I recently had a series of important prayers that I was hoping would elicit a “yes” from God.
They did not.
Actually, I’m in a vicious slump of unanswered prayers.
I haven’t been keeping a prayer journal, so I can't mathematically define my prayer futility, but I’d wager to say that my batting average is lower than if I wore a blindfold and tried to hit Clayton Kershaw’s curveball with a broom handle.
Some of these recent prayer requests have simply been denied. Other times, the opposite of my prayer request has happened (I can’t give specific details, but consider it to be like praying for a raise and getting fired instead).
And it's not that all of my prayers have been near-sighted and selfish. A lot of these prayers have been for the salvation of other people, as well as for specific needs of loved ones.
So being the emotionally stable gentleman that I am, these unanswered prayers have made me LOSE EVERY MARBLE IN MY HEAD AND QUESTION THE LEGITIMACY OF THE ENTIRE INSTITUTION OF PRAYER.
And my natural solutions to prayer slumps such as this one are less than healthy.
Sometimes, I devolve into praying general or theological prayers which cannot be measured (e.g. “God, your will be done” or “I pray for my family. Amen.”) This is probably a defense mechanism to avoid the disappointment of praying for something specific and having my request denied, all while maintaining some form of communication with God.
But that's only the first stage.
Eventually, I end up ignoring prayer altogether.
Because God is in firm control of all things.
And my requests, even if they are selfless and good, can't change his mind.
So what’s the point of offering them?
When these doubts begin to creep up, I don’t formally renounce prayer. I'll even continue to offer prayers over meals and in public settings. I just stop praying for things I deeply care about.
Prayer ceases to become a necessity.
Prayer ceases to become a joy.
Maybe you’ve experienced the equivalent of Chinese water torture - death by a slow drip of unanswered prayers.
Maybe God didn’t come through for you in the clutch and you were left stranded on second (that was the last baseball metaphor, I swear).
Maybe this has caused you to succumb to the belief that prayer is pointless. Or, maybe you simply have a dry prayer life and you don't know why.
You’re not alone.
So this is how I am remind myself about the need to pray, pray hard, and pray continually. In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus tells the parable of a widow who needs justice against her adversary and a judge who ain’t got no respect for nobody.
The widow asks him for justice, but the judge says “nay.” However, she is persistent, so he finally agrees to give her justice because she keeps pestering him.
So Jesus makes this point: If the judge, who doesn’t care about anybody, offers justice to the persistent widow, how much more will God vindicate his elect? The message, then, is that the disciples (and you and I by extension) should always pray and never give up (as 18:1 states).
But the meaning of this parable isn’t as simple as “pester God every day about [insert thing] and he will finally answer it.” There is something far more interesting that is often overlooked.
The parable of the widow and the judge in Luke 18 is inextricably linked with the discourse in the preceding section (Luke 17:20-37), where Jesus essentially tells his disciples this: I promise that the kingdom of God is coming and that there will be justice for the elect.
So? This means that Jesus is urging his disciples to continually pray for something that he has just guaranteed will happen.
This always fascinates me.
God is in control of the universe, says Jesus.
Everything he wants done will be done, says Jesus.
We are to continually pray that it happens, says Jesus.
We don’t fully understand how this relationship between our prayers and God’s sovereignty works. We just know that our prayers matter, and that we are to continually offer them.
Because God is in control of all things.
And prayer is evidence that we have not lost heart because of a delay.
This is why the devil attacks our prayer lives. In fact, if I was the devil my priority list would be as follows:
1) Mess with Kershaw (as any other San Francisco Giants fan would be expected to do).
2) Disrupt the prayer of God’s people.
If I were the devil, I would work tirelessly to cut any Christian's line of communication with God, thereby isolating them from God’s presence so they would start believing lies about God’s character and power. Then I would watch them agonize in confusion and doubt.
It's such a simple tactic.
And we fall for it all the time.
Personally, I am prone to pray for something once and, when it is not immediately answered, chalk it up as a loss. Satan thus convinces me that there is no point to continue praying for it because God didn’t care to say "yes" the first time - so why would he care the second? But then I hear stories of people who pray that their loved one will be saved by Jesus - every dayfor 50 years. That is a level of prayer stamina that I envy, and people with persistence of this magnitude understand this simple concept:
Our requests may be beyond our control and may not be immediately answered.
But God is the righteous judge. He vindicates his people.
So don’t lose heart and pray continually.
Practical Application: In response to this self-identified prayer slump, my wife Caitlin and I have recently started a “collaborative prayer journal” (kind of like a primitive open source document) that we leave out on the counter in our house. This serves as a way for us to write down our requests so that the other can pray for them, and also to keep record of our requests for future reference. When the devil tries to convince me that God doesn’t answer prayer, I’ll have written proof that he does.