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I"FAITH" AND "REASON"I
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HOW TO
REALLY

BELIEVE IN GOD
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      section contents

(Supporting article)

Finding God within our lives

A guide to recognising God’s presence
within our day-to-day lives
through the practical use of faith.

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

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1.    INTRODUCTION

It is clear that belief in God can only come from our own individual experiences. It stands to reason that your faith cannot be built on my experiences. That is why it is highly unlikely that a believer can walk up to an atheist and prove to him or her that God does exist. This article refers to building belief in Gods existence by recognising his presence within our day-to-day lives.

Although the article is written from a Christian perspective, please dont get the impression that I am intolerant towards the other monotheist religions of Judaism and Islam. A lot of what is written in this article will apply to followers of those religions as much as it does to Christians. The essence of Christianity is explained in the article, Christianity explained simply”.

Essentially, the use of faith in everyday life, within every aspect of our lives, can provide us with the opportunity to witness Gods presence there, as he attempts to provide loving care to each of us. (Undeniably, to those who really know him, he is a God of action.) And when we do use faith in that way, our lives will tend to be far more contented and filled with purpose. A great bonus, eh?

You may wonder at this point whether, as Christians, we can ignore the Church,  that is if it is possible to build our belief in God by recognising his presence in our day to day lives? The answer is a firm "No" from my point of view.  I have explained my reasons later in this article. Also, please see the article,God within the Church”.

But, getting back to the subject matter of this article, how do we start this use of ‘faith’ within everyday life? Initially, and most importantly, we must just take the first step, no matter how small it may be. We firstly suppose that God is there, and then gradually move on to fully using the two-way personal relationship that we eventually find is available to us. Basically, we look for God within our lives; fully engage with him. And when we do, his power will be released there.
 

As I have stressed in the Lead Article (How to really believe in God) of this section of the website, genuine belief must above all else be based on a sound body of evidence. The two common areas where God’s presence can become most obvious to us within our daily lives is through recognising his guiding, helping hand and through the beneficial use of prayer. These areas, then, are where we firstly look to find evidence of Gods presence. I have also included some advice on how to hear Gods own still small voice’ later in this article.

So, let's get into it!

2.    A GUIDING, HELPING HAND

God’s presence in our lives can become evident, when time is taken to evaluate his influence over the course of our lives – both when helping us to make right choices in life and then by assisting us after we make decisions that are based on that guidance.

As I have already indicated, I am sure that God tries to guide all humans, unbelievers and believers alike, down their right path of life – knowing what is best for each of us, and others who will be affected by our actions. From the Christian (pre-Jesus) Old Testament:

        I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
        I will counsel you and watch over you.
        [Psalm 32:8]

This guidance from God will be applied towards all important elements of our lives: spiritual path, family life, personal relationships, education, career, helping others, even issues like acquiring important assets such as the family home etc. God provides guidance through a number of methods, and as explained below these are all recognisable and can also prove to be most helpful during lifes journey. Some methods are more definite and noticeable than others. Others are more subtle and flexible.

We should really be able to recognise, in retrospect, that God was actually present there in our lives even though we may not have realised it at the time. Now, it is likely that older people, because they have had more life experiences, will retrospectively see more examples of Gods methods of guidance within their lives. But even younger people should still be able to locate some examples there. Remember again, as I have said already it does nor matter whether you are an atheist, God will still try to guide you, out of his love for you.

2.1    Opening and closing doors

God knows what gifts and abilities we each possess. He knows our personalities and where we should be headed in life. God has a plan in mind for each and every one of us. (He also has a plan for humankind in its entirety as well, but although that subject is fascinating in its own right it is outside the scope of this article.) God does know what is best for each of us, with his view of life on Earth outside the constraints of our space/ time continuum. And some areas of Gods plans, for each of us, appear to be so important that they are virtually non negotiable. Whether we like to believe it or not, God has sovereign power over all his creation. Although he may use this power sparingly in our lives he can, through seemingly normal events, adjust our direction in life. For example, our plans to  significantly deviate from his own are simply blocked by God through his arranging of circumstances, unbeknown to us at the time of course.

I refer to that guidance method of God as roadblocks in the Lead Article, How to really believe in God. In other words, if some direction in life is vitally important to us, even though at the time we may be ignorant of it, God will prevent us from heading away from that direction! Of course, on the other hand, he can also open the way to a life direction in a fashion that cannot be closed. Christians refer to this guiding power of God in life as opening and closing doors”. These words are from the Christian New Testament (the Jesus bits):

        These are the words of him who is holy and true,
        who holds the key of David.
        What he opens no one can shut,
        and what he shuts no one can open.
        [Revelation 3:8] 

Some examples of closed doors in my life relate to personal relationships. I can look back, to a time when I was an atheist myself, and now recognise Gods guiding hand in me finding my partner for life, i.e. my wife. There were solidly closed doors placed in my way to steer me away from, and out of, relationships with other young women who in hindsight just would not have suited my path in life, and into that long lasting, satisfying and successful relationship that we share. As an important starter in Gods plan, my wife was a Christian before I met her. Although I remained an atheist for ten years or longer, after commencing our relationship, her faith proved to be immense support to me after I did come to see the light. I can now understand this was an area of life (my faith journey) that would become increasingly vital as time past, where Gods plan for me was not going to be thwarted by my ill informed choices.

Even though I was an atheist at the time of the events, please understand that I was at least capable of recognising the sudden preventative circumstances and their outcomes: the very unlikely odds of them occurring and the end of any further opportunity. And I could recognise that it always happened regularly  in the perfect order of sequence ... bang, bang, bang ... end of story, as it were! Yes, I could at least recognise the incredible timing and nature of what actually happened at the time, which is why I can now analyse it in hindsight and see it for what it actually was.

Now, this is not to say, of course,  that God will arrange circumstances to influence your love life. It is just that for me he knew that my life direction would be heavily impacted by my wife to be!

In hindsight, there are a very small number of these closed doors in my life that look, well ... spooky. As in my example above, they were just so obviously well timed and orchestrated by God! But, I can now honestly admit that God clearly knew me better than I did on those occasions. If you too look back over your life there is a very good chance you will recognise similar instances there. For example look for obvious turning points in your life, or where you became locked into a certain critical direction in life (relationships, education, career etc), resulting from pear shaped events, where you can now count your blessings. Possibly, you will see a trail of impacting events, one after the other and defying the laws of probability. When you get in touch with them; the way they just happen at pivotal times in life, then they really do prove themselves.

Of course, it is unlikely that any of these examples, you might find in your life, will in isolation prove that God exists to you, but recognising them will start to build that body of evidence you need for believing. So, read on please. 

2.2    Leadings

Clearly not all areas of Gods plans for our lives are so set in concrete, as it were. Probably most are not. Simply, we are normally left to just get on with our lives to the best of our ability. God knows the ideal way for us and he just shepherds us with hints one way or another as he sees fit, but leaves us with our free will to make final decisions. He is simply providing directions via our minds, quietly suggesting we follow his will. His hints within day to day life are most definitely recognisable, particularly when we twig to his presence there. And when acted upon appropriately, these hints can make life a lot more stress free as a result.

        For this God is our God for ever and ever;
        He will be our guide even to the end.
        [Psalm 48:14]


As Christians, we should know to look for obvious warnings from God. He invariably piles up ‘warning signs or omens in front of bad choices in life. What I actually mean by warnings (or omens) are odd little things that crop up unannounced more than we would expect, creating difficulty  preventing us from easily moving forward in a direction that we are planning to commit ourselves to. The test comes when we really want to commit to it (i.e. it may even have become an obsession) and then we start getting these vibes that we shouldn’t go that way!

Of course, God does not just provide negative leadings, he also just as effectively provides positive leadings as well. If one direction planned in life is becoming difficult to pursue and its alternative appears easier, then God may be indicating that the alternative (which may not be as desirable mind you) is the better choice. In the analogy, God is squeezing the door on the wrong direction in life and widely opening another one that is more suited. The easy route is often the right one, in other words.

In early days of trialling its use, it is wise to really apply adequate thought to what appears to be Gods leadings. But once we get a better understanding of Gods method or code’ for leading us, that he establishes with each of us as individuals, then its reality becomes much more concrete and extremely useful. It is a significant benefit for each of us to have a 'guide' on hand, who always knows what will work or fail in our lives; what might harm us or those close to us. 

The significance of these ‘leadings’ throughout life are again well above what could be accepted as mere chance. It just happens too often and when you get in touch with it, then, it really does prove itself. 

Like me, if you think back in time, you may also be able to recall overriding some of those more significant signs or leadings – on occasions – and making bad choices anyway. That is, going against strong gut feelings that are often brought on by obstacles, or possibly a series of obstacles. If you can remember examples, you will probably also recall the consequences. These may not be good memories. I know I blew it with a couple of major family asset purchases over the decades for example, despite leadings to act differently. On those occasions, this led to a level of financial difficulty which negatively impacted quality of life for my family. It took a while, but I eventually learnt to take stock of such leadings.

Please also read the small article titled, The will of God for a better understanding of that well known term and its relevance to the present topic of  leadings.  The two terms are, of course, interchangeable at least as far as life circumstances are concerned. Simply put, as I have already alluded, it means doing what is essentially the best in the long term for all those affected.

To my mind, Gods methods for deterring us can actually offer some of the strongest evidence of his existence. For example, his hints of disapproval at our seriously inappropriate decision-making – that may actually harm ourselves or others (either directly or indirectly) – will become increasingly obvious as he tries to deter us. Self-destructive behaviour, i.e. bad habits also fits into this category. Warnings of this nature from God, whilst normally starting out at a subtle level, may eventually become painfully obvious and maybe even embarrassing (as he possibly tries to shame us out of them). Does it sound like I have been on the receiving end of this sort of treatment? Yes ... that is why I can vouch for it!

God is not  to be seen as cruel or harsh in these actions. No, he does it because he loves us! He wants us all to have meaningful lives, and doesn’t want us lost in some mire that we cannot dig ourselves out of. If we do get lost, then the possibility of an effective relationship with God is extremely limited. The underlying cause of the problem will most likely dominate our thinking; our very identity, and override our thoughts for others and God, often making us lost even to ourselves. And that means that the most important things that God wants of us are severely compromised.

Bear in mind though, there is a limit to Gods attempts to put us on the straight and narrow. God does not normally force himself upon us, and when the wrong things in life present too much of an obsessive interest to us, he may well withdraw. In other words, he respects our right to ignore him, at our own peril of course. Inevitably, in such circumstances, we suffer the full consequences of those poor decisions. But, while there is life there is hope (as the saying goes). God will always use our mistakes to advantage when we re-join our true path.

2.3    Advice from others

Sometimes too, God guides us with advice through the mouths of others. First and foremost we are expected by God to seriously listen to peoples advice. Now obviously not all advice received from friends and  family etc will be sound, so we do need to use some discretion here. But if advice offered provides sensible alternatives to our own thoughts on something important in life: spiritual journey, family life, personal relationships, education, career, helping others, acquiring necessary family assets etc., then it pays for us to consider it seriously. From my past experience, there is something just a little special, some thing that can be recognised there, in those messages which have been influenced by God.

Note this relevant quote, again from the Old Testament:

        The way of the fool seems right to him,
        but a wise man listens to advice.
        [Proverbs 12:15]

And 'wise counsel' often arrives whether we ask for it or not. I really dont know the exact mechanism God uses. Maybe, he gives such people the courage to advise us in a way that they normally would not. In any case, these days I particularly take note when advice on a particular subject of importance to my path in life comes unexpectedly from someone I know.

Again I learnt the hard way not to quickly discount advice like that. I gained my first lesson about not listening to such advice thirty odd years ago, and the words echoed in my head for a long after, in view of the prophetic message I ignored. There were significant ramifications again unfortunately. 

Now after years of observation, I almost certainly know when to take heed of advice on life issues. When the words are driven (or encouraged) by God they actually resonate in my mind, sufficiently for me to realise that the advice is genuinely challenging a decision I have not yet acted upon. I know in effect that the wordsare really intended to highlight a wrong choice.

As you can tell from my admissions on ignoring all forms of leadings over the years, learning the hard way many times over, I have a somewhat impetuous nature (that I regret) and I am definitely a slow learner. I sincerely hope you, the reader, can learn from my lessons.

2.4    Trusting his guidance

Now we should, after analysis, recognise that all guidance from God is for our own benefit. So, why not start to look out for it whenever we face new challenges; even ask for it especially when it is for our benefit. Of course this takes us into new territory. This is the advanced stuff that believers get to use. It is an example of really using faith to our advantage in our everyday lives. Admittedly it takes some time, as beginner Christians, to relax into this mix of faith and openness. It is here that we are placing trust in Gods love. From the Old Testament:

        Many are the woes of the wicked,
        but the Lord
s unfailing love
        surrounds the man who trusts in him.
        [Psalm 32:10]

When we are confronted by important decisions that are hard to make we can, as believers, simply ask for guidance through prayer (the subject of the next sub section of this article). It is then just a matter of recognising the guidance – which is generally made quite clear to us  when God replies. Again from the Old Testament:

        Let the morning bring me word
        of your unfailing love,
        for I have put my trust in you.
        Show me the way I should go, 
        for to you I lift up my soul.
        [Psalm 143:8]

How then, as Christians, do we expect God to guide us after praying for it. Firstly, we might hold up the logic behind our plans, with our hearts and minds open to him. That is, after the prayer, we wait for strong feelings one way or the other. This process is known by Christians as discernment. Knowledge of Biblical scriptures, in the case of longer term Christians, assists in this discernment by highlighting Biblical indications of what is right or wrong in our expectations. In the words of the Psalmist [119:105], Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Secondly, not surprisingly, we would look out for advice from people we respect, especially Christian friends. Thirdly, and again not surprisingly, we would look for positive and negative leadings.

I offer another example of Gods guidance in my life. My career was certainly a vital part of my walk with God after turning to Christianity. I came to recognise him there guiding me, as in other important areas of my life. I can say with confidence that he led me from a career direction of safe and secure boredom with little self satisfaction to a path where my abilities were actually of value and I gained high job satisfaction. I accepted some hard leadings as I went though. I was, for example, led to apply my skills within government agencies that delivered health and welfare services. To do so I had to accept positions of higher responsibility yet less pay rather than other cushier job options available to me. My confidence in Gods guidance, and my trust in him, gradually grew stronger as I continued to put faith to the test.

Finding the best way forward in my job, to deliver positive outcomes for my agency and its clients, also became much more obvious under his leadings. As my career progressed further I came to completely accept that I could count on his assistance, i.e. I trusted him implicitly. I was sufficiently confident to lead my staff towards complex high yield approaches, though risking failure, if I was sure I was being led that way. We succeeded. I found myself at local and interstate seminars delivering talks on my methods. I even had the odd long distance international presenting engagement. When it came to accepting God's guidance, in my job, I am not saying that I switched off my reasoning powers under these circumstances. It was just when the going got tough for example when making close, unpopular or high impact decisions, maybe under negative peer pressure etc  I closely watched for guidance before making a final decision. Christian-based ethics played a role in decisions I must add.

I am certainly not trying to present myself here as special, because I know that I am not. Rather I am hoping to demonstrate how God can lead an ordinary person to fulfill their potential. With regards to career choices, I emphasise that it does not matter what our job might be, as long as it adds some value to the community, God will assist in it.

For the final words on guidance I offer this Biblical quote from the Old Testament:

        Your ears will hear a voice behind you,
        saying, This is the way; walk in it.
        [Isaiah 30:21]

2.5    A helping hand

Mind you, even after choosing the right path, it is not always going to be easy. There may well be hard work ahead. But if you have recognised the way God wants you to go, and you do go with that, then he will assist by supporting that right path:

        in all your ways acknowledge him,
        and he will make your paths straight.
        [Proverbs 3:6]

At times you will note a ‘parting of the waters’ clearing that appropriate direction before you. If you have a strong commitment to a direction in your spiritual journey, relationships, marriage, family life, education or career, work projects or doing good deeds for others etc – which is just and appropriate for you in God’s view (i.e. the will of God) – then he will remove barriers to assist you. This is the stuff that ‘divine providence’ is made of. It is also noteworthy that providence is more precious than guidance. I believe that I am right in saying that whilst God attempts to guide everyone, unbeliever and believer alike, he only provides a helping hand (providence) to those who have faith in him. I think this is because God uses it to provides us, the faithful, with further ongoing evidence of his presence and loving care. That additional assistance could not be recognised by an unbeliever, even if God gave it, because their minds are not open to it. It certainly reassures us believers that he will support us where possible on our path of life. From the New Testament:

        And we know that in all things
        God works for the good of those who love him.
        [Romans 8:28]

We should really make the effort to recognise providence at work in our lives. Its power will yet again clearly raise it above sheer luck. God’s gift of providence will include unforeseen assistance, unplanned meetings with people who can help, and, material things arriving without prior knowledge. It can even occur through anticipated events ‘falling through’, perhaps temporarily. Later in hindsight it will be apparent that the unexpected events (or even lack of expected events) suited the end result.

Essentially, when trying to use providence to our advantage in our endeavours, it is just a matter of warily going with the flow  not getting unduly enthusiastic when we are on a roll, or getting distressed when things are not exactly going according to plan. The intended end result is the focal point, not the road on which we are travelling at any one time. We re-adjust efforts as either doors are squeezed or doors opened wide. Going with the flow is something that we get better at as we get used to it over time.

As with God’s guidance, providence was an indispensable aid to my career (and other areas of my life by the way). I surprised the heck out of my highly qualified and skilled staff when I successfully ‘rode the back’ of providence, time and time again, to get successful outcomes that were, as far as I was concerned, stress free. This occurred in a politically oriented environment where contradictory or hidden agendas were often held by management peers. Those readers with relevant work experience will know that things are often not what they appear to be within civil/ public service management circles. I guess similar challenges would be apparent in the corporate world.

Providence can, as I have indicated, add great power and sanctity to our lives if we can get fully in touch with it. (More on that in this section’s Lead Article How to really believe in God”.)

3.    OUTCOMES OF PRAYER

Prayer is undoubtedly the ‘foundation block’ of faith. As in any relationship, communication is a must. Time should be set aside on a regular basis to talk with God. This may feel unusual at first. I mean, you cannot initially even be sure whether you are just talking to yourself – can you?

To the experienced Christian, prayer has many forms: requests for help for ourselves and importantly for others in need; thanks for what has been received; worship of God; just plain enjoying his loving company. We can use prayer in the full spectrum of our lives. For example, prayers requesting help can be applied to our spiritual direction, challenges to our faith, personal relationships, family conflicts, physical health issues, emotional problems, education and work issues, problems with addictions and bad habits, family financial needs, etc. Simply put, Gods power can be applied to almost any difficulty or dilemma we may face in life... if we ask for it! 

However, bear in mind it is much more likely that God will assist within our general day-to-day lives and related problems, rather than perform miracles or the like. I elaborate on that matter later in this article.

Of course, if prayers are not successful then our faith is weakened. So, it is important to have some knowledge, based on a sound religious footing, before embarking on the practice.

3.1    Prayers of request

Firstly, do not worry too much about the fact that scientific studies have demonstrated that prayers dont statistically work etc. The problem with such studies is that God will never allow himself to be known scientifically. I explain why in this sections Lead ArticleHow to really believe in God. I can say with complete confidence that prayers definitely do increase the odds in our favour when we utilise them appropriately. I have seen some incredible stuff come off through prayer during my thirty plus years of Christian faith, trust me. The potential power of prayers of request, and their outcomes, do indeed provide strong proof of God’s presence in our lives. Open your mind to the likelihood that God awaits your requests for assistance and I do not believe you will be disappointed. From the New Testament:

        So I say to you: Ask and it shall be given to you;
        seek and you will find;
        knock and the door will be opened to you.
        For everyone who asks receives;
        he who seeks finds;
        and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
        [Luke 11:9-10]

        You do not have, because you do not ask God.
        [James 4:2]

        Do not be anxious about anything,
        but in everything, by prayer and petition,
        with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
        [Philippians 3:21]

So “ask and you shall receive” is the Bible’s promise (although, ‘conditions apply’ as I explain later). AND God will, if the conditions are right, grant answers to our prayers. Once again its power will, after sufficient evidence is gained, clearly elevate it above sheer luck. Although it sounds a bit selfish to use faith to gain assistance from God for ourselves in our day-to-day lives through prayers of request, it has two positive results. Firstly, it allows God to prove his unconditional love for us, and I can only assume that God greatly enjoys doing so. As I often say, he is a God of action. He can make life a lot easier than it need be as a result. Secondly, by proving his presence in our lives it enables our belief to grow.

3.2    The best method, attitude and conditions for success

Please note that the above heading contains the word Best rather than Only or Right.  No one can pretend to provide exact guidelines on what God actually expects from us during prayer in any, let alone all, circumstances. I have merely presented advice based on Biblical verses, my personal experiences and the experiences of other Christians with whom I have discussed prayer. I would request that you read on in that context.

It is certainly useful, before commencing prayers of request to get into the correct mood: relax and open yourself to the situation. A quiet place to pray is always an advantage. Of course this is not always possible, particularly if praying on the run.

We should next set our mind on Gods greatness. We do this for three reasons. Firstly, it is right to recognise the omnipotent power of the God we are praying to. Secondly. it lessens our mindset on our perceived needs. Finally, it increases the power of our prayer when we accept his greatness.

It is normal for many of us Christians to pray to God the Father: Our Father in heaven, Heavenly Father or even Father God.

Importantly, how do we ask things of God? Well, we keep it simple. As best we can, we just ask for what we need. Theres no need to start with, If you dont mind..... etc. Theres no need either to choose every single word carefully. God knows exactly what we want before we say it, of course, but he needs to hear us ask. That way he can make it clear, through answered prayers, that he is present in our lives.

Certainly, the stronger the faith used by us when praying, the greater the chance of success. Faith simply equals confidence in success when praying. As Jesus himself said, I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, Go throw yourself into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. [Mark 11:23] Now that is a pretty clear statement about faith-filled prayer isnt it?

In our minds eye, as we pray, we should endeavour to see the positive outcome of our request. Again in Jesus own words,  ...believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. In effect we are opening the situation in question completely to Gods boundless power through our prayer; faithfully trusting in his willingness to assist us! 

Again, importantly, it is best if prayers are powerful. Jesus, the master of prayer, although giving all credit to the Father, powerfully commanded results. (For an understanding of the Father and Jesus, within the concept of the Holy Trinity, please see the articles, “Christianity explained simply and The Holy Trinity.) As for ourselves, I stop short of saying we should command results. But we should still pray with the utmost power.

If the issue being prayed for is important enough in your life, then it is also a good idea to pray for it regularly as well.

However, beware of an unhealthy obsession or preoccupation with the object of prayer can lead to poor results. In effect the object of prayer then becomes a ‘false idol’. That is, it is of greater importance to us than the God on whom we are reliant for results. This will normally doom the prayer to failure.

A balance of confidence in receiving a successful answer to the prayer (i.e. trusting in Gods ability and readiness), together with a lack of obsession for results, is therefore ideal. No request is too huge for God to answer, so we are told. As I have already indicated it pays to concentrate on that advice, just before a prayer of request. Simply pray with total expectation of an answer, then switch your mind off the subject leaving it to God alone to follow through.

Another way of increasing the power of prayer is through group prayer. Two or more people constitutes a group, and the more involved the better. One person leads with prayer. Verbal support or affirmation from other participant/s is also desirable as it amplifies faith and confidence in the process, i.e. it adds greater power. (Prayers in church services fit into this category of course.) To my mind, group prayer works so well because God can, by answering these prayers, touch the hearts of a whole bunch of people and thereby demonstrate that he is indeed present in their lives.

Again, many Christians conclude their prayers of request with the words, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.  Why add the words, "In Jesus name"? Well, he suggested we make our requests that way in John 15:16 (in the Bibles New Testament). The word, “Amen means something like May it happen” or I really mean this.

The Bible also makes it clear that our own generosity, or lack of selfishness, towards our fellow human beings directly relates to what God will give us. From the Christian New Testament:

        Give and it will be given to you.
        A good measure, pressed down,
        shaken together and running over,
        will be poured into your lap.
        For the measure you use,
        it will be measured to you.
        [Luke 6:38]

So, for example, the more we help others or donate to charities and the Church, the more generous God will be to us in return. And that is true, as I have experienced. Some of God’s greatest generosity in my life occurred shortly after I had given time or money that I could not really afford at the time. Of course I am not saying that we should enter into giving to others with the prime intention of receiving more in return. It is just that it often turns out to be the case.

Let me please also say that the suggested prerequisites mentioned by me, to this stage, don’t always have to be in place to ensure the success of prayers. (We do have a loving God after all.) For example, a personal request for inner strength in the face of physical, emotional or spiritual pain always has a high chance of success no matter how we ask for it.

3.3    Prayers that may fail

Just as there are best methods, attitudes etc to get good results with prayer, there are also conditions that work against success in our prayer lives. It is a fact though that God will not answer all our prayers. Despite the Bible’s broad promise on answers to prayers, logically, we will not get everything we literally ask for. There will be times when we want something badly and God just won’t grant us an answer!

For example, like a good parent, God won’t give us something that is not in our best interest or will negatively impact others. Not many parents for example would give their child a dangerous gift, despite all the tantrums in the world. Unfortunately, we cannot share God’s view of life. Although he is certainly present within reality and our lives, he can see beyond the restraints of  time and space in which we exist. Again, in hindsight, you will normally come to understand why prayers have not been answered, or not answered in an expected manner (explained below). A good many of us believers are capable of analytical thought, so don’t think that a strong element of ‘blind faith’ or, as I have alluded, justifying any outcome is a prerequisite for being a believer. A lot of atheists have this view I am sure, but it is in error.

Please, please, do not think that God will always overrule the laws of nature that he designed, every time you ask it of him. God does not normally dabble around with these laws. Although he underpins the laws of cause and effect, for example, he lets them run their course. Natural disasters will happen. People will suffer  quite possibly our loved ones which can include the most vulnerable: the very young and the old. The rolling dice of chance can bring accidents, illness or suffering to any of us on this day or any other. I am not suggesting here that we do not pray in dire circumstances. e.g. when a dear one is diagnosed with terminal disease. We do have to try and try hard with serious prayer in these circumstances. I will say though that prayers like this are best applied in church with prayer groups or the whole congregation  (see examples within the article, God within the Church”.

Although miracles still do happen  I am confident because I have witnessed them: see my examples in the above mentioned article  it is unusual for them to occur regularly. Unfortunately, that is not what life is all about. All people must die sooner or later, and we cannot expect that to happen only after reaching a ‘healthy old age’, without ever having suffered a day of ill health or pain beforehand. If every prayer to prolong life was answered there would soon be no room on our planet for the newborn. I have discussed the issues of suffering and evil and Gods role within them, more fully in an article of that name. Essentially, we must accept that some emotional and physical suffering, and eventually death, are inevitable in life. Then, we can more readily rely on God’s love and support to get us through it. The subject of Christian healing and other Gifts of the Spirit are again discussed within the article, God within the Church”. That article may shed some more light on this area of prayer for you, especially why miracles do actually occur sometimes. Also bear in mind that the ‘downs of life are much easier to cope with if we are practising Christians.

Selfishness and greed may also prove to be barriers to receiving answers to prayers. We really need to examine the motives behind prayers that have not been answered. As an obvious example, prayers like, “Make me rich and famous” have little chance of success. Asking to receive something at the expense of someone else is similarly too selfish as a rule. It is also unlikely that God will just send us riches that can be squandered on our material wish lists (the latest television set, holidays abroad etc). From the New Testament:

        When you ask, you do not receive,
        because you ask with wrong motives,
        that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
        [James 4:3]

It appears too that  as with God cutting us adrift when we disobey his leadings and act wrongfully  he may not assist as strongly with answered prayers if we willfully follow a way of life that we know he forbids (i.e. sinful).

        For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
        and his ears are attentive to his prayer,
        but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
        [1 Peter 3:12]

Again our inappropriate behaviour should be clear to us, and he will make sure of that! This does not mean that he loves us any the less, it is just that if we choose to live a life that offends him then he uses the tools that are available to him (e.g. reducing his level of care in our lives) to coerce us back to a life that is more rewarding anyway. I do not believe, even then, that he cuts anyone completely adrift in life. If you know in your heart that sin is the reason for your unanswered prayers, then it may be time to rethink your life. Probably, like me, you will work out that confessing your failures to God, changing your ways, then again moving forward in life with him is the best decision. God knows our weaknesses and I would guess is well pleased if we at least try to change. If we fail again when tempted etc, he expects us to try yet again to beat it. With time and practice we get better at staying on track in life.

Enough said on sin within this article though. You can read the articles, Christianity explained simply and Rules and Laws to get a better understanding of sin and its effect on life, death and our relationship with God.

3.4    Recognising answered prayers

Answers to prayers are not always instantaneous and can therefore be missed when they do occur. Indeed, answers for any prayers, particularly those for inner strength, can be easily overlooked. As an example, God has been particularly gracious with me when I have asked for help with handling stressful interpersonal situations (e.g. work, friends and family). I have often thought after those types of events, Wow that went better than I expected Then, it would occur to me that I had prayed about them earlier.

Prayer journals are useful to track discussions with God. Prayer requests should firstly be 'stated and dated'. Then we subsequently use these ‘journals’ to log God’s eventual response. Looking back occasionally over past prayers is necessary if we are to fully understand what God has done in answer to our requests. This is all the more important when starting out as a beginner on the road to faith.

Very importantly too, we must also look closely for unexpected or alternative answers to our prayers. These may only become noticeable through the passing of time, if we follow up on prayers. We come to more easily realise why prayers have been answered in unexpected ways as we mature in our thinking and knowledge over time. Again, this has nothing to do with wishful thinking, or desperately trying to explain away unanswered prayers.

It is also important, once again as in any relationship, to offer thanks to God when requests are answered.

3.5    Responding to unanswered prayers

Lets now examine reasons for prayers going unanswered for lengthy periods.

Firstly, be aware that God most definitely knows the best time to answer prayers. So it may be the case that a prayer has not been answered because the time is not yet right.

A major piece of advice is: when things are just not working out on an issue that is big time in our lives, despite our continued prayers and waiting in vain, then it is appropriate to accept that a simple answer to those prayers is just not possible. Many of these issues revolve around expecting God to change someone else for the better. He cannot be expected to overrule anybodys free will and alter their judgement, behaviour or attitudes etc, as such. They must learn lessons for themselves and thereby want to change first. Of course, as already explained, God will attempt to highlight the error of their ways to them.

In circumstances, where prayer is just not working, what we need to do is to sacrifice our concerns, as it were, and hand over the whole issue to the Lord in faith. At the end of the day, there is no value in stressing ourselves unduly over any issue.

Sure, what I am talking about here is a place of deep faith and also accepting just what power we all have at our disposal as a result. Again, I am talking about trusting in God. If you can get your mind to this place, and thereby shrug off the fear and anxiety caused by the issue, then God will truly bring about the best possible option for all concerned. Essentially, what is called for here is faith and patience. I will go out on a limb and state that when you actually do look back on the situation after the dust has settled, you will know that you have not been let down by our loving God. I wont say reaching this level of faith when praying is easy. This prayer of faith and hope relates to going with the flow as mentioned under the minor heading, A Helping Hand” in the previous section of this article. Although it may feel risky to just leave these things up to God rather than ask for (or expect) specific outcomes, God is obviously in a position where he knows better than us what is best for all concerned in the long run.

3.6    Mature prayer

As our relationship develops with God, and its intimacy matures, it becomes easier to move into more advanced prayer. I will say that the sooner this happens, the better, because stronger faith is an outcome and this relates directly to other areas of prayer life and its success (as I have already mentioned). The power of prayer is definitely all the more obvious in the lives of those who are willing to spend more time in the presence of God.

If you are a beginner Christian, then it may take time to feel comfortable coming to that position. Dont worry, if so, we have a loving God who will always listen to us as we grow in faith and commitment. But when it comes time, and you know God is nudging you to grow closer, do it and you will benefit in many ways I can assure you. For a deeper understanding, read the Lead Article of this section, How to really believe in God. The last four sections of that article are particularly applicable. Fundamentally, it is about contentedness with life itself.

Mature prayer includes both praying for the needs of others and devotional prayer.

What I am saying here is there is nothing wrong with praying to get things for ourselves but bear in mind that prayer, from whatever religion, was never intended to be totally self oriented. This is a major failing of Creative Visualisation (indeed the New Age Movement itself) and The Secret. Praying out of concern for the plight of others, for example, ensures that one’s mind is outward looking and not overly self-indulgent. Such behaviour is certainly an expectation of Christianity. Although I know that there are many factors (including genetic and environmental) that lead to mental illness, I fear that it will continue to spread in the West as long as individuals in society are overtly encouraged, especially by the media, to centre their attention on their own wants. Praying for those less fortunate than ourselves is one ‘sure-fired’ way to place our own problems in perspective. And there is just so much satisfaction available to us by bringing positive changes, through solid prayer sessions, to all sorts of life issues faced by others.

And it is right to just give time to the Lord in prayer, because no relationship should ever be based on just receiving; expecting all favours to just come our way. Although he regularly demonstrates his love for us through his gifts in our lives, God definitely desires a two-way relationship with each of us. That said, the idea of devotion, adoration or worship for anything outside ourselves really is a bit foreign to many of us these days. If we believe the hype we are offered, we are a special and lucky species: potentially in control of our own boundless destinies. And sure there can be periods of success, fulfilment and happiness in our lives without God. But ah, life has a habit of eventually biting us on the bottom; proving to us in no uncertain terms just how vulnerable we are to misfortune, pain and suffering! I remind you that it is indeed a great idea to pay homage to our God, the best one to provide support as we pass through the potential minefield that awaits us in life.  

A better way to look at prayers of devotion, adoration and worship is to recognise that they provide us with a genuine sense of our ‘specialness’ in being able to have a one-on-one relationship with the ‘Being’ (the great “I AM”) that enables the universe’s every moment of existence. (For more on I AMsee, So, what is God?) Christianity has an added complexity in its model of God that is the Holy Trinity. The Trinity adds a further dimension, created out of Gods love for us, to advanced prayer. Again, please see the articles, Christianity explained simply and The Holy Trinity. Do not let the title, the Holy Trinity, confuse you though. Christians believe in only one God!    

Emotions play a big part in these mature prayers, just as our love towards our parents is, or should be, involved in our communication with them.

Unfortunately, we must also remember that we humans on the whole are just too interested in matters that the Bible refers to as worldliness. And although not necessarily evil, an over interest in worldly matters can eliminate the chance to focus on spirituality. Attending to the buzz of modern life can soak up our lives completely. Modern communication methods such as texting and emailing can be bad enough, but what about the time drain of ever developing forms of social media such as Facebook and Twitter adding to the dilemma? Again, there is nothing wrong with these options of digital contact with friends and family, but there has to be a balance in life.

Yes, to succeed with mature prayer requires self discipline, but the rewards are waiting. Dedicated Christians always have, and still do, regularly put time aside to just spend with God. Substantial two-way conversations with God on our life issues can occur during these deep sessions. The next sub section discusses Listening to God”.

I personally find that just enjoying God’s company for a while inevitably provides personal revitalisation and a real sense of peace.

In conclusion, praying regularly does not necessarily come easy to most of us. It does take discipline, time set aside etc, and we do have to continually work at it. Prayer life is no different to anything else we would like to succeed at. It is just that not much else can lead to genuine contentment with life, like prayer can. The advanced stuff in particular wont come easily because, as I have alluded, it is often not in our nature to adapt to such practices. It certainly wasnt for me when I started on the path of faith! Remember, asking God for help in developing these habits will prove very useful.  

4.    LISTENING TO GOD

I am not so na´ve as to not know that this may seem suspect to you (that is, God speaks), especially if you have not even had exposure to close family or friends, possessing credibility with you, who can vouch for the fact. But, it certainly happens!

Only God knows how the ancient tribes of Israel first came to recognise his voice, and why he chose them to make it clear that he did speak.

God’s voice is not normally heard through our ears. He is usually heard within our minds. God’s words are one-on-one and personal. He is intimately involved with every human life, and can listen and talk to every one of us at any given moment. Consider the logistics of that!

It is extremely faith building to recognise his voice; know that we are being addressed by him.

4.1    Recognising his voice

I suppose the obvious question for the doubter is, “How can we know it is God speaking and not our own thoughts?” In fact, there is no doubt that many personal thoughts of Christians are attributed to messages from God. It can be very handy to think that we have God on side, to justify our own agendas. There have been some high powered examples of this over recent years, eh?

So how can we know that God is the source of the message in our minds that we attribute to him? There are potentially two other sources – our own brain functions and Satan. As far as Christians are concerned, one sure fired way of knowing that it isn’t God speaking is if the words are telling us to do something which conflicts with Biblical truths. Admittedly, this requires us to be familiar with the Bible. Yet, a sense of common morality or ‘right and wrong’ will go a long way to helping us here. And we hear of some drastic examples, don’t we? Religious wars and hatred have been with us for centuries. Men and women leave their families to form relationships with new more attractive partners. These things happen, and the perpetrators often tell us they have done it at God’s direction. I say, “Get a grip!”

These sorts of messages may not come from their own thoughts, but they certainly don’t come from God either.

So I ask again, how do you know whether it is God talking to you? From my own experience, the sound of God’s voice is somehow clearer, or crisper, than the ‘sound’ of my own thoughts. Some other Christians, who I have asked, think of the experience as more a strong sense of intuiting a message. His voice comes more as an impression, a very real one, to still other folks. However one might explain the sensation, it is true to say that recognition of his voice grows through experience. I am not saying that I am still always right in recognising whether it is God or not, either, but I can say that I am much better at it now than I was.

4.2    Acting on directions

There are certainly times too when I am much more confident that it is God speaking than others. His voice becomes quite loud when he is really serious about something, in effect like a crystal clear shout in my head. I have found that it is not a good idea to ignore the ‘loud ones’. They are, to my experience, normally directions from God to do something important for other people, or not doing something that will adversely affect them. On the occasions that I ignored his louder messages I came to regret letting down both God and those people involved. 

5.    FAITH AND THE CHURCH

I have recommended in other articles on this website that the best place to commence building faith is actually within the Church. Granted, as I have already indicated, we can be believers and not go to church and still live a life of faith. But I must say in all honesty, because I tried it myself during my own early days of faith, we miss out on too much when taking that direction.

Please take the time to read the article, God within the Church”, included in the Section Contents to the top left of this webpage.

This particular article (God within our lives) is definitely not intended by me to be a self help method that can be used in isolation from all other people – you know, just a ‘you and God’ sort of thing. God did not intend it that way, at least not in the long term. I agree again that you do not have to attend church to be a committed Christian. But, God clearly intends that his people do congregate together in his presence.

In the context of this article, and its focus on building belief, attending church can provide us with a better theoretical understanding of God and his loving relationship with us, that can be built upon for practical use in everyday life. The article, God within the Church in turn refers to this particular one, in that  faith should not be 'left at the door' when leaving church services.

Bear in mind that there is far more available in church than just 'theory', as mentioned above. The God within the Church article explains how to go about choosing a church for fellowship. It describes the types of belief and faith building events that occur in the various types of churches. These events can indeed be quite powerful, depending upon the area of the greater Church in which we choose to have fellowship. Do not underestimate the possibilities available there for establishing belief and faith.

Some of the most profound proof of God’s presence on this planet of ours is evident in the Church, particularly in its Pentecostal/ Charismatic/ Enthusiasm areas, i.e. the Born Again Movement. Some top stuff happens there. Although I have spent quite some time in Born Again congregations, and at times had my socks knocked off by what I experienced and witnessed, I have had fellowship for many more years with traditional churches. So I am not trying to unduly influence people, either way, as to which churches are best. Often our individual personalities are more suited to one type of church or another as well. I will say however that, although by no means mandatory, a bit of time spent in Born Again areas of the Church can do a lot to assist in the development of anybody’s belief and faith.

Importantly, indeed very importantly, we need to be baptized; become true members of the Church, as soon as we can feel comfortable with that once we have come to see that something genuine and life changing is being offered to us. And as I have written elsewhere the Church is the fellowship that nurtures and sustains Christians.

6.    CONCLUSION

This particular section’s Lead Article, “How to really believe in Godpulls the article you are now reading and God within the Church together to provide the best outcomes available to us: the ability to recognise God’s presence with clarity and to realise an undreamt of freedom within our lives.

I have tried to present the simple basis of Christianity in the final section of this website. The Lead Article for that section, that I have mentioned many times, is titled,Christianity explained simply”. Sound, open minded analysis of Christianity, through reading the Christian Bible, will also lead anybody to recognise that Christianity is indeed very believable as a religion.


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