How to pray to God

CHAPTER TEN: FROM UNANSWERED PRAYERS TO ANSWERED PRAYERS
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Isaiah 1:15.  When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood (NKJV).       

When I indulged in sin yet prayed, God would not hear me. In fact, according to scripture, He refused to look. But when I repented, asked for forgiveness and prayed, God demonstrated that there was no limit to His reply.
            While in my twenties, I prayed to God for help with a situation involving a landlord who decided to keep my security deposit.  The landlord said she was keeping the money because I owned a cat without paying a pet deposit and that the cat had damaged the carpet. She was right. I lied about having a pet, didn’t leave a deposit and my cat had urinated on the carpet several times in the same spot. Despite all of this, I prayed for God to fix the problem by returning my security deposit. I felt I was entitled to the money, after all I thought, “I kept the rest of the apartment in spotless condition.”  What I realize now, is that I was asking God to reward me for lying. I was asking God to do my will. No wonder He didn’t respond.
            A large part of the healing process of October 2008 was learning the purpose of prayer. Further, I had to learn how to pray. Prayer, as demonstrated in my home growing up, was a repetitious act. Speaking directly to the Father on the other hand, in my own words, through His Son was much more difficult. I didn’t know what to say.  My past behavior still had a grip on my heart. Therefore, in the beginning, it was difficult to have a contrite heart while praying. I began to pray before I prayed. I asked God for the right words to say and when I couldn’t express my true feelings and anger was my only feeling, I would use His words and pray “The Lord’s Prayer.”
            Today, my husband and I still laugh at his words when we first prayed together. We had been fighting and couldn’t come to a resolution. One day, we were very frustrated and talking out our feelings just made it worse. I asked my husband to pray for us as a family and he said, “Okay.” His prayer began, “Dear Lord, please help Donna.” I began to laugh and corrected him saying, “We need help, not just me.” I remember that, like my husband, many of my first prayers to God felt awkward. I paused to say “umm” frequently. At the end of one prayer, I remember saying, “Goodbye.” It was only through the Holy Spirit that my prayers matured. He gave me words to speak. I noticed my prayers, with time, sounded less spiteful, had fewer pauses and I felt less embarrassment.
            As holiness softly crept into my heart, I found myself crying as I prayed. And sometimes my soul responded and the words just flew from my mouth. I often found myself baffled at how my once judgmental, deceitful, cursing and divisive tongue had changed so dramatically. My prayers became more sacred and I witnessed an impact in others as I prayed for them and their loved ones. I also noticed that things really began to happen when I prayed. God began to hear my heart and respond!
            One day, prompted by the Holy Spirit while in Wal-Mart, I purchased a cheap, little wipe-erase board and put it the wall at home. I placed a picture of Jesus above the board. The first names I wrote on the board were of those who I perceived had hurt me. I was praying for my own healing. Soon my heart opened up towards them and I began to pray for their needs.
            Within weeks, I started adding names to the board. These were people that I spoke to in the grocery store, bank and on the street. Each day, the board would catch my eye as I entered my bedroom. I found myself purposefully glancing at it and whichever name caught my eye, became my next prayer. I would then pray for the individual’s specific need. I prayed for God to use the life of my new homeless friend, and help him to feel a purpose in living again. I prayed for family members in need of physical and/or emotional healing. I prayed for the husband of a grocery store clerk to gain employment. I prayed for peace for a woman going through a divorce. Consistently, I prayed for my personal family to reunite under one roof and to give God first priority in all our lives. Many times these prayers left me in tears and drained of energy. 
Soon, I began to pray throughout the day. Whenever I looked at the prayer board, I stopped and took time to pray for someone. Even while studying in bed, and facing my prayer board, I’d pray, intermittently, for hours as I read assignments and prepared for tests.
            The prayer board evolved into a miracle. It awakened my heart as I spoke my own words to God. And the more I used it, the greater my personal faith grew. I loved telling people that I had been praying for them because positive things would happen.  Initially, I felt very uncomfortable and a little embarrassed to walk up to strangers and tell them that I was praying for them. But the usual and very grateful response was enough for me to joyfully press on. Days later, I would run into that person who would inevitably say, “You are never going to believe what happened!” The stories they told exceeded my hopefulness without fail! Time after time, their testimonies of God’s answer to my prayers brought tears. I couldn’t really fathom that God was hearing and responding to me! His answers to my prayers and, subsequently, the blessing I received upon hearing their heartfelt stories increased my faith significantly.  To others, God began to exist in a very real way. To me, God had filled a void and sense of abandonment that I had felt for years.
            A domino effect soon began. I shared with the next person I was now praying for a real story from the prayer board. As I shared, the person said to me, “I just got goose bumps.” I began to understand that I was not working alone. God was allowing the Holy Spirit to work within me to reach others. Those goose bumps were a confirmation that the Holy Spirit truly touches hearts in the exact moment that I testify about God and what He can and will do.
            Soon God was laying a burden of purpose on my heart. I began to feel compassion for those who had deeply hurt me. I didn’t question when God would next prompt me to specifically help them: I simply obeyed. I purchased gifts, left nice notes edifying them, spoke highly of them during conversations with others and prayed for them in private. At one point, I found myself acting with loving kindness towards those who were still persecuting me. Eventually, I noticed these people seemed to struggle with their anger towards me and my anger from past pain was vanishing.
            I heard a song recently that described my experience of surrendering my pain to God through prayer. The song called, “What a friend we have in Jesus” was written by Jo­seph M. Scriv­en over a century ago. 

What A Friend [We Have in Jesus]
Text: Joseph M. Scriven, 1820-1886
Music: Charles C. Converse, 1832-1918

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and grief to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows, share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

How true these words are! Over the past two years, I have carried all my burdens to Jesus through prayer.  In doing so, Jesus has brought me a sense of peace and an understanding that I am not alone in my pain. I know now, that I may experience hurtful moments in my life by others who offend or persecute me. I also know to carry pain to God in prayer and that he will exchange it for a feeling of peace. Prayer continues to be a miraculous breakthrough in my life.