I’m not sure where the idea came from, but for a couple of years my family had a construction paper tree tacked onto our refrigerator where we would attach paper apples with prayer requests written on them. It vividly illustrated our requests before God and helped remind us that he’s listening when answers came. On the other hand, many prayers were never answered. Whether displayed appealingly on the fridge or written down in a private diary, victories in prayer are not won by putting them on paper. God’s only contract is his word. Answers to prayer are won on our knees according to God’s will and not ours.
The Bible says in no uncertain terms that if you have faith and ask according to his will, God will do what you ask. I’ve never been quite sure what to make of that. Apparently quite a lot of the time I’m praying against his will or perhaps lack faith. I have multitudes of prayers not answered with “Yes.” As far as I know, that’s true for everyone. If it were not the case, I suppose there’d be no more problems in the world to pray about. Even so, let’s not be blind to the fact that God does intervene. It’s almost never how we’d like it to be, with seas splitting in two and fire from Heaven. It’s mostly quiet and subtle, like Jesus just rebuked the storm and it passed. Only once in awhile is it mind-blowing, but mind-blowing still happens. That’s the thing not to forget.
The Bible also says in no uncertain terms God doesn’t listen to the prayers of those who reject Christ. That’s a hard truth. He does listen for those who are seeking him, but have not yet come to an understanding of him. He sends helpers to seekers so they can find him. God understands that faith is not a switch to be turned on and off. It’s a process of development and growth.
It’s disturbing to me when unbelievers mock prayer. Sometimes, even Christians are unbelievers. When God doesn’t give us what we request, it can boggle our faith. Many times I’ve sat and wondered how God could be so seemingly uninvolved. It makes you feel disconnected from him, like “Where’s God? Anybody seen God?” There’s no formula to apply to it. God just doesn’t answer a lot of prayers, even if you’re following him with your whole heart. Who doesn’t cry out to God when confronted with suffering? Yet, suffering is here to stay. I don’t want to see children die of cancer. If there is someone out there who can go around and pray for every one of them and see God make them well, I’d like to see that. But we all know, miracles are the exception, not the rule. Many don’t believe in miracles at all, just amazing coincidences. How sad it would be if that were true.
So… back to the prayer list. A prayer list is not a gauge, like tracking “God’s batting average.” It’s useful as a testimony over time. The unanswered prayers aren’t the ones that matter, it’s the ones that are answered and how they are answered that’s significant (answers to prayers are not always yes/no). In the end, what we see is a story with a shape and an arc. It’s like slowly erasing bits from all our scribblings on paper to reveal a picture of what God is doing in our world.
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” – Michelangelo