If you’ve ever gone to school, you know what it takes to be successful: pass tests. Sometimes, it’s the same for prayer.
Of course, school is easier. In school, you usually know when tests occur and you know what you’re being tested on. With prayer, tests are surprises.
Don’t worry. You can prepare for tests. Master the preparation and the tests become easy; then, your prayers become powerful.
Here’s how it works: your preparation has two parts. First, you have to believe that G-d controls your life, not you. Yes, you must plan. But you must also believe that G-d has the final say.
You must truly believe that. You will be tested on it.
Second, you must accept what G-d does—even if you don’t like it. You will be tested on this, too.
If you pass these tests, the answers to your prayers could surprise you. If you don’t pass the tests, well, don’t expect much.
It’s like school. If you don’t prepare for tests, what can you expect?
Here’s a real-life example of prayer and preparation in action. My wife and I finalized our aliyah plans during the winter of 2010—one of the snowiest winters in decades. By early March, everything on our street was snow-covered. One snowy morning, my wife left the house—and returned immediately. She told me to come outside.
I walked out with her. Outside, she pointed at one of our cars—an old green car we didn’t need and drove only occasionally-- parked in front of our house.
The green car was buried under snow, except for the back end. That part of the car was clean. The snow had been knocked off. The uncovered rear of the car was crushed. Obviously, someone had driven into it and then run off.
The car’s insurance deductible was $1,000. The instant I saw the damage, all I could see was yet another unexpected pre-aliyah expense.
Here’s a test: how would you have reacted?
I had a double reaction. First, I uttered an anti-social word. Then, almost immediately, I said, ‘No. That’s wrong.’ I looked up at the sky and said, ‘Look, HaShem. I’m sorry I said that. I know this is from you. I have no idea why you did this. I do not understand it. But I accept it. You are King. I am servant. I accept.’ My wife came over to me and said, ‘Gam zu l’tova’ (this, too, is for the good).
Prayer Secret number one: you must really believe that it is G-d alone who controls what happens to you.
Prayer Secret number two: you must accept whatever G-d does. Do you understand what ‘accept’ means? It means looking at your smashed-in automobile and truly accepting—without anger—that G-d has just given you another $1,000 expense at the worst possible moment.
If G-d is going to answer your prayers, He wants to know if you believe in Him. He will test for that belief.
That car was a test. For us, preparing for aliyah had become more expensive than we had thought. As expenses mounted, we prayed. That’s when we discovered the smashed car. In fact, soon after the car incident, things got worse, not better: our refrigerator died, my son’s new (used) car needed an expensive repair he couldn’t fully pay for, and the contractor preparing our home for sale told us he wanted more money.
These were all tests. More than once during that snowy winter, I said,’HaShem, HaShem, we are joining you in Israel. I do not understand these troubles. I accept whatever you do. You are King. Help me with these extra expenses!’
I believe that G-d wants to answer our prayers. But he needs to see what we believe. He tests us.
It’s just like school: if you don’t pass tests, you don’t get anywhere.
Remember school? Your tests were important to you. G-d should be less important to you than school?
According to this approach to prayer, if you want prayers answered, don’t fail tests. During that pre-aliyah winter, we were tested—a lot. But we must have passed. G-d answered our prayers. He even did it in a G-dly way--by using the mundane world: he destroyed my green car (which was not essential transportation for us); He then sent a claims adjuster who ‘totalled’ the car; that prompted the insurance company to send us a check far greater than the car’s true market value; and that insurance check paid for all those extra expenses.
It’s as if G-d had said to us, ‘I will answer your prayer. If you pass your tests, I will cover those extra expenses. There’s just one thing. I cannot miraculously give you money. I have to take your green car; then you can have cash.’
Sometimes, that’s how prayers get answered.