God Answers Real Prayer.
But this brings us to another distinction. We have just been speaking of the greater prayer vs. the more immediate prayer. But now we need to look at another reason why God may say “NO” to our prayers.
God responds only to real prayers. There are times when the prayers that issue from our lips are not our real prayers. When we are “officially” in prayer we pray for the things for which we ought to pray. We are often on our best behaviour when we pray. But our real prayers are the ones our hearts pray when we are not even conscious of praying.
Elisabeth Barrett Browning has said, “Every wish with God is a prayer.” And when we have finished our prayers for the morning, we change our posture, and then begins our real praying. For some of us spend our days wishing: wishing for promotion, wishing for a bigger salary, wishing for easier circumstances, wishing for Friday to get here sooner, wishing I could afford a better car, wishing that my in-laws would get off my back, and so the days go. And if Browning is right, “Every wish is a prayer.” When we spend one minute a day saying “Have your own way, Lord, have your own way!” but then spend the next 12 hours wishing and therefore praying for an easier life, it is clear that we did not really mean what we prayed in our official prayer time.
Harry Emerson Fosdick has said that only those prayers that coincide with our dominant desires will be answered. “You will find me when you seek me with all of your heart.”
To pray the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi is a marvelous act of worship.
Lord make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
But then to leave that act of worship, and instead of wishing “Lord make me an instrument” we go out wishing that the weather was nicer and the pay was higher and the kids were quieter, will be simply to cancel the prayer of the morning. How can God say “YES” to a prayer we really do not mean?
But oh what a difference we could make in our world, if after praying the prayer of St. Francis we spend the rest of each day wishing “O God make me an instrument of Thy peace.” How could God say “NO” to a prayer like that?
James is aware of the problem of a divided heart when we pray. Listen to his words: James 1:5-8 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all persons generously, and without reproaching, and it will be given him. But, let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double minded person, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord.”
Soren Kierkegaard says, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” When our lips pray one thing, and our lives pray a different thing, God may not answer the prayers of our lips.
It may be for that reason that the Psalmist prays,
“Search me O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
See if there is any wicked way in me
And lead me in the way everlasting.”
This may be the reason those who composed the prayers to be used in the service of Holy Communion included that marvelous collect for heart purity,
before whom all hearts are open,
All desires known,
And from whom no secrets are hid:
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
By the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit
that we may perfectly love Thee
and worthily magnify Thy holy name,
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.