Does God Hear Prayer?
Does God Hear Prayer?
Give ear, O Lord to my prayer and attend to the voice of my supplications. (Ps.86:6)
If there was ever a person who needed to have her prayer heard and answered, it was Hagar, the outcast concubine of Abraham, as she and her son, Ishmael, sat dying of thirst in the desert. She cried to God for help and Genesis 21 tells us that her prayer was heard, her eyes were opened, and she was able to see a nearby well and draw water for herself and for her young son.
Our Scriptures are replete with stories of God’s answers to the prayers of the faithful. So many, in fact, that we may easily overlook the instances in Scripture when heartfelt and faithful prayers were not miraculously (and immediately) answered. The children of Israel languished for centuries in captivity, and the sick exhausted all they have in search of healing. Even Jesus, who prayed that the cup of his passion may pass from him, was left to endure the pain and suffering of death. Why were their prayers not answered as they wished? Was God absent? Otherwise engaged? Indifferent?
No. The problem is that prayer is a mystery. The Psalmist certainly believes that God hears and answers prayer. But the Psalmist also knows that prayer is more than supplication; and that answers, if they come at all, and often not in the form we might desire.
Two things come to mind: Prayers and their answers are not equal parts of an equation and God works in and through the things of this world. In the former we must learn that God is not a “cosmic vending machine” which must, upon demand and proper payment, deliver a product. In the latter, we are called upon to remember that in our incarnate faith, God calls upon us to answer the prayers of others. Having created the universe and the laws of physics, God does not need to inject the miraculous. Perhaps, instead, God expects that we, like Hagar, will open our eyes, see the well and go get the water. But not only that. Perhaps God also expects that we will go to the well on behalf of others and bring to them that which they cannot themselves acquire.
It seems to be a matter of faith and of action. When we pray, we should pray for the presence of God in our lives. When we act, we do in response to our awareness of God’s presence in all of life. Hagar pleads for help, but after all, she would not have needed God’s miraculous intervention if either Abraham or Sarah had treated her with the dignity she deserved. So, God acted instead.
In either case, when we pray for the presence of God, we find it, and when we act in response, we make God present for others.