A farmer was driving his wagon along a miry country road after a heavy rain. The horses could hardly drag the load through the deep mud, and at last came to a standstill when one of the wheels sank to the hub in a rut.

The farmer climbed down from his seat and stood beside the wagon looking at it but without making the least effort to get it out of the rut. All he did was to curse his bad luck and call loudly on Hercules to come to his aid. Then, it is said, Hercules really did appear, saying:

‘Put your shoulder to the wheel, man, and urge on your horses. Do you think you can move the wagon by simply looking at it and whining about it? Hercules will not help unless you make some effort to help yourself.’

And when the farmer put his shoulder to the wheel and urged on the horses, the wagon moved very readily, and soon the Farmer was riding along in great content and with a good lesson learned.

Moral: Heaven helps those who help themselves.

– “Hercules & the Wagoner”, a fable of Aesop

This fable is clearly rooted in Greek mythology and not Christianity. We can see the evidence when the farmer calls out to the false god, Hercules, rather than to the one true God, Jehovah. Even so, there is an important Christian message we can glean from it, and that is, “practice what you pray!” The fabled farmer could not rid himself of his problem by observing it. He could not rid himself of his problem by complaining about it. Nor could he even rid himself of his problem by praying about it. It wasn’t until he put his hands to the plow, thus linking hands with his god, that he saw his problem begin to vanish. We must practice what we pray, lest our words be in vain…and furthermore an insult to our Maker.

Do you sometimes feel as if your prayers are falling on deaf ears? Do you cry out to God in the midst of problems, yet see no results? Do you long to know that your Father in Heaven is even giving your requests a second thought?

Today, I want to present three aspects that are absolutely vital to prayer. While implementing these three practices will not guarantee your right to receive every circumstance for which you pray (after all, God is not a genie in a bottle to obey our every whim; and He sees the big picture that our pea-sized human brains can not), I can guarantee that your walk with the Lord will be so radically changed for the better by means of your prayer life, that you will be content whether He answers your prayer with a “yes”, a “no”, or a “not yet”. You will know with each and every prayer that He has heard your case, and that will be enough.

  1. If you want to be heard of the Lord, you must…

A tavern was being built in a town that until recently had been dry. A group of Christians in a certain church opposed this and began an all-night prayer meeting, asking God to intervene. Lightning struck the tavern building, and it burned to the ground. The owner brought a lawsuit against the church, claiming they were responsible. The Christians hired a lawyer, claiming they were not responsible. The judge said, “No matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians do not.

– Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, edited by Michael P. Green; entry #1020

Are you ardent in your prayer life? That is, are you passionate and sincere when you pray, believing that the Lord can and will answer your prayer favorably if it is His will? Or are you, like the Christians in the above illustration, merely throwing words at God without really trusting in His ability to bring them to pass? The book of James warns us about this latter kind of prayer. James says that we must:

“…ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything of the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” – James 1:6-8

It is important to remember that, while we do not see Him presently, our Heavenly Father is alive and sentient. Do you remember asking questions into those magic eight balls as a kid, back in the day? Your attitude most likely was this: you figured it was worth a shot, but you didn’t put a lot of stock into getting any real answers. Praying shouldn’t be like that. When we pray, we are conversing with Someone who is active, alert, and attentive.

If you lack ardency in your prayers, the root cause is likely feelings of doubt. The remedy for doubt is faith, which is built by hearing God’s word. (Romans 10:17) It may sound cliche, but getting into the Bible is truly the best way to combat feelings of doubt in your life. In the same way that a wife may look to texts/emails/letters from her husband to solidify her faith in her husband’s love; so may a Christian look to letters from God to solidify their faith in their Father’s love. This, among other faith-building habits (i.e. faithful worship and fellowship with God’s people, listening to sermons on scientific and historic evidence of our Creator, etc.) will bring life and authenticity to your conversations with God.

Be ardent in prayer…practice what you pray!

2. If you want to be heard of the Lord, you must…

It is not well for a man to pray cream and live skim milk.

Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs From Plymouth Pulpit (1887)

Prayer is not a substitute for work, thinking, watching, suffering, or giving; prayer is a support for all other efforts.

George Buttrick, quoted in Quote Unquote by Lloyd Cory

Are you active in your prayer life? That is, do you make every effort (in your power) to partner with God in bringing what you have prayed for to fruition? Or are you taking a load off, expecting the Lord to entertain your requests single-handedly? Nehemiah is a great biblical example of a man who was active in prayer. This namesake book begins with Nehemiah receiving the disheartening news of the state of decay in Jerusalem. He said:

When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. – Nehemiah 1:4

Now stay tuned…Nehemiah didn’t simply say his prayers and leave the rest in God’s hands. No, you know the story – he got off his knees and got to work. Listen to his voice of action:

The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build… – Nehemiah 2:20a

The Lord doesn’t take the prayers of an inactive person seriously. Like any good and wise father, He is more than willing to work alongside us, but He is not willing to do all the work for us. (Incapacitating circumstances excepting, of course) If we are not willing to act, we can not expect God to act on our behalf.

If you lack activity in your prayers, the root cause is likely a too mystical view of God. Verses such as the famous “ask, seek, knock” passage, when misunderstood, may give us a false sense that anything we pray for will be granted like a magic wish in a fairy tale. This is simply not the case. If we pray for a paycheck, we best be applying for a job. If we pray for a child, we best be laying off the contraceptives. If we pray for a transformed spirit, we best be renewing our mind. The Lord will not defy the laws of nature or common sense to answer our requests, but He will look with favor on us when we put our hand to the plow…and He may even lend us one of His own.

Be active in prayer…practice what you pray!

3. If you want to be heard of the Lord, you must…

A father related that during their family time each person was going to pray for one person. His son prayed to ask God to help his friend Eddie be better at school because he was so bad. When they got together the next week, the father asked his son if he was going to pray for Eddie again. “No,” the son replied, “I prayed for Eddie last week and he is still bad.”

Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, edited by Michael P. Green; entry #1037

Are you again in your prayer life? That is, do you keep returning to the Lord over and over with your need until a) your prayer is answered, or b) He has opened your eyes to an alternative path? Or, like the little boy in the above illustration, do you give up when you don’t see results on your timetable? Jesus exhorted His disciples to be persistent in their prayers:

Then He said to them, Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’ ; and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything,’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. – Luke 11:5-8

I have always been thankful for this unusual parable. While my own sensibilities would presume it to be disrespectful to keep “bugging” the Lord, as it were, here we have Jesus Himself giving us permission and admonition to “bug away” – wow! God in Heaven can be moved by the persistence of men.

If you lack continuity in your prayers, the root cause is likely impatience. The more we want something, the more likely we are to lose patience waiting for it. But shouldn’t it be just the opposite? If you want whatever you are praying for so badly, can you not show the Father your sincerity by waiting – looking fervently for His favorable answer and not giving up? Remember that His ways are higher than our ways – there is likely good reason the Lord is making you wait. Namely, growing you and refining you – for patience is a perfecter. (James 1:4) Keep your eyes on the prize.

Be again in prayer…practice what you pray!

In conclusion…

Remember the farmer at the beginning of our lesson who got his wagon stuck in the mud? Maybe you are dealing with a problem in your life that has you feeling just as hopeless and stuck. You’ve looked at your problem, you’ve whined about it, you’ve prayed about it…but stuck you have stayed.

Have you gotten out of the wagon and started pushing yet?

Be ardent in prayer…believe wholeheartedly that God can help you.
Be active in prayer…partner with God in the work that needs to be done.
Be again in prayer…persist to the end and don’t ever stop talking to God.

Practice what you pray, because as the saying goes…

Heaven helps those who help themselves. (Aesop)

For God’s glory,
CA Bolks

Chelsea Bolks is a church of Christ minister’s wife, and the home educating mother of two children. She and her family currently reside in Northwest Iowa.