Since purchasing my first Growth Book in April, my favorite section has quickly become the Prayer List. Partially by nature and partially by years of battling perfectionism, I don’t sit still and quietly easily, and prayer has always been somewhat neglected in my faith life as a result. I love that the prayer list gives me a tangible action that keeps me focused by writing down what I’m praying over myself or others in a designated space, but I love even more that simple column marked “answered.” It turns journaling prayers into an act of brave faith, declaring that I believe they will be answered by writing them next to that open and waiting column, leaving space to record the date and way God will show up.
The reason I love the intentionality of the “answered” column so much is that I think that many of us are used to thinking of answered prayers in vague and uncertain terms. The encouragement that person gave me - could it be an answer to my prayer? This verse seems to fit what I was asking God about lately - but am I interpreting it correctly? I want a rubric to grade my potential answer on a scale of “probably your imagination” to “loud and clearly God.”
All the Lord’s ways show faithful love and truth
To those who keep his covenant and decrees.
Lord, for the sake of your name,
Forgive my iniquity, for it is immense.
The secret counsel of the Lord
Is for those who fear him,
And he reveals his covenant to them.
My eyes are always on the Lord,
For He will pull my feet out of the net.
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
For I am alone and afflicted.
Psalm 25:10-11, 14-16 (CSB)
The Bible may not give us a concrete list of criteria, but it does model a thousand different examples of people’s prayers and God’s responses. I’ve been meditating on Psalm 25 recently and noticed a pattern that’s common in many of the Psalms: the psalmist, David, consistently moves between supplication and declaration. He tells us what is true of God in one verse, and then swiftly and at times disjointedly pleads his desires before God in the next. I was sure that these aspects of God’s character had to be related to what David was praying, but the relationship isn’t always immediately clear. In the verses above, it can be a little challenging to understand David’s sudden jump from praising God’s faithful love to His people to asking for forgiveness for his sin. Maybe God’s love convicts him to pray for his sin?
As I was reading a commentary by Matthew Henry, I found that he noted this pattern as well and explained it by saying “The promises of God are not only the best foundation of prayer, telling us what to pray for and encouraging our faith and hope in prayer, but they are a present answer to prayer.” In other words, David is including these descriptions of God’s truth and character not just as a reminder to himself about what to pray for, but as an in-the-moment answer to the things he is bringing to God in prayer.
When I look above at verses 10-11 in this light, I understand how they’re connected. God shows love and truth to those who keep His commands, which prompts David to want to enter back into a right relationship with God by asking God to forgive what he’s done wrong. But noting that these things are true about God also reassures David that as he prays, he can have faith that He will be forgiven because this is who God is: a God who shows love to those who seek and follow him. We can pull apart verse 14-16 in the same way - David proclaims here that God reveals his counsel and covenant (wisdom, direction and promises) to His people, and that He always lifts David’s feet out of any trap they fall into. In response, David is motivated to pray that God will turn to him and show him grace in his loneliness and pain, knowing that God promises to give him direction, comfort and protection because that is true of who He is.
When I apply this practice to my own prayer life, it requires me to shift my perspective from the future to the present. Drawing on God’s promises as ever-present answers to prayer doesn’t mean that He won’t also show up to answer them in other ways down the line. It just means we know how to look for those answers by asking ourselves whether what we are seeing aligns with God’s promises of who He is and what He will do for us, which never change.
For some of the still-blank “answered” spots next to the prayers in my Growth Book, I think I’m going to go back and spend some time in prayer about who God promises He is and what He promises He’ll do in my life in relation to those topics and prayers. Just like writing prayers in my Growth Book feels like stepping out in faith that He will show up in them and give me something to write in that “answered” column, shifting my perspective to look for His promises reminds me that by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, He already has.