Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here. (John 11:41, 42)
These words that Jesus prays before raising Lazarus from the dead have reverberated in my mind this last week. Maybe it is because I am once more writing prayers as a way to express my love for God and draw closer to the divine presence. Maybe it is because one of the talks I am giving in the next couple of weeks is on gratitude as stewardship. Maybe it is just because I am learning to relish the presence of God in new and wonderful ways and want to express that every day.
As I read these word, I was struck particularly by the confidence of that prayer. Jesus knew that God heard him. He didn’t feel the need to shout, manipulate of beg to try to get God’s attention. He didn’t feel the need to persuade God to do something for him, he just acted in the confidence that God heard him.
How often I come to God unsure of whether or not God is listening. How often I come feeling that I need to convince God to listen to what I am saying and take notice – more like the psalmist who cries God hear my prayer. How often I question the seeming lack of response.
What does it take for us to live in that confident place of knowing that God hears our prayers?
First we need to come in gratitude – Jesus thank you is a heartfelt cry of gratitude to the One that he knows as a loving and caring Father. Gratitude awakens us to the fact that God is already at work in the situation we are praying for. It opens our eyes to see what God is doing and molds our prayers to the divine will.
More than anything gratitude can express our amazement at the fact that God does actually listen to us and answer our prayers. That takes my breath away. That the great and powerful Creator of the universe reaches down and listens to the prayers that each of us pray is incredible – worthy of awe filled gratitude.
Second we need to come confident that we are praying the right prayer. I have often wondered why Jesus waited two days before coming to Bethany to see Lazarus who by then had died and been laid in the tomb. I suspect that he spent at least part of that time praying and asking God about what he should do. Another healing we would have rejoiced at, but resurrection was spectacular. It stunned us into seeing Jesus and I think also God, in a new and awe inspiring way. How close, I wonder, did Jesus come to missing it because he so wanted to see his friend healed.
Third we need to come with a sense of the presence of God deep within our being. So often we pray out of a sense of our own needs or concerns without taking time to centre ourselves on the presence of God and remind ourselves that the One to whom we offer our prayers can only, ever respond in the loving way.
Fourth we need to come expecting and looking for God’s answers. So often I pray a prayer and then dash onto the next thing, not taking time to notice and savour what God is doing in response to my request. We not only need to give thanks for the fact that God hears our prayers, we also need to give thanks for the answers.
I have a friend who keeps a prayer journal – jotting down his prayers, writing out his hopes and expectations for that prayer and then writing down the response that comes. He sees this as a way to more closely align his will with God’s. I think this is a wonderful idea but to my embarrassment I must admit that I have never implemented it.
In response to my reflections I wrote the prayer above. The photo is of one of my prayer plants. Its leaves rise in the evening and look as though they are praying. I hope the prayer will continue to revolve in my mind and also in yours drawing you closer to the abiding presence of God and fill you with the confidence that God both hears and responds to our prayers.