In my years walking in faith I’ve often wished there could just be a donkey standing in the road in front of me – one that would speak and make it abundantly obvious what God wanted, what His answer was, and His direction. The story of Baal and the donkey in Numbers 22 would certainly wake one up – but what about those times in prayer that there is no immediate response, there is no seeming ‘God’ moment that just shines through and proves without a doubt what the answer is?
I can only clearly remember one event where I feel like I received a direct, immediate and powerful response to prayer, which I’ve mentioned in a couple previous articles. So how do you and I, we, know when God is answering prayers?
There was one time in my old Pentecostal church, where prayer was loud, fervent, demonstrative, and dare I say, obnoxious that I was walking around the sanctuary, circling the rows of pews as I walked and prayer, that I remember receiving an answer. Now some will say it could have just been me, my mind responding to my own mind…but whatever it was, it was immediate.
As I circled the pews, loudly groaning in prayer as was the custom, I spoke loudly the half-Scripture/half-prayer, the phrase, “God, I want to hear your small still voice!” And the response came to me immediately – again, whether this was of God or myself, that is for the audience and time to judge – “If you would just be quiet, you would.”
I nearly stopped in my tracks – but I did quiet down. And my prayers were never the same again, something that I attribute to my later leaving the system I was in as it gave me the ability to quiet my mind, settle my thoughts and learn to listen instead of using ‘many words’ as my prayer style (Mat 6:7). I learned to stop and listen to God, to accept the Word when it said, “Be still, and know that I am the God.” (Psalm 46:10)
But that is one event in a long life of prayers – we’ve all spent plenty of time agonizing over unanswered prayers. Or maybe we had what seemed to be an answer but spent time second-guessing if that was really “the” answer. And, if you are human (which we all are by the way…) you have probably had those thoughts like, “How do I know it’s God directing me and not satan?”
How do you know if God is or has answered your prayer? Here are a few ways in which we seem to receive answers to prayer, though this is not a definitive or ‘only way’ response to the question.
While seemingly incredibly rare, many people have attributed answers to prayer as immediate, supernatural responses. Some claim to have heard the ‘audible’ voice of God, whereas others, like me, claim to have received a thought or intuition, an ‘in the head/heart’ response.
Other people (I fall in this camp too) believe they have prayed for certain circumstances and then watched things unfold as they prayed for them to unfold. These seeming direct responses always seem miraculous, confirming, and extra-special. Direct responses to prayer leave one convinced of their faith, at least for a time, and attribute the super-natural to their life.
While I don’t want to be seen as a Devil’s Advocate, it is interesting that there are studies (analytics really, spreadsheet and math calculations…) that show Prayer has 50/50 chance of coming true. But that seems like a really odd, ambiguous and strange claim to make, by any intelligent mind. If someone prays for rain in the dead of a 100 degree summer day without a cloud in sight, certainly that would skew that hypothetical analytical number. It’s certainly far less than 50% likely to happen unless a supernatural act of God intervenes.
That strange 50/50 rule applies more to stranger scenarios like someone scratching a lottery ticket, while praying, “God let me win something!”, or another person watching a Football game praying, “God, let Team X win!”. That kind of prayer, which seems more like a game of chance falls into that category – and yet people in history and present times will view the response, if in their favor, as an answer to prayer. This leads us to the next point…
Circumstantial Prayer Responses
This is one of those gray areas (no, we aren’t talking brain matter or aliens!) where it seems like the prayer could have a 50/50 outcome. There have been times I was driving down the road, the gaslight on my car was flashing, I might have been a mile or two from a gas station, and I prayed, God, let this car make it to the station…
Well, I would make it to the gas station, and in response, say, “Thank you, Jesus!” But did God really answer my prayer, or was that the reserve tank in the car? I’m glad to attribute it to God answering my prayers, but sometimes people pray during circumstances that if don’t go the way they want it to (like running out of gas…) they may question God and say, “Why did you let me run out of Gas?”
Circumstantial prayer response is ambiguous and hard to qualify, yet I’m still shy to say they should be disqualified. I remember an old pastor saying they would pray for parking when going to the mall and lo-and-behold, a parking spot would open right up and it proved to them that God takes care of His own.
The most genuine and Biblical response to prayer I can see and hope for is in the affirmation of your fellow believers. God more often than not worked through other men and women to provide answers and responses to the needs of His people.
Some call this the strings of the puppet master, but Scripture clearly indicates this as a way in which we are cared for by the Father. God even used non-believers as confirmation points to His glory.
Proverbs 3:6 tells us to “Acknowledge him in all your ways and he will direct your paths”. We don’t have a GPS in Christianity but through the Word of God and through the People of God. There are no calm, soothing European voices in our heads saying, “Turn left here…” or “Buy that house…”
We do, however, have the affirmation of those around us, those walking in faith who may affirm, confirm the response to our prayers. We may prayer for certain issues in our lives and lo and behold, completely unbeknownst to that person, they may say, “I just had a feeling that it would be good for you to…” and it was the answer you were praying for!
Some may say this is a very subjective topic. As I mentioned there is this odd secular study that says prayers are a 50/50. However, when balancing the entire outlook of direct, circumstantial and affirmation responses it is far less up to chance and is more orderly. We believe of course, that God is a God of Order and this approach, of combining the balance of all three response types gives us a checks and balances approach to prayer.
Now – there may be others who say that is ‘humanizing’ the supernatural, but frankly, so did Paul. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul addressed supernatural events such as speaking in tongues and declared order to the usage of those gifts to ensure they didn’t get out of hand and were abused. Order is a cornerstone of the believer’s life in Christ as God is not the author of confusion. (1 Cor 14:33-40)
We’ve all heard or asked the question, “How do I know if my prayers were answered?” Some of the simplest answers that come with built-in checks and balances are to see if you have at least two of the three responses spoken of in this article.
Did your prayer receive a Direct Response, a Circumstantial Response, or an Affirmation Response?