There is a great difference between a wish and a prayer. It’s very possible that what Christians so often do is offer “wishes” to God instead of praying in hope. So, let me say again, there’s a huge difference between praying and wishful thinking.
This topic really takes us to the big struggle of prayer. Why does God, at times, seemingly not answer and why is the answer sometimes just “no?” If you don’t struggle a little bit with this question you probably don’t have much of a prayer life. If you’re praying as a lifestyle, you will eventually run into the difficulty of not understanding why God is doing or allowing what He is or why He doesn’t seem to want to do what you’re asking.
So, here’s the question: is what I’m doing praying in hope or just wishful thinking? There’s a big difference in praying “wishes” to God and praying in hope.
To understand this difference in prayer, I must first demonstrate the difference between these two things: a wish and a hope.
Henry Cloud tells a story of a conversation he had with a woman who was frustrated with the relationship she was in. She had boyfriend and their relationship had been serious for some time, even to the point of talking about marriage. But, the longer their relationship went on he seemed to have less and less time for her. She felt that she was very low on his list of priorities. Out of frustration she broke up with him. After some “time off” she called him back to talk about rekindling the relationship because she missed him. When they were together, they enjoyed each other’s company. But, the problem was, he just didn’t seem to have time for her even when she gave him a second chance.
As she was trying to figure out whether or not to continue in the relationship she ask for some guidance. “Should I continue with this relationship?” was her question. The answer to her was that it dependent upon if there was hope or not. She said that she hoped it would work out. The problem was that it was not really hope at all, it was just a wish. She had all the objective evidence that clearly showed that he would not treat her as a priority, ever.
A wish is subjective, hope is objective.
Cloud’s summation of the story was this: “Remember that hope means investing time and energy toward results that you have solid reason to believe can be achieved. It is not hope to invest time and energy in a goal that has no forces acting upon it to bring it about.” That’s just a wish! (Henry Cloud. 9 Things You Simply Must Do. 63)
To pray for things that God is not even doing is nothing more than a wish.
How, then, do I pray in hope?
Before I can answer that I first must define what hope actually is. Here’s three definitions of hope:
Hope is something known but not yet seen.
- “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (Romans 8:24)
- Peter describes hope as something “living.” Because of who Jesus is, what He’s done and what’s he’s promised to do we have hope that has life to it.
Hope is expecting what is to come because of God’s reliability.
- “Faith trusts in God’s promises, while hope expects what is to come. God’s reliability and his promise should foster lively, growing assurance, despite delays and doubts.” (Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. 306)
- “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
- In other words, we have great evidence from the Old Testament account of God’s reliability. He promises and does what He promises. He knows all things, even before they happen. Therefore, we can attach ourselves to Christ’s words all the more: “….your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8)
Hope is solid reason to believe because God is acting on it.
- Christian hope is: confidence in the future, consistent trust in Jesus to provide and patient endurance to wait.
I still need to answer the question, though: how do we pray in hope?
It’s impossible to pray in hope if you don’t know what to hope for. Here’s a few questions that may help steer you in the right direction: What does Jesus promise? What is His desire for your life and the lives for whom you’re praying? What does He want to teach you? Are your current circumstances part of His plan for which you hope?
Praying in hope, then, is always praying “forward” (always looking to the future based upon the promises God has made) basing our request on what we know God is doing. That’s how we have true prayer in hope. Our prayer is based upon objective evidence that God is able or working to bring something about. That “something” is that for which we ought to be praying. This is essentially what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. This is praying in hope.