Does prayer make a difference? Does it actually do anything?
Did you gasp when you read that, astounded that someone – a Christian writer, no less – would dare ask those questions…and in a public forum? Were you a little shocked that someone else asks the same questions you do?
I know, and I get it. The good news, though, is that we’re not alone. Christians have asked those questions for centuries. The bad news? There’s a reason we keep asking it. It may not have as simple an answer as we’d like.
A couple of weeks ago, Keisha taught us why prayer is important. As a refresher, write out 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
Pretty straightforward, right? But there are other straightforward verses that make prayer a little more complicated for most of us.
In the Old Testament, where grace wasn’t exactly the name of the game, we see God changing His plans as the result of prayer. Exodus 32 shows us how Moses’ prayer saved the Israelites from certain destruction, and in Jonah 3, we see how the prayers of the people of Nineveh turned back God’s wrath.
Read Psalm 106:23 and Jonah 3:10. Because someone ___________, God _________________.
In the New Testament, we are commanded to pray by Jesus Himself, and are even given certain promises with those instructions. Write out the following verses:
What consistent theme do you notice in these verses? If ___________________________________, then __________________________________.
Again, that’s pretty straightforward. Our experiences of prayer, though, aren’t always straightforward. We ask for things…but aren’t always given what we asked for. We pray for healing…and people don’t always get better. We ask God for safety…and accidents still happen. We believe our God will fully restore a relationship…but things only get worse. We beg God for a change in any of a number of situations…only to become confused when He doesn’t seem to hold up His end of the deal.
“I prayed, God. I asked You, and it didn’t happen. Why? What did I do wrong? Why was her prayer answered and mine wasn’t? Why did he see the results he asked for, and I didn’t?”
The essence of those questions?
“Why would you tell me to do this – to pray and ask and believe – if it wasn’t going to change anything?”
That’s the million-dollar question, and if you’re like me, that’s what keeps us from being the faithful prayer warriors we want to be. What’s the point?
Read Romans 11:33 in the New Living Translation. How does that powerful truth make you feel regarding prayer? Is it comforting, or irritating? (Yes! It’s okay if something in Scripture makes you uncomfortable! Just don’t run from the discomfort. Figure out why it stings.)
Essentially, this tells us that yes, we can pray with great faith…but ultimately, we can’t know why God chooses to fulfill some requests while seeming to ignore others. That’s a little hard to swallow. But I’ve learned that it’s a lot easier to accept things by faith when we consciously remind ourselves of what we know for sure.
So maybe instead of trying to understand what God does, we ought to focus more on who He is. We can’t know the mind of God…but we can know a lot about His character.
Read Romans 8:28-39, and write down everything it tells us about God.
Now read the passage immediately before it – Romans 8:26-27. Your Bible probably separates the two passages, but if you remove the heading – which was not in the original text – what do you notice?
That’s right. The apostle Paul talks about struggling in prayer…and then immediately reminds the people of Rome (and us!) of what we know to be true in spite of those struggles.
- We know that God is good.
- We know that God is sovereign.
- We know that God loves us.
- We know that God uses everything for our good.
- And because of the great lengths He has gone to make sure we know all of that, we know that God wants a relationship with us.
Dr. Gregory A. Boyd, in his book Letters from a Skeptic, writes:
“It’s not that God needs our petitions to be informed or empowered to do anything… But because a loving relationship with Him is His highest agenda for us, He constructs the order of things such that a loving relationship with Him will be facilitated. And thus He ordains that some things will only be done through prayer.”
Prayer, then, is not so much about us getting what we want…as it is about God getting what He wants. God’s greatest desire is an intimate relationship with each of us, and has given us prayer in hopes that we’ll want that relationship, too.
Friend, I know you wanted an answer. I get it – we want things to make sense…but that’s not how the kingdom of God works. What God wants for us is faith…which unfortunately doesn’t always make sense.
Questions of faith aren’t always tied up with a pretty red bow. (For that matter, they rarely fit into a box to begin with!) That makes prayer a struggle…but fortunately, we have Someone we can talk to that might be able to help. He’d love to hear from you.
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