Adele Richards is an amateur parent of two exceedingly fabulous little girls. Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away...
From age six, I prayed a gazillion times to become a Christian. I repented and asked God into my heart repeatedly. But I was convinced I was doing it wrong until one day, as a teenager, I was standing in my bedroom and I happened to glance down at the open Bible on my bed. The words from Matthew 7:7 jumped out at me, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (NIV)
A sudden thought hit me, “Well I’ve asked to be saved... so I must be!” At that very moment it was like heaven opened up the ceiling of my bedroom and tipped in the love of God like an avalanche. I could feel God’s love all around me and I knew that I knew that I knew that I was saved. Phew. It only took me 12 years of repeatedly asking to understand that my prayers had been answered a long time ago. I just needed a little bit of faith to be able to see that. I still love those verses in Matthew because they’re so wonderfully uncomplicated... “Ask and it will be given to you.”
You have not because you ask not
Here’s a horrible confession. Sometimes I hear about what God’s doing in someone else’s life and it sets me off into a sulk. If I had toys or a pram, I’d throw the former out of the latter. I sulk and ask God, in my best whiny child voice, “Why don’t you do that for meeeeeee? I never get open visions and angels ascending and descending on my head... waaaaaahhhhh... poor little me, why do you love everyone else more than me?” And then I throw a rather magnificent pity party, with cake and everything.
“If you want it, all you have to do is ask.”
The last time I did this, the Holy Spirit cheered me up immensely and totally ruined my pity party by reminding me of a rather fabulous verse in James 4:2, “You have not because you ask not.” (NKJV) In other words: “DUH. You don’t have these things because you haven’t asked for them.” I love that. Again it’s so simple. There’s no divine conspiracy here, favoring some people over others... If you want it, all you have to do is ask.
(No? Just me again? Fine.)
I want a prayer tracking device
Good, so I think I’m proving rather convincingly that this prayer thing is quite easy. So what’s the problem? Well, there’s usually at least a small time delay to seeing prayers answered. And that’s a problem for us, impatient humans that we are. We really don’t like it when the answers to our prayers seem to be on backorder, out of stock or lost altogether. There’s not even a tracking device to find out where they’ve got to. Have they even been dispatched yet? Could Amazon get on this straightaway please?
War in the heavenlies
Two stories from the Old Testament go a long way to encouraging me on the subject of delayed answers to prayer. The first one is in Daniel 10. Here, an angel appears to Daniel and explains why there’s been a delay in responding to his prayers:
“Then he (the angel) continued, 'Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.'” (Daniel 10:12-13 NIV)
“The truth is: your heavenly Father never rejects or ignores you.”
It’s not people (or even Amazon) we’re contending with. We’re in a spiritual battle. Above us in the heavenlies (specifically, the second heaven) there’s constant argy-bargy between angelic forces and enemy forces. Sometimes when we pray we have to keep praying to see the results that our initial prayer activated. God is an attentive Father, He hears us and responds. If you’ve had an inattentive father who tended to ignore you, delayed answers to prayer could press a rejection button in you. Please don’t fall for that whopper of a lie; the truth is: your heavenly Father never rejects or ignores you.
Another story that clearly shows the importance of persistence in prayer is in 1 Kings 18. Here God speaks to Elijah and tells him to go to the king and announce that it’s going to rain again. Previously, Elijah prayed that it wouldn’t rain and there was drought for 3 years. So now God announces He’s going to end the drought. Elijah duly gives the king the weather forecast and promptly goes home to put his feet up and put the kettle on. Oh, except he doesn’t. Instead Elijah crouches down with his face between his knees (the traditional posture for giving birth) and prays his heart out.
Huh? So basically he’s asking God to do what God says He’s going to do. Why? Won’t God just do it anyway? Seems not. Even though God wants to send the rain, Elijah has to pray and ask God seven times before his servant spots a cloud on the horizon and Elijah knows that his prayer has accomplished what it was meant to. Then he went home, put on his raincoat and rain boots and had a cup of hot chocolate.
Seven is the number
In the Bible, seven is the number of completion. Elijah prayed in line with God’s will and agreed with God’s plans until his prayers accumulated and he birthed the rain of God.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)
Why did Elijah have to pray seven times? Clearly he wasn’t trying to persuade God to send the rain. He wasn’t twisting God’s arm, because the rain was God’s idea in the first place. I can only think that there was a similar situation to Daniel’s. Demonic powers oppose God’s plans but by agreeing with God’s plans we release them on the earth.
It’s always a question of authority, not power. God has all the power but He’s given the authority over earth to us.
“God does nothing on earth save in answer to believing prayer.” John Wesley
With regard to the John Wesley quote, that’s not because God’s being petulant, it’s because He’s given us the authority over the earth. In Genesis, God gave Adam and Eve the authority to rule over planet earth. In turn, they messed up and handed the authority over to Satan by sinning and effectively agreeing with Satan rather than God. When Jesus died on the cross, He handed back the authority to His followers. God has put us in charge and releases His power through us... and particularly through our prayers.
Am I generating enough to power a lightbulb or power a city?
In Matthew 17, the disciples—who by the way were moving in tremendous power, seeing all kinds of signs and wonders—came across a demonized boy that they couldn’t deliver from demons. When they asked Jesus about it, He explained, “This kind doesn’t go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21 NKJV)
“Sporadic prayer has some power but consistent prayer has great power.”
There are some demonic strongholds that are so powerful it requires a fasted lifestyle to breakthrough. This isn’t about "working hard" or "striving" and it’s not about trying to persuade God to do something He doesn’t want to do. He’s always on board with healing and deliverance—seeing the captives set free is His very heartbeat. But this is about understanding that a lifestyle of prayer will release more of the power of God on earth.
“The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].” (James 5:16b AMP)
There’s a very simple principle here: sporadic prayer has some power but consistent prayer has great power. Again, we know that God has all the power, and He lives in us... so why don’t we see the sick healed when we walk by (or haven’t yet)? Because we have to learn how to release this power.
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NKJV)
Or “in the measure of the power which is operative in us.” The word for measure that’s used here in the Greek is “kata”. Another meaning of the word is “distribution”. So the verse can be understood as “according to the distribution of the power that is in us.” How much power am I distributing? It’s as if some of our prayer lives are powerful enough in terms of electricity to power a lightbulb, and some people’s prayer lives are powerful enough to power a city.
We know that Elijah’s prayers were powerful and effective—even to stop the rain for three years—and as the Bible reminds us, he was a man just like us. Daniel prayed three times a day and saw amazing end-time visions and stood in the gap to pray in the fulfillment of a 70-year-old prophecy over the whole nation of Israel. Jesus, our ultimate example, started His ministry with a 40 day fast and spent many nights in prayer with His Father. If Jesus did it, it’s pretty clear we need it too. Not out of duty or obligation, but because we love to give ourselves to God and we love to participate in what Father’s doing on earth. We love Him, we love to spend time with Him and we shout enthusiastically, “Yes we agree—do it your way!”
(Again, this is not about earning results... God is already on board with bringing you freedom in this area. We pray and fast to bring the release of His power into the situation.)
Teach us how to pray
Sometimes our prayers aren’t answered because we’re not praying in line with what Father is saying or doing. It’s all too easy to pray with an idol in our heart—to pray according to what we want and focus on the answer we want, e.g. “Please God let Robbie fall in love with me and ask me to marry him.” (By the way I’m not praying this myself, as [a] I’m already married and [b] fictional Robbie is totally not my type.)
“Delayed answers to prayer are gaining interest. But when God says "no" it's because a bigger "yes" is to follow.” Bill Johnson
He gives us the desires of our hearts
It’s vital to pray in line with God’s agenda and not our own agenda. Often God places His desires in our hearts, and we agree with Him and pray for these things to happen. He literally “gives us the desire of our heart” by planting the Godly desires within us. If you have a passion to see the lost saved, to encounter Father more or to see the sick healed, you can be pretty sure this is a God-given desire.
I find it all too easy to pray as a knee-jerk reaction. I hear some bad news, and in a panic, I start to pray without actually asking God what He’s doing or saying. It’s easy to be presumptuous and ask God to do things our way and “fix” the situation as we think best. But his thoughts are much higher than ours. I have to remind myself to take time to worship, soak and fix my eyes on Him, to get a heavenly perspective so that I can pray: “Let your kingdom come, let your will be done.”
Sharpen the axe
Abraham Lincoln, one of the most important presidents in US history and also a skilled woodcutter once said:
"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." Abraham Lincoln
In other words, preparation is crucial for the success of the task. Prayer works on the same axe principle. When I led the intercession meetings at a few of the Catch The Fire overseas conferences, I was taught to lead with 40 minutes of worship and soaking as we waited on God and listened to Him. Then we prayed according to what we heard Him say, or what He showed us, for just 20 minutes. I love this. I’d rather pray what’s on God’s heart than waffle on in my own thoughts for 60 minutes. Prayer is about relationship with our Father, spending time with Him, loving Him, getting transformed by Him and also agreeing with His plans.
It seems to me the axe approach follows the principles of the Lord’s prayer that Jesus taught when the disciples implored Him, “Teach us how to pray.”
Our Father who is in heaven, holy is your name
We start with a focus on our Father, reminding ourselves He’s reigning in heaven and that He is holy and awesome... worshipping Him and fixing our eyes on Him.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
Following that, we pray that His kingdom in heaven be established on earth in our circumstances, and His will be done in our lives.
Whatever we focus on grows bigger in our life. Perhaps try the axe approach to prayer and see what’s top of God’s list for you at the moment.
Of course, sometimes intercession comes to us suddenly in a spontaneous thought or vision and we’re prompted to pray for someone or something “out of the blue”. I love these random thoughts that the Holy Spirit pops into my mind. The other day I thought of someone I don’t know terribly well, but they came to mind and I felt prompted to bless them and ask God’s favour on them. I saw on Facebook the next day that their house which had been on the market for a while had sold the same day I was prompted to pray.
I wonder how many people God prompted around the world that day to release the “last push” in the spirit and get that sale done? When I feel like I need prayer support for something or someone, I quite often ask Father to stir up the intercessors and put that person or issue on their heart. Who knows how many people around the world are then prompted to pray for the person on my heart? It would be pretty cool to see them all lit up on a map... maybe one day the Holy Spirit will show me that.
So there you go. Just five possible reasons that might help you understand what on earth (and in heaven) is going on with your prayers. I hope you feel encouraged to keep praying, knowing that you have your Father's full attention and your prayers are powerful and effective—changing the atmosphere around you.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9 NIV)
Or as Dory from Finding Nemo put it, "Just keep swimming."
This archived article was written by Adele Richards for release in Aug, 2013. Circumstances and situations may have changed regarding the author, locations and ministries. This content may therefore be outdated or misinformed.
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