Brady: The six ways that God answers prayers

Published 5:11 pm Sunday, January 7, 2018

In Mark Twain’s classic “Huckleberry Finn,” Huck describes exactly how not to begin a meaningful prayer life.

“Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it wasn’t so. I tried it. Once I got a fish line, but no hooks… somehow I couldn’t make it work.”

Here, I think Huckleberry Finn is speaking for many moderns, especially in the “can’t make it work” department. Concerning prayer, these folks feel that they are simply not getting anywhere.

Certainly, prayer is a mystery and at times baffles all of us. However, we suspect as people of faith, that we cannot thrive without a deep and intimate relationship with God. But somehow our prayer channels seem blocked and that meaningful relationship alludes us. A comic strip of “Dennis the Menace” shows him by his bed, saying his evening prayers, “I don’t think even you can help me this time.”

The truth is, how we pray depends on the kind of God we have. What we think God can or cannot do. So many of us can identify with the title of William Reiser’s book, “Looking For a God to Pray Too.” At times, we struggle to be convinced that with God all things are possible.

So what about our prayers? What have the years done to our expectancy? In reality, do we limit our prayers by what we think God can or cannot do? Or is it simply because we do not understand how God answers prayers?

Now, I certainly don’t want to come across as one who knows a lot about prayer. I don’t, but I do believe that God answers prayer and, like many of you, I spend much time praying. At any rate, through my experience, reading, study and taking notes, I think God answers prayer in at least six different ways.

First, God may say no. Just as a wise parent sometimes refuses a child’s request for the child’s own good, so a wise God sometimes says no to our request. As someone observed, “Thou didst save me by thy hard refusals.” The Apostle Paul prayed three times that the thorn in his flesh would be removed. Each time God answered, “My grace is sufficient for you” (ll Corinthians 12:7-9). The answer to Paul’s prayer was “no.”

Second, God may say yes! Sometimes God will say yes and answer our prayer so fast that it will make our heads spin.

There’s a story in Acts (12:1-17) where King Herod had the apostle Peter thrown in prison. While Peter was confined, the church offered earnest prayer to God in his behalf. Shortly thereafter, an angel miraculously freed Peter. Upon release, Peter went directly to the house where the church was praying for him and his release. Peter knocked at the gate and a woman named Rhoda was sent to see who was interrupting the church’s prayers. Immediately, upon recognizing Peter, Rhoda was so surprised to see him that she didn’t open the gate. But to his everlasting credit, we are told that “Peter kept on knocking.” I love that! The point, however, is that the church didn’t recognize the answer to their prayers.

Third, God may say wait a while! God may require some patience on our part. We may have to wait until a more appropriate time. Just as Christ came “in the fullness of time,” God will answer our prayer at the right time.

The late Ruth Graham, wife of Billy Graham, thanked God for not answering her prayers when  she was courted by suitors before she fell in love with Billy. What a mistake she felt, if she had married another man! Perhaps some of us have lived long enough already to thank God that not all our prayers were answered when we asked them or in the way that we asked them.

Fourth, God may say, one step at a time! While we were having dinner one night several years ago in England, a friend asked the blessing for the other five of us who were preparing for the 2001 World Methodist Council and Conference. I wrote down his prayer, “God, we don’t  know exactly what you have in mind the next five years, but keep us open to the possibility. But, at the same time, all six of us strongly believe that we are carrying out your will right now in terms of our responsibility with the World Methodist Council and Conference.”

Someone once stated that a lantern only shines one step at a time, but as you take that next step, the light moves up. So it is sometimes with the will of God.

Fifth, God may say, you ought to know better! Who of us cannot testify that sometimes that was the only proper answer to our request. Sometimes we prayed some kind of silly intervention which could have made God a kind of cosmic bellhop.

Sixth, God may say, I’m going to surprise you! A minister friend tells of a grandmother who took her 3-year-old granddaughter on her lap and began reading to her from Genesis. After a while, noticing that the little girl was unusually quiet, the grandmother asked, “Well, what do you think of it, dear?”

“Oh, I love it,” answered the child, “you never know what God is going to do next.” For sure, God encourages us to pray, but sometimes our prayer is answered in a totally unexpected way.

I repeat, what have the years done to our expectancy? In reality, we limit our prayers by what we think God can or cannot do.

Hal Brady operates Hal Brady Ministries in Decatur with the stated goal of presenting the good news of Jesus and offering encouragement in positive ways.