My oldest daughter started asking for a dog when she was about two years old.
She’s progressed since then. Mention something about a dog nowadays and she’ll launch into a five-point presentation complete with rebuttals and killer facts about the benefits of dog ownership.
As a preschooler, though, her tactics were simpler. She’d ask for a dog and we’d say ‘no.’
She’d ask why.
Finally my husband told her our house was too small, so she one-upped him.
She started praying for a bigger house.
She then informed us that in heaven when she got her mansion from Jesus, she’d have a dog.
Despite her persistence (and initial cuteness), we still own a cat.
I’ve been wrestling with this lately, how God tells us to ask for specific requests in prayer and to have faith and believe.
He tells us to persist and persevere, to fast, and to command mountains to move.
So, just like my daughter, I’m coming relentlessly before the throne room of God, asking Him to be faithful to His Word, to His promises and His character.
But just like my daughter, I still don’t have a ‘dog.’ The prayers remain unanswered.
Prayer is messy.
We can quote about it and preach about it. We can buy prayer journals and set up prayer file systems. We can read books on prayer and go to seminars on prayer, talk about prayer and study about prayer.
But prayer doesn’t fit into a box and you can’t cram it into a system that works every time.
Some prayers are answered quickly. Other prayers linger without explanation.
Psalm 37:7 tells me:
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him (NIV).
So, when I start praying aloud in my minivan or praying face down on my bedroom carpet, I ask the tough question: Am I waiting patiently?
Should I stop praying and just leave this be?
Yet, Jesus told about the persistent widow who nagged that unrighteous judge every single day until he finally listened to her.
Jesus teaches me to pray with tenacious, stubborn faith that will not give up or let go until God completes the work, even if He does so in His own way and in His own timing.
Luke 18 says
Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart (Luke 18:1 NASB).
No one would lose heart if prayer were easy.
We lose heart because we’ve put everything within us into our prayer. We’re crying out for mercy like the blind beggars on the side of the road, desperate for Jesus’ attention.
It’s loud. It’s obnoxious. We’re passionately needy and struggling without answers.
Sometimes we work out these intricate theological side-steps like ‘God answers our prayers when we pray in faith, but only if we are praying according to His will, which we can only know if we have His heart and we’re abiding in Him, so if our prayers aren’t answered maybe we’re just praying wrong.’
What helps me in these moments, though, isn’t to tie perfectly neat bows onto perfectly messy problems.
Here in the trenches where prayer is war and I’m worn-out weary and battle-fatigued, what I really want to know is this: Jesus wrestled in prayer, too.
Philip Yancey wrote:
Where was it that Jesus sweat great drops of blood? Not in Pilate’s Hall, nor on his way to Golgotha. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane. There he ‘offered up prayers and petitions and with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death.’ (Prayer)
Jesus demonstrates that the purpose of prayer isn’t getting a particular answer, it’s the relationship prayer creates: An honest one.
Because sometimes God says ‘no.’ And sometimes God says ‘not yet,’ but He invites us to pray and to ask and to seek so that we know Him.
Prayer is deeply relational and supremely complex. It is the intimate, honest laying down of my heart and finding His heart, submitting my plans to His plans and my ways to His ways.
In that garden, Jesus didn’t hold back from God or keep silent or make vague requests for blessing.
He labored for hours in prayer, sweating blood, crying out with tears.
This is what I need, not easy answers or trite formulas.
I need to know that Jesus understands. I need to know I’m not alone in this.
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:34 ESV
With great compassion and comprehension, Jesus intercedes for me. My prayers are never prayed alone.
And my prayers can’t be too honest or too passionate for the Savior who knows me, who loves me and who has wrestled on His own knees in prayer and continues to pray for me even now.
Want to know what the Bible says about praying? Here are 50 Bible verses on prayer to get you started.