The following excellent article on prayer is taken from “Your circumstances are not guidance” by Duncan Edward Pile which appeared in http://www.patheos.com on August 29, 2022. Heed Duncan’s advice it will change your life.
How do you know if your circumstances are from God? The church of my youth taught that if you prayed about something and gave the outcome into God’s hands, saying ‘thy will be done’, whatever happened would be God’s will.
If a person asked God for a blessing, the failure of that blessing to arrive would be interpreted by the spiritual leaders of my youth as an answer to prayer, the answer being ‘no’. This approach is not in line with the teachings of Jesus.
‘Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name…ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.’ John 16:22-24
As well as filling us with joy at the goodness of God, receiving from him also brings the Father glory.
‘And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.’ John 14:13,
If receiving from God brings him glory and fills us with joy, why would we be wary of expecting it?
One of the ways in which I am most richly assured of the loving nature of God is in specific answers to specific prayers. I believe the Christian life can be a journey into increasing discernment, powerful prayer, and the direct intervention of God through the leading and might of the Holy Spirit. That has certainly been my story. The Lord guides us, leads us, and is faithful. He wants to get involved in the details and circumstances of our lives.
Increasing answers to prayer
For me, the key to seeing prayers answered is to discern the will of God before you make a request. The Holy Spirit involves us in bringing his will to pass, leading our prayers, and filling us with the authority to speak powerful, effective words. We are his hands and feet, his church. God does not bypass his children in order to make his will manifest.
“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” James 5:16-18,
The will of God is enacted through the prayers and actions of those who walk closely with the Holy Spirit and follow his leading.
Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, and his instruction carried none of the fatalism I see in so much of the Evangelical movement, which seems to pray as if tossing a coin into a wishing well, singing ‘Ke sera sera, whatever will be will be.’
Jesus told his disciples to pray ‘Thy will be done, on Earth as in Heaven.’ Or in other words, we pray that God’s will be as perfectly and completely performed here on Earth (in our lives and circumstances) as it is in Heaven, where the Lord reigns supreme. The powerful prayer of a person in tune with the Lord starts with discerning God’s will, embodying the emotion and power of the Holy Spirit as he pours might through us, and giving voice to what we feel and perceive.
Once we learn to follow his leading we can pray in power, and that Spirit-led prayer is incredibly effective, cutting through resistance and genuinely changing things on a practical level. I have seen extraordinary answers to prayer throughout my adult life, praying in exactly this way. I’ve known intercessory prayer where the emotions of God flood through me and I’m left huddled and groaning, crying out with the compassion of God. I’ve smashed through resistance and barriers in the Spirit, going to battle on someone else’s behalf. The same is true of every person I know who walks closely with the Holy Spirit. We lend him our bodies, emotions, and voices, and pray as led. We are spiritual beings, praying Spirit-led prayers.
The enemy of faith
The difference between habitually answered and unanswered prayer is a life of faith versus a life of uncertainty.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” James 1:5-8
The instruction to believe and not doubt is not about mental discipline. To free ourselves from instability, double-mindedness, and spiritual ineffectiveness, we must have a clear, singular belief that God is good. He is not the author of suffering.
“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:16-17,
God does not change. His intentions towards us don’t shift. He is the author of love, joy, and peace, and is committed to bringing each of us to a place of genuine wholeness. Naturally, this is a lifelong quest, but it is essential to understand the trajectory, and that our ultimate destiny is glory. ,
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18
“But as it is written, what no eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9,
Once we’ve established a heartfelt belief in God’s unrelenting goodness towards us, and his commitment to bless our lives, we are ready to ask for the gifts and blessings he promises in his word. When our hearts and minds are singular, we are ready to receive.
To recap – the two key ingredients to praying in the will of God (and seeing that will come to pass) are knowing the goodness of God and learning to be led by the Spirit. To pray without the knowledge of God’s unchanging love is to build a house without a foundation; to pray without the knowledge of God’s will through the Holy Spirit is to waste oxygen. To pray ‘thy will be done’, while considering that might express itself through either blessing or suffering, is to be utterly deceived. To pray in the Spirit, led and empowered by God, and standing on the sure foundation of a knowledge of his unchanging goodness and compassion towards us, is to enter the miraculous. The person who prays in this way lives a life of effectiveness, influence, and spiritual power.
I return to the teachings I was offered in my youth. Praying for something and ‘offering it to God’ is no guarantee of an outcome God desires. It is in fact, a guarantee of unanswered prayer because such a prayer is riddled with uncertainty and doubt. That person will receive nothing from the Lord.
Progressive Christianity is no closer to the truth of this than the most conservative, Calvinistic congregation, in my opinion. From what I read here on Patheos (and elsewhere), they too are in the business of keeping the Holy Spirit at a distance and offering weak apologetics for unanswered prayers.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but for me, this remains the greatest blind spot in the ongoing Evangelical/Progressive debate. Both groups minimise the power of the Christian life, reducing the role of the Holy Spirit and embracing Christian fatalism. I pray that our hearts will be turned to the Lord and that we have the humility to accept that the life of faith is lived in the tangible power of the Spirit, who leads us in discernible ways and leads us to prayers that transform the world around us.
Lead us, Lord, I pray. Humble us, Lord, I ask. Bring us back to the spiritual power and authority all believers are called to. Amen.