A Legacy of Prayer
Though my mother-in-law never had much in the way of worldly goods, it was important to her to bequeath something tangible to each of her thirteen children and their families. She wanted each one to know they were thought of, so with careful consideration, she spent some time in making a list. The American flag that was once draped over her husband’s coffin would go to one who had also served in the military, the family photos would go to one interested in genealogy, and so the list continued until everyone had something he or she would value. What she did not realize was that she had already left each of them something far more valuable than any earthly possession—she left a legacy of prayer.
This inheritance was valuable in different ways to different ones in her family. Some gained the knowledge that prayer is the answer to all of the difficult questions in life, because any time one of us asked her advice, the answer was, “Let’s pray about that.” Others learned to see past a person’s sin to their need of a Savior. Whenever one of us disparaged someone for their sinful deeds or treatment of others, she would say, “Let’s pray for them.” The little ones were left knowing simply that God is real, He loves them, and He answers prayer. For me, the most valuable lesson was how to get a prayer through. Here are six keys to receiving an answer to prayer that I learned as I observed my mother-in-law’s life.
To receive an answer to prayer, we must make a request. The Bible says in James 4:2, “Ye have not, because ye ask not.” It seems that in life’s daily struggles, our natural instinct is to take care of matters ourselves or wait to pray until a problem is serious—we don’t want to bother God with “insignificant” things. However, if we wait, we might find ourselves lacking faith for something “significant.” I learned early on, through watching my mother-in-law, to lay a foundation of trusting God in small matters, so that when serious trials came, it was second nature to look to Him.
Just over a year after I became a Christian, my young children and I traveled five hours to spend a week with “Grandma Kiko.” During that time, I observed that she was in constant communication with God. She started every day by kneeling in prayer, and then continued to talk to God throughout the day. If something good happened, she thanked Him; if she needed help, she called on Him. Over the week, I saw God undertake several times for her, and I came away knowing she had a Friend she could trust.
Upon returning home, I prayed, “Lord, what can I do so that You will be my Friend, too?” The thought came, “Always come to Me first.” Right then I made it our household policy to consult God in every situation—big, small, good, or bad—before doing anything else.
The next time I lost my car keys, for example, the children and I got on our knees in the living room and prayed. Then, we went about our daily routine. Suddenly, I felt compelled to look under their dresser, and there were the keys.
Later, more serious concerns came up. After I quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom, three times we found ourselves low on funds. We looked to God first, and each time funds large enough to meet our needs arrived in the mail.
At first I did not see the purpose of asking God for help in every little thing, but eventually I came to understand that God was using these seemingly insignificant day-to-day victories to give us the confidence to bring the more difficult trials to Him.
Faith is another key to receiving an answer to prayer. James 1:6-7 says, “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth . . . let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.”
God provides each of us a measure of faith (Romans 12:3). Then it is up to us to cultivate that faith, and one way we do that is to exercise it. God helps us by allowing increasingly difficult trials to come into our lives. As we exert our faith in the smaller matters, we gain confidence to handle the larger ones. Another way of increasing our faith is to rehearse God’s promises as we wait for Him to answer prayer, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
My mother-in-law employed a “faith shelf,” and I followed her lead. I now keep a journal in which I record answers to prayer. The idea is that each of these answers goes on an imaginary shelf until my faith needs a boost. Then I take them down, by reading through my journal, and recount them in prayer. As I reflect on the times God has answered before, I can believe He will answer again.
Even King David used a “faith shelf.” When he volunteered to fight Goliath and was told he was too young, he replied, “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37).
We must pray in submission to God’s will to receive an answer. We read in 1 John 5:14, “If we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.” When our request is in agreement with Scripture, such as when praying for an unsaved loved one or seeking a deeper experience, we can pray in complete confidence, knowing that God wants our prayer answered even more than we do. Our motives must be in line with God’s will as well. James 4:3 says, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss.” Sometimes we are so close to a situation that it is difficult to know if our motive is pure. In these cases, we can ask ourselves, “Is my ultimate desire in this to glorify God?”
Another key is obedience. One day, my mother-in-law was sick and asked me to call for the ministers to come pray for her. I told her, “There is no need; I have a lot of faith.” She explained that we do not call the ministers out of a lack of faith, but because we want to be obedient to God’s Word—in this case, James 5:14-15. I was not so sure, so I prayed . . . and prayed . . . and prayed. Finally, I called the ministers, and as soon as they began to pray, we all felt the presence of God, and she immediately improved.
Many of the promises in the Bible are conditional. In James 5:14-15, the promise, “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick,” is preceded by the instruction, “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church.” If we will locate a promise that pertains to our situation and obey the instruction, we can expect God’s blessing.
In the last few years of my mother-in-law’s life she was ill, and quite often asked me to pray for her. At first, I was very self-conscious about praying in front of others, and there were usually relatives nearby, so I adopted the habit of sitting in a chair in her room and praying silently with my eyes open. Every time, though, my conscience bothered me; the thought kept running through my mind that I should be on my knees. I shrugged this off by saying, “God can hear my prayer from anywhere.” One day, my mother-in-law confessed that she was in constant pain, greater than being in child-bearing labor. I was shocked that God had allowed this and suddenly cried out, “Lord, aren’t You going to undertake?” Just as suddenly, a thought thundered back at me, “Aren’t you going to get on your knees?” I dropped to my knees, the Spirit of God came down, and her pain vanished.
Of course, a person does not need to be on his or her knees for God to answer prayer, but I learned that the attitude of the heart must be in a kneeling position.
Often, we must wait for an answer, which could be “Yes,” “No,” or “Not at this time.” In one situation, I laid my request before God in faith. It was in agreement with Scripture, my desire was to glorify Him, and I had done all that I knew to do. When there was no response, I prayed, “Lord, what should I do now?” and the thought came to me, “Rejoice.” Philippians 4:6 says, “With thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” While we wait, we can rejoice knowing God is faithful.
I am so thankful for the legacy of prayer that I received from my mother-in-law. She could not have left a more valuable inheritance. Through her faithful prayer life, she gave me the keys to receiving answers from God.
My hope is that these keys will not sit on a shelf waiting to be passed to the next generation like other family heirlooms. I want to use them daily and share them with others as well as leave them to my children.