As for me, may my prayer come to You, O LORD, at a favorable moment; O God, in Your abundant faithfulness, answer me with Your sure deliverance. (69:14)
The assumption of the Psalmist is that God is more open to petitionary prayer at some moments than at others. It’s like the image we use on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur of gates of repentance opening and closing. If our prayer rises at a favorable moment, it will be answered. If God is not open to prayer at the moment our prayer arises, it will fail.
Another image comes to mind. An average of 280 million sperm cells race toward the uterus. Most will not make it. Only a small percentage of those who do will find the oviduct. Only a fraction of those will make contact with the egg – but the “shell” of the egg repels the initial assault by the sperm cells. Each sperm cell, however, deposits an enzyme that breaks down the barrier. Finally, one cell breaks through a hole in the egg’s outer shell and combines its genetic material with that of the egg. Let’s imagine that this couple has been praying for a child. So many things have to be in alignment: the egg has to be in the right place, ready for fertilization. The sperm have to find their way through a complicated mucus filled maze in sufficient quantity to help one break into the egg. The genetic material in the zygote has to be healthy enough to begin mitosis and the emerging blastocyst needs to attach itself to the uterine wall and absorb nutrition. This couple’s prayer seeks a favorable moment in the same way that the science of reproductive medicine needs a favorable moment to begin the process of creating a child. If the couple’s prayers for a child reach God at the wrong time in the woman’s reproductive cycle, there is little to no chance that God’s answer will be a baby delivery 40 weeks later.
The lesson is that if we are to offer petitionary prayer, we have to ensure that we have done everything in our power to create the conditions under which our prayer might be answered.