When I was a child, I prayed like this: “God, if you answer this prayer in the way that I want, I promise I will do whatever you want.” Most of the time, my prayers were over something petty, such as getting over an upset stomach. But it wasn’t so much as what I was praying for that was the problem, it was the basis for which I thought I would be heard. Prayer was a one-way street where I could somehow manipulate God into giving me what I wanted if I said or did the right thing.
As adults, I’m sure few of us are as naïve to pray prayers like I did as a child. Surely we know that a vow to God to “never sin again” or “do whatever you ask” if he answers us is an empty prayer at best and self-delusion at worst. And yet I think we often fall into similar errors of basing the effectiveness of our prayer on ourselves. When we don’t think we have been heard, or that our prayers have not been answered to our liking, we are prone to look inward with a posture of defeat. If only we had done or said more, perhaps God would have heard and answered our prayer.