Prayer can be a strange discipline. In it, we talk to a God we cannot see, who may or may not answer as we wish. Some people see prayer as accessing some sort of celestial vending machine; put the prayer in and get the answer out. I've not known it to work that way. Sometimes we get the answers we want almost immediately; sometimes never. When I was a teenager, I was taught that when we read the Bible, God speaks to us; when we pray, we speak to God. Unfortunately, that way of seeing prayer is somewhat truncated. Prayer is not a one-way street; it's a dialogue, more of a way of cultivating a relationship involving listening as well as speaking.
Of course, it does include asking and receiving. Jesus said as much. But it is much more than that. It is one of God's means of changing us into the persons he in his forethought and grace intends us to be. Sometimes that only happens when the answers are delayed, which is why Jesus also teaches us to pray without ceasing. Sometimes when we are asking for something, God is more intent on developing his character in us through the perseverance of prayer than he is in giving us what we are requesting. And sometimes, there are other people and factors that God is orchestrating towards a greater good than we can imagine.
Last year, a good friend suffered a stroke that robbed him of the use of his right side and his ability to speak. At most, he has been able to utter a couple single syllables while gesturing. Always the same syllables. Last summer I had a dream about him in which when I walked into his room, he greeted me with full conversation. The Scriptures say that young men shall see visions and old men shall dream dreams in the power of the Holy Spirit. I guess that says all there is to say about how God sees me. I told my friend about my dream and that I was praying for it to become reality. Nearly every time I visit him, I remind him of my dream and my prayers.
Today when I visited him, he started counting, one through five, trying to tell me something. He was reminding me of his birthday coming up next month. What excited me was the five words he spoke, the most he has put together in one group in more than six months. I wish God would hurry up with the full answer to my prayers, but for now, I am grateful for the firstfruits. I think my friend is, too.