I sat across from my friend as he spilled out his challenges through heart-felt words. I knew there was an expectation that we’d pray for his needs soon. This prayer time was common practice, a show of belief that God should be involved in such things. As I prayed for my friend, I asked for healing, for guidance, for patience while he waited for the answer. I covered a lot of bases because the truth was – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from our prayer. I said the words “please heal” because I knew I should say them. But my expectations on this occasion didn’t include any immediate healing.
Experience suggests that we have all sorts of expectations of what will happen when we pray. These come from what we’ve been taught and what we’ve encountered in the past. In a recent class on prayer, we identified some of the diverse expectations we have when praying for others:
- God still does miracles
- God probably won’t heal you right now
- Prayer is a formality to the good advice I want to give you
- You (who I’m praying with) have the same beliefs about God that I do
- You should be encouraged by these prayers no matter the outcome
- Anything could happen right now
- God will heal you if I pray with enough faith
We all have baggage we lug into prayer which effects our expectations of what is happening and what will happen. Many of these expectations may limit us when praying. They may keep us from praying all together.
In the class mentioned above, we identified three foundations for intercessory prayer (prayer on others behalf) that we believe will form healthier expectations for conversations with God. The first is illustrated in a section on prayer from the teachings of Jesus in Luke 11:5-13 (The Message).
5-6 Then he said, “Imagine what would happen if you went to a friend in the middle of the night and said, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread. An old friend traveling through just showed up, and I don’t have a thing on hand.’
7 “The friend answers from his bed, ‘Don’t bother me. The door’s locked; my children are all down for the night; I can’t get up to give you anything.’
8 “But let me tell you, even if he won’t get up because he’s a friend, if you stand your ground, knocking and waking all the neighbors, he’ll finally get up and get you whatever you need.
9 “Here’s what I’m saying:
Ask and you’ll get;
Seek and you’ll find;
Knock and the door will open.
10-13 “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?”
Much can be said of Jesus’ words on prayer. But focus on what Jesus ends with – a picture of a Father who cares deeply for His children. This is a Father who gives good gifts; much better than what we could give. This is a Father who is for us, not against us.
How does it change prayer if we truly believe in the robust goodness of God? How well can we trust Him to give good gifts?
We believe that the goodness of God is the foundation for intercessory prayer. We go to Him with our troubles, not because prayer is the expected spiritual act in challenging times, but because we have a good Father inviting us to share our troubles with Him. Believing deeply that God is good motivates us to pray expecting good things. Perhaps we don’t expect that everything we ask for will go exactly how we expect it to go. Instead we develop a trust in God, asking for what we think is best, but trusting that He will provide what He thinks is best.
What expectations do you carry into prayer? How does your belief in God’s goodness effect the way you pray?