Why doesn't God answer my prayers? ...

The Power of Prayer:
a Meditation

M.E. Sangster: "Never had a prayer answered in my life!" The speaker was a young woman, and her emphasis was a sign of bitterness. It was evident to her friend that she had a wrong conception of prayer, and limited it to an application to God for things which she wanted - material things, or those which had to do with the externals of life, rather than with the development of character, and with the experience of the spiritual part of her being. But the friend was wise and patient, and the years had taught her much, so she expressed no surprise at Miss Bettina's statement, and merely asked,

"For what have you prayed, my dear?"

"Oh, for a great many different things, Aunt Kate." The friend was called Aunt Kate by a number of young people who loved her, though she was really not of their kin.

"Tell me some of them, please."

"I prayed that Hugh might be able to go to college; that God would open up a way after father lost his money. But though I prayed for this, which was surely right and unselfish, for six months, no way was found, and Hugh had to go into business - Hugh, who is so scholarly and so clever. He has had no chance beyond any commonplace lad with half his brains. Then I prayed that dear mother might recover from her illness and be spared to us, but she steadily grew worse, and was taken away. I prayed that we might be able to keep our home; it had to be sold. I prayed that I might get a position in the seminary where I had studied, but it was given to Elsie Dunn, who did not need it, and I am teaching in a free kindergarten at a much smaller salary than she receives. So now I've stopped praying. I say, `Our Father in heaven' and `Now I lay me [down to sleep],' but I don't carry any more wishes to God, for it is of no use."

Aunt Kate looked wistfully at the fair head, bent over the needlework that Bettina did at odd times, and sold for whatever it would bring. Bettina's lot had been a hard one for several years, its trials aggravated by a rebellious disposition. She had not yet learned to rest in the will of the Lord, nor to tarry for [i.e., wait for] his leisure.

"Dear child," said the lady presently, "you have never had the illumination of the Spirit on this matter of prayer. You have fancied that you knew what was best, and that you could dictate to God. You have supposed that it was enough that some course seemed desirable to you, not that the Lord knew what was most for your advantage. I fear you have altogether omitted from your prayers, 'Thy will be done.'

"I was a girl once, as eager, as wilful, as intense as you are now; I, too, set my heart on gifts that I longed for, and fretted when they were withheld or denied.

"I have lived to know that a wiser hand than mine has guided my life, and that I have never had a prayer which was unanswered. But God may answer 'No' as well as 'Yes.' You have to say `No' to the wee tots in the kindergarten when they ask for favors which would not be good for them. I can truly say as I look back over the years of my pilgrim way that God has always chosen the very best things for his child. My favorite song is,

"`I know not the way I am going,
But well do I know my Guide.
With a childlike faith I hold the hand
Of the mighty Friend at my side.'

"Look, Bettina, at yourself," Aunt Kate continued; "you desired that Hugh should go to college. Had the boy himself desired it as earnestly as you did, had he been willing to defer the period of helping his father in a sore strait, he might have gone. There are colleges which cost nothing, or very little in fees, and the boy could have worked his way through. God gave him the clearer vision, the truer manliness. He is developing splendidly in the business office, and good men are needed there. The dear mother was left with you until her children were grown up, then she was taken to rest and peace and perfect health, and she left you with a joyful light in her face. About the loss of fortune, of the familiar home, and the failure to secure the place you hoped for, I can see that these were trials; but God may know that you needed this discipline, to make you more sympathetic with others in trouble, and to fit you for higher work by and by. I think your great mistake has been that you narrowed the meaning of the precious words, `Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,' to the lower needs of the day. `Your Father knoweth ye have need of these things before ye ask him,' and, dear girl, it is his good pleasure to give you the kingdom."

"I wish I knew precisely what that means," said Bettina, wistfully.

"Perhaps I can explain. At another time Jesus said, `The kingdom of heaven is within you.' I think that when once a soul accepts the divine will as final and as best, and communes with God in submission to that will, there is no more agitation. There may be sorrow, there may be pain, but on the rock of the Lord's will, the aching head lies as on a soft pillow, and the weary disciple gains courage and new hope, and picks up his load and goes on. Every interruption then becomes a token of the Lord's constant care, and life goes on, as under the Captain's eye.

"`Dear Comforter, Eternal Love, If thou wilt stay with me,
Of lowly thoughts and simple ways I'll build a nest for thee.'

"If the Prince of heaven abides in a human soul, then the kingdom of heaven must be there."

"What do you think it is right to pray for, Aunt Kate?"

"In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, make your requests known unto God."

"But with a reservation?"

"With no reservation, except that of our Lord himself, 'Thy will be done.' I think, dear heart, that prayer need not be only asking some boon from the Lord: it may be composed of praise, of telling him our love, and of waiting for him to be gracious to us. Those who are often at the mercy seat are aware of times when they feel the presence of the Lord, and are sure of his brooding over them, as the bird over her young. They are, it may be, silent before him, they have not many words, but their want is their plea, and when they go out into the world from the place of prayer, they go with power to help others, with the Spirit of the Lord filling them and enabling them to conquer in the battle with evil. These men and women become the Great-hearts and the Valiant-for-truths of the world." [Heroes from John Bunyan's "A Pilgrim's Progress"]

Bettina's gray eyes grew soft with tears. This was an ideal of the prayer life which she had not before perceived. She felt that she had known little of what the Master had to bestow, because she had not sought himself, being anxious only for his gifts. Her friend took her hand tenderly, and said,

"Sometimes we ask and receive not, because we ask amiss. Said one of old, `If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.' Can one who is only looking for the perishing dross of this world expect to have any better fate than Bunyan's man with the muck rake, who heaped `up worthless rubbish, and never saw the crown that he might have had, glittering above him?

"And then we must not overlook the wide field of intercessory prayer. When we are in sympathy with Jesus, we are intensely filled with a desire that those who are wandering outside the fold may be brought into its safety and shelter. We think of our acquaintances and our relatives, and we beg that they may be saved. Time passes swiftly as we pray that definite and positive blessings may come to individual lives. Rising into a still higher and purer altitude, we pray for the conversion of the whole world, for tribes and nations that now worship false gods, for the Hindoo, the Chinese, the Indian, the African, for the idolator wherever he may grope in the mists and fogs of his absence from God. We pray for the prisoner, for the tramp, for the enemy of good, that he may be changed and redeemed. When we read the Bible, we read it with new light on its pages; and whether we pray in our closets, or with others, we are sure that we are heard.

"And, Bettina, we go to the prayer-meeting, and carry our vase of perfume with us to be broken there at the feet of our Master. We always get good at the little meeting, no matter whether it be quiet and restrained, or whether a number speak and pray. If there are but two or three assembled there, the Lord is in their midst.

"People make great mistakes when they shut themselves up in a shell and avoid the company of Christian disciples. The stick that burns singly makes a wee bit of a flame; several sticks piled and kindled together blaze brightly and freely on the hearth."

"The more one goes to prayer-meeting," said Bettina, "the more I observe one likes to go. I think I shall ask you to take me oftener under your wing hereafter, on the midweek evening."

Aunt Kate kissed the dimpled cheek. "The day will come, my dear," she said, "when, if you follow on, you will know many sweet things, and gather many fragrant flowers in the garden of the Lord."

Aunt Kate said no more, but these thoughts came to me, a silent listener to the long talk.

It belongs to youth to be impatient. As we go on in the Christian life and reach the higher levels of maturity, we learn to wait; we realize that we cannot have everything we desire at once and without delay. And we grow into a fuller appreciation of God's ability to care for us. We go to him, as weak and dependent as little children, and we come not empty away.

"Whatever we lack, whatever we crave,
We reach out our hands, we lift our cry,
And all in an instant, strong to save,
Jesus of Nazareth passeth by."

There is much in being always in the attitude of waiting upon God. In the beautiful life history of "Brother Lawrence," a simple monk, who practiced constantly the habit of living consciously in the divine presence, we see that even the little things of the hour, the small losses, the petty disappointments, may become means of grace. Such, dwelling with the Father ennobles life, makes impossible the low motive, shames our cowardice, and helps us to look ever toward the land beyond. None who thus live in the spirit of true prayer ever miss the beatitude which is the inheritance of the pure in heart, for through shadow and shine, it is theirs to see God.

"Still with Thee, O my God,
I would desire to be,
By day, by night, at home, abroad,
I would be still with Thee,

"With Thee, amid the crowd
That throngs the busy mart,
To hear Thy voice, 'mid clamor loud,
Speak softly to my heart,"

"The Power of Prayer" by Margaret E. Sangster from "Talks Between Times", 1901, New York: American Tract Society

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