When my prayers are not answered...

I may be the last Christian in the country who hasn't seen the War Room movie. It's certainly not because I wouldn't want to see it, but three kids and a movie theatre an hour away made it a little difficult for a movie date. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to rent it on DVD.

I'm glad for films like this that remind Christians of the power in prayer. Our access to God through Jesus is one of the distinguishing characteristics of our faith when compared to the other religions of the world.

But many of us are left wondering what happens if our prayers aren't answered as clearly as movies like this portray. What if the requests of our life aren't left wrapped in a pretty bow after we pray about them?

What happens when....

Your marriage is not only still broken but seems to be on the fast track to divorce.

Your cancer seems to be growing rather than shrinking.

Those relationship issues still aren't solved and it seems like they may never be in this lifetime.

Your spouse seems to have no interest in coming to church with you, let alone embracing the gospel.

What then?

To better understand the purpose of prayer, I think it may help us to look at a the most famous prayer of all - the Lord's Prayer found in Matthew 6. You may be familiar with these verses already, but I hope you'll stick with me! Jesus says,
 In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

 1. Prayer isn't primarily about us. 

Notice the beginning and end of Jesus' prayer. Hallowed be Your name reminds us of the holiness of our Heavenly Father and how His name prompts our reverence. He also refers to power and glory that belong to our King. The bookends of this prayer focus on the greatness of our God.

2. Prayer recognizes God's sovereignty.

"Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." We will never know the mind of God. Scripture reminds us that His ways and thoughts are far above our own plans and supposed wisdom. The trials, joys, and questions of life come to us only after being sifted through the fingers of an all-knowing, purposeful God.

3. Prayer trusts God for today.

When Jesus prays about our daily bread, it reminds us of the manna God provided for the children of Israel in the Old Testament. They were not to store up this special bread, but instead take just enough for that day's needs. They woke up each day with the faith in Yahweh that He would provide. In the same way, God will often supply our needs both physically and emotionally on a seemingly short term basis. This forces us to rely on our Father in a more urgent, needy way and cultivates a dependent relationship where He can amaze us with His provision.

4. Prayer is fueled by the gospel. 

Forgiveness of debts - freedom from sin's bondage -Sound familiar? We should constantly be rehearsing the truths of the gospel in our prayers. Until our own hearts are overwhelmed with God's forgiveness, how can we ever expect to offer it to our debtors. Until we realize our deadness before Christ, how will we ever seek purity over that tempting sin? Our prayers are a chance to preach the good news to our own hearts.

I believe that prayer is more than rattling off a list of requests. The gospel gives us a supernatural desire to approach God without expecting anything in return. Gospel-fueled prayer enables us to be content with both the yes and no "answers" taking joy in the fact that we have just spent more time in His holy presence because of Christ's accomplishment on our behalf.

We can trust our prayers to a sovereign Father who has proven His love to us in the greatest way imaginable already. Christ is the ultimate answer to any prayer.