How do I know God will answer my prayers?

If you were sitting in the Frog Pond (a coffee shop, not a marsh) in Owen Sound one recent morning, you might have overheard a heated discussion between Elaine and I. The question from her was something like this: “You talk all the time about the promises of God and how we can claim them for our lives. But how am I supposed to know what promises God has made to me that I can actually claim?”

And she had a point. It’s no use going on about standing on God’s promises when we have no assurance what those promises are, and how exactly they apply to our lives.

Here are some of the answers we hashed out in our discussion.

Most of God’s promises are linked with his identity. He is, among other things, our Saviour, our healer, our provider, our shepherd, our shield and fortress, our refuge, our deliverer, our righteousness. So he promises to be all those things to us. That is guaranteed

But what does this look like? Jesus is always our Saviour, yet he does not always heal, sometimes his shepherding care seems far off, our fortress is occasionally breached, our provision is limited, and we are not continuously delivered from every danger.

Simplistic answers about naming and claiming don’t work. But neither do we want to give up on all God says he is. So try this:

First, see all God’s promises in light of eternity and the fact this world has limited value in relation to what is to come. Even death is the gateway to a greater life. The Bible teaches us that present suffering produces a reward far greater than anything this world can throw against us.

Second, God’s promises are given to further his kingdom, not promote our comfort.

Third, remember we live in the age of in-between. In the second world war, victory was assured after D-day, but not achieved until V-day. Many died fighting for freedom in the interim. We live in the spiritual in-between. There will be casualties. We are still affected by the nuclear fallout of sin. The only guarantee is he will keep us faithful as long as we trust in him.

Fourth, give your heart the Habakkuk 3 test: can you find joy when your fig trees are not blossoming and your fields yield no food? If not, you need some gentle adjustment.

Fifth, remember the process of prayer is designed to bring us into alignment with the will of God. When we know God’s will and submit to it, and are prepared to walk in the way of the cross, our prayers will be answered. 1 John 5:14-15.

Sixth, always persist and never give up in the face of setback and disappointment. Take a lesson or two from the widow of Luke 18. Timing is often critical with God.

The promises of God are rooted in the Bible. But the Bible does not speak directly into the day to day circumstances of your life. You will not go to Romans or Galatians and find out whether God is going to give you that job, heal your backache or cause someone to fall in love with you.

God’s promises, as we said above, are rooted in his character. So if you want to know how who he is is going to be worked out in your life today, you have to get to know him.

And guess what - loads of things you are asking for might turn out to be lethal if you got them and so, in his mercy, God says no. That doesn’t mean he has ceased being who he is, it just means you need to go back to the drawing board to find out how his promises are to be applied in your life.

You can’t manipulate God by pulling the right promise levers and hope the lemons line up. Prayer is the gateway into a living fellowship with Jesus. It’s not where God gets manipulated. It’s where you get changed.

Then prayer and our claiming of the promises becomes the key to the successful operation of the family business, the extension of the kingdom of God.

That’s at least the beginning of an answer! To find out whether it satisfied Elaine, you might have to come back to the Frog Pond next week.