A little over a year ago, I wrote one of my first articles, titled “Prayer”. It covered the main building blocks of prayer - how to pray, what to pray for, why some prayers don’t get answered, and what to expect.
Today, in “Prayer: Part 2”, I’d like to go a bit deeper and elaborate more on what is beneath the surface of prayer in general. As I have progressed through my own ministry to others, questions arise, and they get tougher over time. Some seek the simple answers, and others, like myself, are students of the Word and prefer a deeper and more knowledgeable answer to the same questions, often because we like to see how everything connects. Neither way is necessarily better than the other.
Recently, questions were posed to me along the lines of, “Is prayer alone enough in all situations?”, “Do I need to pray then take action?”, “Can I just pray and hope for the best?”. Different situations require different approaches, and emphatically the answer is yes, prayer alone is enough, but there are situations where you need to take action after the prayer. In fact, throughout the New Testament, more often than not, Jesus commanded us to pray AND take action.
Here are some examples from the Word:
Hebrews 13:16 (NIV): And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Luke 6:38 (ESV): give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Acts 10:2 (ESV): a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.
By these few verses alone, we can tell the message is obvious - we must pray AND look out for others through our actions if we expect our prayers to be answered and good things to come our way.
Jesus, as always, is the perfect example to follow in this subject. Even though He is the Son of God, and had never sinned, He spent most of His time on earth in prayer to our Father, God. When reading throughout the New Testament, you come to the conclusion that His prayers were not only answered because of His righteousness but also because of His good deeds that He did for others. The Bible literally tells us He went about doing good and healing those who were oppressed:
Acts 10:38 (ESV): how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
Now, understand that prayer is fundamental to approach God, but from interpreting the Word, it’s by doing good that we attract God’s attention - it is our charity that makes the prayer effective. Do not misunderstand this either, however - sometimes the answer is just, “No.” to your prayer, no matter how much good you do.
I could pray to win a million dollars and be the most giving man my entire life, possibly giving away more than a million dollars worth of things, and never get that prayer answered. The simple reason is because God is our Father, and He is a good, good Father. And just like a good Father, He knows what is best for His children. He knows what we would do with that million dollars, how it might change us for the worse, or how it might alter His plan for us that impacts many others besides the people we deal with regularly.
As a good Father, He knows how to say yes to some of His children as well, so some people will win a million dollars in their life. Much like a good parent might let their older child stay up late on a school night but tell their younger child to go to bed early on the same night due to how each performs in school the day after allowing this to happen, God takes care of His children by knowing what is absolutely best for ALL of us.
We also must not forget the fact of God’s Sovereignty over all things, and that He does allow things to come about naturally and grow and change organically - it is the way the world works, and it is the way we were designed, even in this fallen state of existence.
Praying through Hard Times
Often, hard times and trials are what bring people to the Lord who have not yet given their life to Him or perhaps fallen off the path that they were once on when He was the center of their life and decisions. Our walk towards Heaven is sometimes long and arduous, and one of the many struggles people face is financial struggle. This is also what people tend to pray for most, in one way or another.
As of November 2019, according to a Forbes study, 43 million Americans , or 17%, are struggling with most if not all aspects of their financial lives. Meanwhile, 135 million, or 54%, are struggling with some aspect of their financial lives and 73 million, or 29% of people, are spending, saving, borrowing and planning accordingly. Interestingly, according to a statistical study done by Church Leaders (.com), about 64% of Americans generally pray for financial success in some fashion daily or generally.
So, why am I bringing this up? Generally, we pray for a solution to our problems which is a natural reflex because we are taught in the Word that God is the solution to all of our problems. And I agree emphatically - God IS the solution to ALL of our problems, and He laid out how we should solve them in the Word perfectly that works for everyone. If prayers don’t get answered immediately, however, it is NOT God’s fault like some may tend to think when they give their life to God and not everything is immediately better and fixed.
Consider the verse from earlier - Luke 6:38 - Jesus shows that prayer alone is not always sufficient in order to receive: “….give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Now, understand this as well - Jesus also said, prior to this, "Ask and you shall receive" in Matthew 7:7, but now He added to it by saying: "Give and it shall be given you". These two verses have one thing in common - to receive. But, catch this, to ask is the first condition and the second is to give. Both are sound, fundamental actions needed in order to receive.
In my experience of talking with others, most prayers are based on the first condition of asking, which is not necessarily a problem in itself, but it’s when we forget to thank God for what we do have and forget to be a giver to others that issues may arise.
Luke 6:36 teaches us that what is received (from God) after giving will be a “good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over”. It is OK and perfectly natural to get excited when we see the "running over" part, but we can’t stop there! The Word teaches us in the same verse that "the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you ".
So what does that mean? Interpreted precisely how we are told, it means everything depends on the measure that is used, and to the measure given for the Lord. For example, the amount of what we receive will not necessarily depend on the time we spent fasting or praying, but rather on the measure we use in giving to the Lord after we pray.
As far as fasting goes, Jesus spoke about it only 3 times in the Word. The first time was a warning against those who seek attention or adoration. - fasting should be a private matter between the believer and God:
Matthew 6:16-18 (ESV): “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
The second time was dealing with the fact that His disciples did not fast like those of John the Baptist or of the Pharisees:
Matthew 9:14-15 (ESV): Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
The third mention of fasting, in Luke 18:12, Jesus tells of the Pharisee who boasted in prayer about how good he was and how often he fasted and tithed.
Again, it is not by long and fervent prayers that we harvest abundantly, but also what we do after we pray. This confirms the point of the letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthians: 2 Corinthians 9:6 (ESV): The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
When praying through hard times, we must also remember to ask God for guidance. Every situation is different, and I can't sit here writing thinking that I know everyone's situation, but I know God and His Word will work for ALL situations. The struggle you are praying for may be completely self inflicted, and you need to put Jesus back at the center of your life and go from there with your actions and decisions as you continue to pray to God for guidance and the things that you want. Or, you may be praying for the health of a loved one who is hospitalized and there is not much you can do - they are in the hands of the best medical professionals, and you are not a doctor, so all you can do is pray and trust in God and thank Him ahead for healing them. But, there still may be actions you can take - perhaps it is being there for other family members, taking care of chores or daily routines that need done while they are away, or simply just visiting them. The point is, prayer and action go hand in hand more than some may think, and that is what Jesus taught us in the Word as well.
The bottom line is that we need to put action with our prayers - what we sow, we shall also reap. God certainly answers prayers, sometimes without any action needed on our part. Other times, He guides us in our decision making (actions!) after we pray, to get us to what we want. And sometimes things just come our way by being a good and faithful servant of the Lord, being adamant about our good ways, being good to others, and being a student of the Word - but those are all actions as well! My suggestion is based on what Jesus taught us in the Word - and that is to pray faithfully and ask for guidance from the Lord AND take action.