Does Prayer Work?
In 2 weeks time I will be preaching at my home church about prayer from James 5:13-20. I have been thinking about the effectiveness of prayer a lot these days as we prepare for missions in Japan. Today is Wednesday the 15th of November and in order to have clearance to go to Japan in February 2018 we must have our support raised by Monday the 20th of November (6 Days!). We have already sold our stuff, I quit my job, and we moved in with friends. We have trusted God for our support but we are still only at 60% So, if we miss this deadline will it mean that our prayers, and those of others on our behalf did not work?
Now this is where theology meets practice. I am sure you have been in a similar situation. Praying for healing, protection, or any other need. What do we do “if” those prayers are not answered? Does it mean I did not have enough faith? Does it mean we are not really “called”? Does it mean I made a mistake? Is there perhaps sin in my life preventing an answer? Is God even hearing me?
Listen to this touching story. One of my friends went to a massive Christian prayer meeting this year where the speaker declared that God was going to do miracles. My friend was there to pray for healing over his mom…how can God not hear his prayer? All these people praying, surely God will notice, surely his prayers will be answered, even the main organizer and spiritual leader of this event said so! Well, my friend returned to Pretoria encouraged and filled with hope, first thing he heard from his sister – “Mom has died”. The timing of her death was the biggest blow of all – it happened during the prayer meeting. What does this mean? He was broken as you can imagine. As his friend what could I say to help? Questions started running though my own mind…does prayer even work?
One of the saddest prayers in the Bible is in Psalm 13:1 – How long o LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? In light of these questions, how do we make sense of James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working”.
In light of seeming unanswered prayer, some have come to sad conclusions. (i) There is no God, (ii) God is absent, or (iii) God is not all powerful. I can’t fall into any of these options. I feel the urge to fight the good fight of faith. I believe that God is there, God is involved, and God is able. Bear with me a short little while as I try to harmonize this with the apparent lack of answered prayer for the believer. Bear in mind, this is me trying to make sense of it in my own heart and mind.
(i) God is not a pawn. If prayer was simply a tool to be used for our human ends, then God would simply be a pawn that moves according to our will. Take this to the logical, frightening conclusion. If God ultimately bends to do the will of people, it will couple human sinfulness with God’s power; and this will lead to disaster.
(ii) God is all sovereign, wise, and good. I remember a talk from a Church camp where a friend of mine spoke about suffering. He said something that stuck with me, “If we had God’s power, we would probably want to change everything in this world. But, if we had God’s wisdom along with that power, everything will continue exactly as it is.” God is working out his own purposes that will ultimately bring glory to Him, and God glorifying His name is our ultimate good. I have to believe by faith, that God’s purposes will end for good and that He has the power to achieve it.
(iii) Prayer by itself should be a blessing. I remember another incident where I lead a prayer group and as an introduction asked “Why do you pray?” There were the usual answers, “I believe in the power of prayer”, “We are commanded to pray”, but one answer stuck out and touches me to this day “I enjoy it”. This seems to be something we forget about prayer. Consider that through prayer we get to commune with God, we get to enter His throne room and actually speak to Him. That by itself should be awesome! Too often we act like brats before a father, thinking we can manipulate him to give us stuff and we get angry when he doesn’t. This is not prayer that pleases God, nor is it good for us. Prayer should be practiced out of our sheer enjoyment of God.
(iv) Remember Jesus’ model prayer. It started with what? “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done”. This must be the Christian’s attitude in every prayer. We don’t come to God with a sense of entitlement, we come with a sense of awe and humility.
(v) God sees from an eternal perspective. We might see a page or two from the book called “my life”, but God sees all of it. We are often occupied with our here and now needs. I want relief now! I want an answer now! I want healing now! But God is not only concerned over your here and now, nor is he concerned about answering all your selfish needs. He is concerned about your sanctification, your character, your eternity. Think of any “unanswered prayer” as God teaching you a lesson, God is working for your good in all things. Our own hearts desire to be serving in Japan next year February, but we must trust that God is working for our good in ALL THINGS, even delayed departures. Rom 8:8
(vi) Consider all God has already done. If you are reading this blog that means you have access to the internet, probably from your phone or computer. I am sure you can think of many more blessings that you enjoy so stop and consider these right now. For my friend who lost his mom he could remember her faith, he could remember her example, he could remember her love and this was a beautiful thing. We seem to focus on our “have nots” instead of focusing on all our “haves”.
In the case of our personal situation in raising support, I can get discouraged about the 40% of support we are still short, OR praise God for the 60% we have raised. We have 58 individuals and 5 churches on board with supporting us, we should praise God for that.
(vii) Prayer is exciting, powerful, yet mysterious. I’ll end on this one. None of us can say that we know exactly how prayer works, especially in light of the sovereignty of God. This is why prayer must be accompanied by faith. Not necessarily BIG faith to ensure we get our prayers answered, but HUMBLE faith to ensure we trust in the loving purposes of God. I can’t explain why God allows certain things to happen, I cant understand why He should listen to any of us at all, I cant explain why some people have their prayers quickly answered and for others it takes longer, if at all. All I can say is that prayer DOES work, because it draws me into relationship with God, what a tremendous privilege.
P.S. Whenever I blog it is actually to help me work through my own trials, disappointments or lessons. Pray with us as we continue to trust God to get us to Japan and that we will be seeking His kingdom first during the process.