What if God doesn't answer my prayers?

I believe that God's grace precedes our prayers, that in a sense, God's answer is offered before we even ask

How Do I Pray?

a short introduction to practicing prayer

Written by Margaret W. Jones

Child's hands within parent's handsIt seems to me that two words occupy spiritual and religious seekers more than any others: LOVE and PRAYER. Millions of words, thousands of books, hundreds of sermons are devoted to these two concepts.

Both love and prayer are valued and practiced by people of diverse religions, and we would all do well to learn more about their role in faiths other than our own. Yet when I am asked about my thoughts on prayer, I must return to that which I know best, if only a little, and that is how I pray as a Christian.

I do not use the word ‘little’ in the above paragraph with irony. Although I have prayed sporadically for more than sixty years, I do not consider myself in any way an authority about this vast and complex subject.

What I believe first and foremost about prayer is that it is relationship with God, and that is the key factor. Just as in human relationships, sometimes one form of communication works, sometimes another. So, whatever works best for you in your life today is going to be the best way for you to pray today. Though that sounds simple enough, I would venture to offer here a few things I have learned along the way that may be of some help or interest to someone who seeks refreshment for her or his prayer life.

First, as Anne Lamott says, the most common (and perhaps honest!) prayers are, HELP ME, HELP ME, and THANK YOU, THANK YOU. I fear that most prayers are for help, but I think that the more we practice prayer as a daily, unpretentious and natural act, the more we will find ourselves giving thanks. Both of these prayers are legitimate and valuable, which leads me to my second point.

The words we use need to be OUR words. I love to read the prayers of other people, and I am part of a liturgical tradition of structured prayer that means the world to me. Yet I know that if relationship with God is what I seek, it is best to speak from my heart.

As to the forms, times, content of prayer, once a person is committed to regular prayer, I think certain practices come along when we need them. "The Lord’s Prayer," our model prayer given to us by Jesus, contains all the ‘things’ we need for a ‘full’ prayer: acknowledgement and praise of God, turning our wills over to God, petition for necessities, request for forgiveness and the ability to forgive others.

Using "The Lord’s Prayer" as a springboard, and remembering that the purpose of prayer is to be in relationship with God, the sky is the limit! Regular weekly worship offers community, structured prayer, and prayer for others. "The Prayers of the People" in the Book of Common Prayer can be used as a prayer outline. Reading Scripture and offering regular prayer for others (keeping a current list is a wonderful practice), as well as ourselves, is one of my favorite disciplines. Again, the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office is excellent. Another superb tool is the 3-volume Divine Hours compiled by Phyllis Tickle.

As I grow older, I have learned that silent prayer (as in NO WORDS from me) works wonders in deepening my relationship with God. Here, at last, in silence, I can begin to hear God’s voice, feel God’s presence as never before. Silence helps me know that God is with me, acknowledged or not. This is the greatest comfort I can have.

There are as many prayer forms and types as there are personalities. Witness the myriad books about how to pray. Song (she who sings prays twice!), dance, drum circles, meditation circles…the list is virtually endless.

The question that usually arises about prayer, other than how to do it, is what about unanswered prayer—that is, when our specific petitions are not granted. I have learned two things about this: One is to stop asking for specific outcomes and simply hold the person or situation up into God’s Light; the second is that prayer prepares the pray-er for the answer. Prayer hollows us out, helps us receive the answer when it comes.

I once asked a woman whose prayer life I admired (coveted is more honest!) what was the ‘secret’ of her prayer life. "Oh, honey dear," she exclaimed, "All I do is open my eyes every morning and say ‘May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O God my strength and my redeemer.’ "

Her words started me off on a whole new way to live, and I hope they will do the same for you. Just remember God yearns to be in relationship with you; it will make a world of difference in your prayer life.

Copyright ©2004 Mimsy Jones