Much has been written about how and when we receive answers to our prayers, as though prayer is primarily about asking for something and then waiting to get it. With this understanding of prayer, our consumer habits inevitably take over as we expect to have our efforts rewarded, to get from God whatever we have worked for by taking the time to pray.

While God is always open to answering prayer by providing what is sought, holding fast to a consumer mentality in prayer is more likely to result in frustration and cynicism when results—the specific, tangible results we are looking for—do not materialize.

For prayer is not a consumer exchange, not about giving and getting, but about relationship. Prayer provides the means for building a relationship with God. And what sort of relationship comes when all we do with the other party is ask for stuff and then complain when they do not satisfy our request?

Judging prayer by whether it gets me what I want is misguided. “Success” in prayer is not measured by any of our usual standards. Even further, the notion of “success” has no place in shaping our prayer life. Just as Jesus regularly upended expectations with his talk of losing life to find it and the greatest being displaced by the least, so can we see those same reversals in prayer. A polished and well-articulated prayer may have little depth of emotion, while a prayer where longings are intense and words make no sense may be the most viable.

So we come to prayer without our usual markers of success or failure, willing to be surprised, recognizing that more often than not the results of prayer show up far outside prayer time, in the ordinary moments of our lives.