What Can We Expect When We Pray?

linking with Five Minute Friday at katemotaung.com – write for five minutes on a given prompt, which today is “expect”

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What can we expect when we pray?

We were discussing this question at my small group last night, and from that discussion, as well as other conversations in the past, there seem to be two extremes of views on this:

  1. God will do what he wants anyway.  Prayer is about getting closer to him.  It changes us but we shouldn’t expect it to change the situation.
  2. Prayer makes a difference.  Jesus said, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”  (John 14:14) so we should expect that God will move supernaturally in response to our prayers.

It’s difficult.  I’ve seen too much damage caused by the view that we should expect our prayers to be answered as we want.  The implication is that if your prayer is not answered, you don’t have enough faith.  The person who requested prayer is left not only struggling with their original issue, but now also beating themselves up for their “lack of faith”.  In the majority of cases I just don’t believe that’s true.

But, despite all this, I don’t really believe the first view either because I have seen prayer change situations- instant answers that could not be coincidence.

So, what can we expect?

I think, with God, we’re never going to know exactly what to expect.  We’d like it to be predictable, to understand how it works, to know how to pray to get what we want, or else to accept that it doesn’t really change things.  But because God is God, it’s not going to work like that.

I think we can expect that God knows us and the situation we’re bringing to him, we can expect that he cares, we can expect that he has power to do what he wants to do and we can expect him to be faithful to his promises.

Beyond that, I’m not sure.  Like everything for me this year, it all comes down to surrender.

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18 thoughts on “What Can We Expect When We Pray?

  1. So empathize with what you share here Carly. Like you, I’ve experienced prayers being answered powerfully, but also heartwrenching prayers not leading to the answer we all longed to see in the here and now (healing, life not death).

    What I am ever so slowly learning though is to wait upon the Lord more. Recently, I felt grief hit hard in praying for a wee bubs to be saved. I listened to the grief and changed my prayers because I sensed this bubs was not going to make it. Sadly, someone else prayed over the Mom concerned around the same time and told her to expect her unborn baby to be healed at the following ultrasound. I said nothing, when I should have trusted the Spirit’s prompting and told her not to believe them. She went in to the next ultrasound trusting and believing in a miracle…only to be told her baby had no chance of survival because things had gotten so much worse. Her baby is now in heaven, and she is left behind struggling to believe that God even exists anymore.

    I always try to remind myself that God sees the bigger picture and that where we fail to understand why He didn’t answer our prayers how we would have liked, that He has acted (or held back) for reasons we just cannot see yet. It’s hard though…so hard. My heart hurts watching this Mommy and I find myself wondering why God let it happen, when it is causing her to flee Him.

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    1. I agree with you, Anna, about waiting on God- it helps us to know what to pray for/ how to pray in a situation. It’s heart-breaking when people’s expectations are raised as they were in the situation you mentioned, only for them to be disappointed. We definitely have to hold on to the fact that God sees the bigger picture, even when we don’t understand. Praying for this lady- that God will draw close to her and meet with her, even in her pain and grief.

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  2. Carly, I’m with you. It’s hard to look at the two ways people look at prayer. I’ve seen both too! You’re right God is in control. God knows what God will do in each situation. We must trust fully in him. I’m in the 13 spot this week.

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  3. actually, the bible teaches way more than 2 things about prayer. those 2 are true, not the extremes of course, but so are many more things…that He is sovereign over all things, that He can move mountains, that we need to wait on Him, that we need to ask for anything according to His will and He will give it…

    but He is GOD and as such, He is not bound by our desires. He knows what is best for us overall. He knows what He working out in our lives and the lives of those for whom we are praying. He knows what is happening in the world and what will be happening in following generations…and how it will all fit together for His plan!

    the ways in which He answers our prayers are pretty amazing and profound when we take a closer look. personally, i’m thankful for some of the no answers when it came to boyfriends i wanted to blossom into more serious relationships. eek! on a more serious note, the sudden passing of my dad started a serious spiritual earthquake in my life like nothing i had before. it shook me to my root! yes, i was a committed believer at the time, but it shook every foundation at the core of my being…and grew me in ways i never would have grown if not for that.

    we don’t know the ways of GOD. they are past our understanding. praying, waiting on Him, listening to His Word as we wait and our hearts line up with His desires? all help us as we pray and move forward into His will for us.

    because prayer is so much about relationship, it will never be neat and tidy. it is not about lists. it is about getting to know GOD better and more personally. that’s why there is often disappointment, sadness, as well as incredible joy as we get to know our abba father.

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    1. Thanks, Martha. Those are great points. I realise this is not really the topic for a 5 minute post, but it’s what came to mind when I heard the prompt!
      We do have to trust that God knows what he’s doing and that he will make it all fit together in his plan even if we don’t understand at the time. It’s great when we can look back and understand but it doesn’t always work like that so we just have to trust him.

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      1. for sure! it’s very difficult to cover our topics throughly in 5 minutes. it always gets me too:) there is so much that gets left unsaid. but you are right. ultimately, it has to come down to a matter of trusting GOD.

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  4. Here are some things I have expected that have never happened during prayer. I have expected him to be disappointed in me. Never happened. I expected him to withhold his love until I fix a problem with myself. Never happened. I expected him to use a heavy hand to bring me into alignment. Never happened. That tells me a lot about his goodness and about my lack of self-compassion. Surrender those expectations!

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    1. This is so good, Gabriele. Thanks for sharing! It’s true that our lack of self-compassion can affect our expectations of God and how he will respond when we pray. I love that he never gets disappointed with us, withholds his love or uses a heavy hand.

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  5. I think there’s a reason why Jesus opens the “model prayer” with the lines:

    Our Father, who is in Heaven (recognition of authority)
    Hallowed by Your Name (recognition of holiness)
    Your kingdom come, Your will be done (surrender)

    When we place ourselves under the lordship of our good and loving Father, we know that whatever happens will be right, even if it doesn’t make sense this side of eternity and even if it hurts like the dickens. The issue of authority is the first one that needs settling each day, sometimes each moment. When we get that right, we can do the whole pray without ceasing bit because we’ll want to be in communication with Him. This has been my experience, at any rate.

    Like many things in this life of faith, prayer is mystery. Is God moved by us or are we moved by God? I don’t know. What I do know is that He is faithful and trustworthy. We don’t ever have to be afraid to take anything to Him in prayer.

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    1. Thanks, Marie. Great comments here. So true that it’s about recognising who God is, placing ourselves under his authority and trusting his faithfulness whatever the outcome.

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