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By Toni Smothers

How important is your prayer life? Seems like a no-brainer, right? "Oh, very important," you might answer automatically. But think about that surface reaction Ė then go deeper.

In Matthew 21:22, it says, "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." And, again, in Mark 11:24, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." These verses tell us that all we have to do is believe that God is listening and that He will grant us whatever we ask for in our prayers. Could it possibly be that simple?

Iím sure weíve all heard these verses before, but do we really understand their meaning? Because if it were as uncomplicated as it appears at first glance, wouldnít we be praying all the time, maybe even abusing this God given gift? Would we actually need to pray twice about the same thing?

Now, I donít know about you, but Iím sure that Iíve prayed for various things over and over again. Iíve also failed to think of prayer first over automatically seeking my own remedy, until a crisis hits and Iím running slim on options. I suspect Iím not alone in this. So, whatís that about?

The Bible plainly says: "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." Seems like, as self-seeking as we can often be, weíd never stop praying. Boy, it wouldnít take long to rack up one heck of a list of requests. You know, kind of like rubbing the magic lantern and having that genie scurry around giving us whatever we thought we just had to have! Also, seems like that second or third prayer for the same request would be redundant, wouldnít it?

So, is prayer not as powerful as the Bible tells us? Does God actually take the time to listen and respond to us? Or Ö are we going about it the wrong way?

These are good questions for reflection as you evaluate just where you are today in your prayer life. How seriously do you take Godís promises to you? And what about the whole "abiding" thing?

John 15:5a says, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit" (NKJV). Also, add John 15:7-8, "If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples."

So, itís not just about praying. We need to abide (stay with Ė remain faithful and unchanging) in Christ and His Word.

Well, that tends to be a huge prerequisite and changes the oversimplified assumption that all we do is pray and whatever we ask will be given. Because if we are "abiding in Christ," that will seriously alter or limit what we would ask for. All of a sudden weíre looking at producing fruit too. Whatís that all about?

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). Is this getting complicated or what?

Philippians 1:9 says, "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight." Gaining knowledge and greater insight about Godís love and will for our life is pretty much what the Christian life is all about. I suspect that the path toward this begins and ends in prayer.

The real question then becomes Ö what should we pray for? If some of the fruits are patience and self-control, for example, does it strike you as incongruent to ask God to make all your problems go away? Or to help you succeed at this worldís goals?

You know what I mean, "God please make him/her love me, or help me make the grade, or get the job, or land that promotion, (you fill in the blank), surely that will fix everything Ö If youíll just do this one thing for me, promise Ö blah Ö blah Ö blah."

Consider 1 Peter 3:12. "For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer. " Take this literally for a minute. Godís eyes are on you and me! Just think of it. He is actually attentive to the prayers of the righteous, which is us because of Christís sacrifice!

Now what does that mean to you? When someone is being attentive, doesnít that mean that they stop whatever they were doing to focus completely on the one thing they wish to give attention to? Does God do that? What are you having Him listen to? Can you possibly conceive of the awesome power of a Christ-centered, trusting prayer? Sure seems worth some serious thought.

In Matthew, 7:7-11, Jesus says, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

Maybe youíre not actually praying as effectively as you would like to be. Maybe you donít always feel all that loving, faithful or gentle and that makes it hard to always know which of your concerns you should turn over to God in prayer and which are not motivated by His will for your life.

You know what? Itís okay if you donít know. Right now is the time to resolve any conflicts you might have concerning that by asking God to show you how He would have you pray. In Psalm 139:23-24, we read, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

Trust God completely and take time to quiet yourself as you listen for the Holy Spiritís gentle, guiding voice. Prayer will then become as natural as your breath and as important as your heartís desire.

* Unless otherwise stated, passages of Scripture were taken from the New International Version
Toni Smothers is a child of God, wife, mom, grandmother, writer and lay-speaker. She has had serious exposure to the rougher side of life and from that experience has been left with a heart full of love for others who struggle with learning about our beautiful Savior. Through her writing, Toni delights in helping young people especially, who are seeking to find a true, intimate relationship with their Heavenly Father. Toni can be contacted at toni@smothers.us.
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