I recently listened to a lecture on prayer by JP Moreland. He gave a great recommendation for how to know your prayers are being answered. He took it straight from the Intelligent Design playbook. It’s a concept known as “specified complexity“.
Say you’re playing the card game “Spades”. The dealer gives you exactly 13 Spades. It’s a perfect hand! But wait, don’t get too excited. The chances of getting 13 Spades in a hand is just the same as getting ANY 13 cards in your hand. It’s not the random luck that should get you excited (otherwise you’d be excited to get any hand since they are all random). It’s the rules of “Spades” that make those 13 black cards special.
So how does this apply to prayer? Quite simply, we need to add some “rules” to our prayers. Not to test God, but so that we’ll know which random events in our lives are special. It’s quite easy and common to say to God “please give me a special week”. But that doesn’t really mean anything. We could find a $5 bill on the ground and assume that God answered our prayer for a special week. It’s a very safe prayer. We don’t ask God for too much and he doesn’t disappoint us by not giving it to us. “Please help Aunt Dora to feel better”. God may answer that prayer, but we’ll never know because the conditions on Aunt Dora feeling better are pretty loose.
What we need to do is pray boldly and specifically. We need to pray exactly for what we KNOW to be a good and righteous outcome. So for instance, a friend of mine is a nurse and she recently started a medical ministry at our church. She asked for prayer for her first meeting that it would “go well”. That’s kind of a pansy target in my mind. So I prayed with her that God would specifically send a doctor to the meeting that would model humility and what it looks like to submit to the leadership of a female nurse in a ministry setting. I prayed that this doctor would make him/herself know to my friend at the meeting by saying something along those lines to her. I knew that if it had happened my friend would not only think that the meeting went well, but she would know that God was active in her life.
Here’s the trouble. God didn’t answer that prayer. It didn’t happen (yet, I’m still cooking it). So now I’m bummed because I KNOW God didn’t answer my prayer. If I had just prayed for the meeting to “go well” I could assume he answered my prayer, but I wouldn’t really know. Honestly, my friend is pretty on top of things, she could set up a good meeting without God’s active role in it. There’d be no way to know if it was God’s hand at work in that meeting.
So I’ve started to add some “rules” to my prayers. What if 95% of the time God doesn’t answer my prayer and give me what I ask for? That’s going to suck. But that also means that 5% of the time I’ll know that God really WAS listening to me and answering my exact requests. That 5% will be SO much more encouraging than 100% of not knowing one way or the other.
The same night I prayed for my friend’s meeting, I also prayed for my foster daughter. I prayed that both her boyfriend and another guy friend would be taken out of her life by the end of the week (a remote possibility for one if not both). Within 36 hours they were both gone.
I also should throw in that you can’t just “dive bomb” these things and think that a 10-seconds-in-passing is going to do it. You’ve got to be committed and consistent to praying for the same thing. But that’s all for another post: “How To Get Your Prayers Answered.”