole time?

10 Tips for Prayer and Praise

10 Tips for Prayer and Praise

“There is much need for prayer and much cause to praise. Suffering should elicit prayer. Sufficiency should elicit praise.” (Blue, The Bible Knowledge Commentary)

The fast pace of life can cause prayer to be a last resort. And praise? It’s often reserved for church. God intended both to be part of our normal day. Though Todd White has tagged the phrase Lifestyle Christianity, God put the thought down first in Deuteronomy 6:4-7 NIV: 

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Mealtime, drive time, downtime, God wants our relationship with Him to weave throughout our life. Paul speaks to a lifestyle of prayer and praise in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Here are some tips to help incorporate praise and prayer into the day.

Let’s tackle praise first:

  • Tie praise to thanksgiving. When you encounter something you’re thankful for, stop and give thanks. Right then. I’m thankful for hot water and soap. Every day. Cold showers? No, thank you.
  • Often the most mundane chores link to God’s sufficiency and provision: washing dishes, grocery shopping, cleaning house, laundry, folding towels and blankets. Praise Him for your work and His provision. 
  • Keep a praise playlist handy. Listen while getting ready in the morning, driving, or fixing dinner. Track the usual go-to tunes. How do they impact the day?
  • Expand your worship genre. Some of the best worship finds come from the kids. Ask them to share what they like, especially in the car.
  • Nature inspires praise. Pause and take in the sunset. Linger on the wonders that surround you every day. 

Now, for prayer: 

  • Keep a prayer journal. This takes you straight to your chief concerns. No fumbling for forgotten requests. No guilt for having missed someone.
  • Prioritize. Who and what are really on your heart? God often guides us in prayer by giving us compassion for someone or for something.
  • Release the rest. If God brings a specific person or situation to mind, stop and pray, but don’t feel like you have to cover the world. 
  • Set a reminder on your phone for those free moments in the day. 
  • Connect your playlist to your prayer list. Link special music with a specific concern.

James 5:16 NIV says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” The kingdom suffers without prayer and we suffer without praise. Let’s make them part of our lifestyle.

Workout for the Week: 10 Tips for Prayer and Praise

Memory Verse: James 5:16 “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” 

Meditation Passage: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Do It: Make time for prayer and praise this week. 

Prayer resources: Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Wiederkehr