“But as for me, my prayer is to You, O Lord, in the acceptable time, O God, in the multitude of your mercy hear me in the truth of Your salvation” (Psalm 69:13). Everyone kneeling before God expects a positive answer to his requests and that too in quick time. The Psalmist prays to the Lord God to ‘hear him in the acceptable time’. Prayer is derived from the Latin word which means ‘to beg’ but that is not what God intends us to do while praying. Otherwise why would the Lord repeatedly assure us “Ask and you will receive”.
The Jewish religion, on the other hand, leans towards the interpretation of prayer from the Hebrew word ‘tefilah’ which is a labor of love through an intimate communion with God. This would includes both worship and asking integrated in a manner of expressing love towards God from the depths of the heart until an intimate oneness is established. It is this union that the Lord had that He could always say “that I do nothing of Myself; but as my Father taught Me, I speak these things” (John 8:28). Begging God to fulfill our needs and desires is not prayer but the real definition of it would be from the root word of ‘tefilah’ which is ‘pileil’ implying judging and the act of praying is thus ‘lehitpaleil’ meaning judging oneself. Prayer would thus have an inherent factor of praise and worship along with the arduous task of self evaluation through pouring out of the soul before the All-knowing God. This would then lead to an honest assessment of what we have and the record of our proper use of the same for Divine glory and prioritizing the requests into what we want and what we actually need.
Thus prayer may be defined as a ‘Intimate conversation of the soul with God through and in the spirit to give account and to seek further blessings for self and others’. It is a means to lift us up into the Divine presence through union of mind, heart and soul with humble seeking and supplication. It is a means “to ask God that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of the petitioner confessedly unworthy in himself” (Ambrose Bierce). Noah sent the dove out of the Ark and it blessed him with the olive leaf in its mouth and blessed him again by not returning at all, providing assurance of God’s provisions being available again.
In light of this prayer is a three tier process with each stage merging with the other all along. The first stage would be the preparatory one for it would be an act of gross disrespect to go before El-Shaddai- the Almighty God, without being ready and in the right frame of mind. It starts with an honest and careful self analysis on our part about our actions and of those around us. Our Lord has specified certain points and the first and the foremost is of any unresolved issue; with God as well as with others. Confession of sins with a repentant attitude to seek forgiveness and help to improve and in a similar manner forgiving others and forgetting the hurts caused by them is necessary. For the request to God is to “Forgive us as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us”.
The next step involves an appraisal of the request that is being made and it begins with testing it on the benchmark of God’s Word. Any prayer not in conformity with His commands will not be accepted. Thus a prayer likely to harm a neighbor is likely to get ignored for He commands us to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. Nehemiah had been informed of the state of Jerusalem’s walls and he first understood the issue before going before God to seek Divine intervention (Nehemiah: 2-3).
Apostle James clearly warns “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss (with a wrong motive), that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:2). A careful analysis of the motive behind the prayer is required to rule out any hidden desires behind the same. The promise is clear “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). The aim of the Son is always and every time ‘to glorify the Father’ in whatever He did or will do. Father’s glory is in answering a call of love from the depths of the heart for before the Lord’s, throne it is not perfection “but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). And it is about purity of heart both in coming before Him and in asking and we are blessed that the Lord took away our sins that we could approach His throne of grace. A prayer made with a clean heart will fetch an answer from God.
The next step is to ‘close the door’ and it relates to not only an undisturbed communication with the Lord God but also about coming into the Divine presence after closing all other sources of relief. For He desires complete surrender and does not permit looking back to any other source for relief. “For My own sake, for My own sake, I do this. How can I let Myself be defamed? I will not yield My glory to another (Isaiah 48:11). Prophet Elisha’s directive to the widow of one of the disciples was clear, ‘close the door’ and then pour out the oil into the vessels (2Kings 4:4). The act is not only physical but also has deep spiritual significance in removing and leaving any doubts or unbelief outside before coming before God.
Now is the time to go before God the Father with a sense of expectancy and faith before a loving and merciful Father who not only loves us but is ever ready to pour out His love on us, howsoever undeserving we may be. The prayer of Nehemiah provides a great illustration for us and he had obtained a clear understanding of the problem and then came before God. “For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said: Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses” (Nehemiah 1:4-7).
Nehemiah’s prayer is a clear case of self assessment in light of the Divine blessings on the people of Israel and then comes the request for intervention. In the prayer God’s name gets glorified with abject surrender of the one making supplications. The right to appear before the Divine throne has not been earned by us but provided through the sacrifice of our Lord and the prayer can only be made in His name in only.
Having placed the request before God comes another difficult time which invariably becomes the cause of distress and lost opportunities. The Word of God gives very clear instructions “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). God has heard the prayer and the answer will be coming at the right time for “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). We expect God to respond as per our timetable but He has a different plan for “His ways are not our ways”. The key at this stage is to believe “for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind (of circumstances” (James 4:6).
The merciful God always answers prayers and a slight delay does not mean no, but may be pended for a later date for we may not be prepared to handle the consequences of the answered prayer as yet. Wait for the answer and “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).