Prayer: Yes! God Hears

Boy praying

You don’t have to struggle alone in your challenges and trials.

In the darkness, terrifying sounds awakened Moses Carver and his wife. Pounding horse hooves, sounds of men running, then a piercing scream. Marauders had come! Moses Carver jumped up to defend his property, but he was too late.

In a shack some distance from Carver’s house, a young slave named Mary was asleep when the masked men burst in. Mary screamed, but the slave stealers grabbed her and her baby, George, and rode off into the night. George Carver later wrote: “I was born in Diamond Grove, Missouri, about the close of the great Civil War, in a little one-roomed log shanty on the home of Mr. Moses Carver…the owner of my mother.”

George told how the slave traders kidnapped him and his mother and sold her to new owners. After Moses Carver paid a ransom of $300, George was returned. But he never saw his mother again.

Gifted with a keen mind, George yearned to unlock nature’s secrets and use them to help others. As a boy, he wanted to learn his letters in a rough, one-room country school, but the white teacher rebuffed him because he was black.

George washed and cooked for whites to pay for a high school education. He applied to Kansas’ Highland College and was accepted. But when he arrived, Highland refused him admittance, again because he was black. Still George persisted in his pursuit of a college education, and in 1896, he earned a master’s degree in botany from Iowa Agricultural College.

A heartfelt prayer…

Cotton had long been the South’s primary agricultural crop. But planting cotton decade after decade, without rotating crops, had depleted the soil. Mounting debts plagued farmers. George urged farmers to reinvigorate their soil by planting peanuts and sweet potatoes. After some persuasion, farmers made peanuts and sweet potatoes number one in the South by devoting more and more acreage to these crops.

The trouble? No markets existed for peanuts or sweet potatoes. No one wanted to buy the product, so it rotted in the fields, and farmers lost even more money. This disaster nearly crushed George. Deeply concerned, he prayed to God: “Mr. Creator, why did you make the peanut?”

…And an inspiring answer

George later wrote that God led him back to his laboratory. There, through hard work and persistence, he discovered that some 300 valuable products could be made—and marketed—from the peanut. Among them were cooking oil, mayonnaise, cheese, shampoo, instant coffee, flour, soap, face powder, plastics, adhesives, axle grease and pickles.

From the sweet potato, Carver derived more than 100 products, such as starch, library paste, vinegar, shoe polish, ink and molasses. As a result of these new products, the demand for peanuts and sweet potatoes soared. Economists and agriculturalists agree: George Washington Carver did more than any other person to revive the South’s economy.

When he died in 1943, Carver’s epitaph read. “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”

God is concerned

Like Carver, as Christians, we take comfort in knowing that if we’re concerned about something, God is, too. Scriptures such as 1 Peter 5:7 urge us, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Thanks to the risen Christ’s work as our High Priest, we may develop a fuller relationship with our Creator through prayer. “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it,” Jesus told his disciples (John 14:14).

Just as human friendships deepen through ongoing communication and shared intimacy, we draw closer to our Savior when we invite him into all we do.

But doesn’t God have more important business than to bother with our ordinary concerns? After all, he’s ruling galaxies, supernovas and all the vast universe. He’s commanding the angelic hosts. He’s overseeing the nations and his church. He’s working out his plan of salvation for humanity, right?

Does God really care if you get a good night’s sleep? If the grass in your backyard grows? If your old car keeps running? If your children get better grades at school? What business do we have troubling God with questions about— well, about peanuts?

Would God take the time to respond if we asked him about such an “insignificant” item as a peanut? George Washington Carver’s experience answers—yes! Remember? God invites us to cast all our anxiety upon him! “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” Jesus said (verse 14).

What’s your problem?

Many of you may be facing marriage problems, loneliness, money troubles or poor health. Perhaps you grapple with job difficulties, worries about children, fear of the future or unfulfilled life dreams. You don’t have to remain helpless in the face of these troubles!

All power in heaven and on earth belongs to Jesus Christ. He can change the very circumstances in your life. He welcomes you to cast all your cares upon him—because he cares for you. Jesus told his friends. “Ask and it will be given to you: seek and you will find: knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). The door to the throne room of heaven is open to you—thanks to Jesus’ saving work on your behalf. And you may enter that throne room through prayer.

A Timeless Example

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) is not a substitute for our own thoughts and words. But it is a valuable checklist of what concerns us. We can use it to organize our thoughts as we seek God’s help in our lives and the lives of others.

• Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. We need to remind ourselves that our Father is the supreme and Holy Lord of the universe.

• Your kingdom come.
We look to the implementation of God’s rule in our lives now, and eventually in all humanity.

• Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The kingdom has come for those who have submitted their lives to God. We need God’s help to do his will on earth with the same enthusiasm and willing obedience as it is done in heaven.

• Give us today our daily bread.
Bread—not cake! Pray for your needs—not your greeds. If God already has provided for your daily needs, remember others less fortunate. Pray for them, too. What can you do to help them? Ask God to present you with opportunities to help others.

• Forgive us our debts.
Is there something on your mind? Tell God what you are sorry about. Ask for forgiveness.

• As we also have forgiven our debtors.
If you expect forgiveness, have you forgiven others? Are you harboring a grudge, anger, resentment? Is there someone out there whose feelings you have hurt? What are you going to do about it? Remind  yourself of Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5:23.

• And lead us not into temptation.
God won’t lead you into sin. But you need to ask him to lead you away from temptation. We are weak and do not always follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit working in us.

• But deliver us from the evil one.
A reminder that Satan’s evil influence is a fact of Christian life. Satan will try to draw us away, even as he sought to tempt Jesus. We need God’s help to resist.

• For yours is the kingdom and the power and the
glory forever. Amen.

This is a reminder that God is in charge, and he will triumph over all opposition to his sovereign rule. The problems and trials of life are put in perspective by this simple closing.

Qualities of Christian prayer

Let’s look at several important qualities of Christian prayer.

Prayer is an act of worship. God “fulfills the desires of those who fear him” (Psalm 145:19). But prayer is not just asking God to do what you want or to give you what you want. First and foremost, prayer is an act of worship toward God.

Throughout Scripture, we find the servants of God praising him in prayer. Jesus’ sample prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; see below) begins and ends by praising God and asking that his will be done. The Lord’s Prayer includes a request for personal needs, but focuses on worship.

Elsewhere, Jesus assured his disciples that God knows what our needs are before we even think to ask him about them. Who, then, does prayer most profoundly change—God or us? When we praise and thank and worship God in prayer, don’t we become more conformed to the image of our Savior? Isn’t that change in us more important than the physical requests that God also fulfills for us?

Worshipful prayer, by individuals or in groups, in private or in public, unites believers in the love of God.

Ask according to God’s will. Someone will respond that we can’t know God’s will. Wrong—God has made his will clear through his Word. The Bible points to Jesus Christ as the focus and the fulfillment of all things. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega—the first and the last. God has turned everything, including the final judgment, over to him.

The will of God is that we turn to his Son in reverence, repentance, obedience and worship. All our prayers should reflect that we, as Christians, do so.

Ask unselfishly. Do you want God to bless you? Christians use their benefits and blessings to serve others, not just for personal, selfish satisfaction. As James 4:3 says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

God wants us to be as concerned about the interests of others as we are about our own (Philippians 2:3-4). God acts powerfully when the faithful unite in prayer about those who are in need.

Remember George Washington Carver and the peanut? He wanted to help others. God’s answer to his prayer helped save the economy of the South—and the lives of many poor farmers. Do you need money for education? Ask God to give you the money so you may learn skills that you can use in the service of others.

Is your marriage in trouble? Ask God to give you more love, patience and wisdom so that you may serve your spouse better. Would you like to be married? Ask God to send you a Christian mate so that, together, you may glorify Jesus Christ through the rich experiences marriage provides.

Is someone treating you wrongfully? Ask God to intervene for that person’s own good. Think of how you can turn God’s blessing not only to your good, but to the good of others.

Ask in faith. Believing prayer connects with Christ’s immeasurable power. Because he loves us so, Jesus reaches from where he dwells in unapproachable light into our physical realm to change our life circumstances, in response to faithful prayer. If you lack faith, do what a concerned father did when he asked Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son. When Jesus asked him whether he believed, he cried out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Ask God to give you strong, unwavering faith.

Ask in Jesus’ name. Jesus gives Christians the privilege of praying in his name. He promised, “My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name’’ (John 16:23). To ask in Jesus’ name means you ask as one who humbly and totally embraces him as Lord and Savior. When a follower of Jesus makes a request that recognizes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, God takes notice and responds. There is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved (Acts 4:12).

Be persistent and fervent in prayer. God hears faithful prayers. Then he decides how and when he will answer. In the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus showed that we need to be persistent. Again and again, the widow petitioned a certain judge for justice, Until the judge acted (Luke 18:4-5). God is not an unjust judge who does not want to act on behalf of Christians. He wants to respond and help, but he also tells us to seek him with our whole heart and to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Give thanks. Ingratitude must be one of the most common sins. Do you thank God for all he has already done for you and for future chances to bring him your requests? After he told them to pray continually, Paul told the Thessalonians to give thanks in all circumstances (verse 18). Thank Christ for showing you how to pray. Thank him for hearing you. Thank him ahead of time for answering, knowing by faith that he will. Praise him for being a reliable, generous, loving Savior who wants to help you with every problem and who wants you to be with him in his everlasting kingdom.

You needn’t struggle alone

When our daughter, Lillian, was 10 months old, she developed a high fever. As I held her, her body became convulsed with a seizure and shook violently. Her eyes rolled up into her head. Her tongue flopped out of her mouth, and she uttered the most unearthly cry of agony I ever hope to hear. My wife and I rushed the baby to the hospital, where Lillian’s temperature was measured at 106 degrees. The doctors began to talk about subjects like meningitis, spinal taps and brain damage.

I called the pastor of our church, who happened to be conducting a worship service at the time. He immediately asked our congregation to pray for our baby. Thirty minutes later, Lillian’s temperature had dropped to 99 degrees and she was sleeping. Lillian is now a happy, healthy child who prays to God regularly, who can read stories about famous leaders like George Washington Carver, who, at bedtime, wants to hear stories about Jesus and who likes to eat peanut butter.

There are billions of people on earth. Lillian is just one. But she means everything to my wife and me. Would God be concerned over one little life like hers, and reach down and answer a fervent prayer from some of his faithful children? If you’re not sure of the answer, George and I  and Jesus Christ—can set your mind at ease.

In the middle of the night after Lillian’s seizure, I sat rocking my sleeping daughter in front of our TV. Tears of thanks to God streamed down my face as I watched a gospel choir belt out a blistering rendition of the old standard “It Is No Secret (What God Can Do).” I already knew that. Every praying Christian knows that. What God can do doesn’t have to be a secret to you, either. You needn’t struggle alone. Jesus knows all things and holds all power. He stands ready and willing to help you overcome. He stands ready to hear—and answer—your faithful prayers. He will move mountains for you if necessary!

So learn of the awesome power that answers fervent prayer, and come boldly before the throne of God about every matter in your heart, whether great or small. As the apostle Paul wrote: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’’ (Philippians 4:6-7).

Author: Norman L. Shoaf

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