There are big prayers and small ones. But do they all get answered? I would say yes, in some ways. More qualified theologians than me have commented on the mystery of prayer, so what I can offer is some real-world experience in how God manifests Himself in the prayers of His people.
What usually trips people up about prayer is whether or not they are doing it right. Jesus certainly pointed out that there was a right and wrong way to do it: the right way is with a humble heart; the wrong way is doing it for show. In a study from www.bible.org, Bob Deffinbaugh makes this statement about Jesus’ teaching on prayer from Matthew 6:5-15:
Jesus speaks of outward versus inward religious practices…In Matthew 6:5-15, He speaks of prayer. His treatment of (prayer) is the same: if you have the outward form only or if the outward form focuses attention on you, the public acclaim that you receive—real or imagined—is all the benefit you will derive.
Deffinbaugh goes on to define prayer as a relational activity. I have thought of it many times as like talking to my best friend on the phone. She isn’t right there in front of me, but she hears what I’m saying and is concerned with it. The difference, though, is that my best friend, who loves me very much, doesn’t love me as much as The Lord does. The Lord cares about every aspect of our lives, great and small and is available anytime to listen.
Jesus taught us to pray, but I don’t know if He ever asked for help to locate a misplaced sandal. But I’m beginning to see that even something that small, The Lord cares about. We tend to think of God’s words to the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9 as only having meaning when there is something big – like illness – happening to us. But The Lord didn’t specify the conditions of weakness to demonstrate His power. We see God when we seek Him, so all the more reason to seek Him in every day moments.
Last week, I took my daughters, who are 8 and 5, to a Carnival at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. Wearing their western boots was fun until my youngest had 2 massive blisters on her heels. We had only been there for an hour, so retreating to the car wasn’t an option. I prayed The Lord would show us where we could find some flip flops. The very last aisle we went down, in the very last booth, we found them! You might call that coincidence, but I call it God’s power working its way into my reality.
I have also been witness to God’s awesome power when He healed this same daughter, with the blistered feet from her boots, of cancer last year. He also healed her two friends from the hospital. That is a miracle I will report with greater frequency than finding flip flops at the Rodeo, but both were examples to me of how faithful The Lord is to help us when we ask for it.
I don’t understand why some prayers, especially those offered with a pure heart, are not answered. Not everyone we knew in treatment is still alive. God doesn’t always answer our prayers so clearly or the way we want. But instead of getting hung up on the results, I’m finding the greater mystery is how much I’m changing when I engage with God in prayer. It is not an easy discipline to establish, I can assure you. But the more I pray, the more I grow in the desire to have my motives aligned with God’s.
Prayer is truly a great mystery, especially when we don’t know what to pray for. But God says He knows our hearts, we don’t have to worry – He knows better what we need than we know what to ask for. He has a plan and a future He is using our present circumstances to prepare us for; not only to conform us into the image of His Son, but to make sure we don’t miss the blessing when it comes. He wants our eyes to be open to the next world, just as we are still in this world.
In our everyday lives, our business is to be used for God’s glory. The way that happens is by being open to be used by Him. If you aren’t seeing God at work in your life, you might take a good look at your calendar to figure out when the last time was that you sat down for a real conversation with The Lord. He is still at work, but your eyes’ might be a little dimmed to His power if you haven't been connected to Him in prayer. Being more intentional about praying might be the spiritual kick-start you need.
When we are at our weakest, we should pray. When we are at our strongest, we should pray. There is no limit to what God can do. Perhaps He is calling you to be a world-wide evangelist or a missionary, de-worming orphans in Somalia. That could be a part of your future. But for now, your job is to be faithful in whatever situation – big or small, you are in today. Ask for help and give thanks for literally everything. Nothing is too small or too great for Him to work in.