What is prayer and why do we pray? We have heard or used, the term “Prayer Warrior” for people who are persistent, who are dedicated to praying for others, for the nation, for the world, for difficult situations. But what do we actually believe about prayer? What does prayer really accomplish? Indulge me, if you will, as I ask some of these questions:
Is praying kind of like magic? We pray certain words in a particular formula and voila! the prayer is answered!
Is praying akin to The Wizard of Oz? It’s a long road to get what we want, but if we are willing to go the distance and fight the flying monkeys, we finally reach the great wizard whom we are sure will grant us our wish.
Is praying like playing the lottery? The more we put our prayers in, the more chances we have of them being answered.
Of course, I don’t believe any of that but I do think we sometimes have an attitude that might seem similar to one of those examples. But what do the Scriptures say about prayer?
Throughout the Old Testament we read of God saying to Solomon, to David, and others, I have heard your prayer and supplication… And God answers.
In the gospel of Luke, chapter 11, we find the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray. And Jesus gave them a model for praying – the same model we use still today – The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus teaches us to start our prayers with acknowledging God’s holiness, and to ask for God’s will to be done, but also to pray for our needs to be given; for God to forgive us as we forgive others (an important factor); for protection from the temptations of evil. But then Jesus goes on to give an example of how God is when we pray. He tells a parable about a man who has closed up the house for the night, gotten the children in bed to sleep and then a friend comes knocking on the door, asking for help. A friend of the man who is knocking, has unexpectedly stopped at his house after a long journey and this man has no food to offer. It would be a disgrace to not show hospitality to his guest! And so, he is asking for help.
But the man in the house tells him to go away because it’s so late and his children are asleep. Jesus says that even though the owner of the house keeps saying no, eventually, because of the persistence of the friend who is knocking, he gets up and gives him what he needs.
And Jesus says, So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
I once heard that scripture preached when I was a child and it made me very excited. I began to think of all kinds of things I could ask God for and, if I asked enough (like begged) Jesus said, it would be given.
So, is that true? I think all of us have experienced asking God for something and yet our prayer was not answered as we had asked. And it wasn’t due to a lack of faith or not praying hard enough either - like my friend, who developed cancer at a young age. It was serious and the prognosis wasn’t good but his family claimed God’s healing on this young man. They professed that prayer would heal him of the cancer. And yet, a year later, he died. Did God hear their prayers? Were they not persistent enough? Yet, this amazing family continued to praise God for all he had done in their lives and in the life of their beloved. If you read the rest of that passage you find Jesus saying that our heavenly Father desires to give good gifts to his children through the Holy Spirit. I don’t think Jesus is telling us we have to beg God over and over, but that God wants us to continue turning to him and talking to him about our hearts greatest longings … for ourselves and others. In doing so, we develop a stronger relationship with him.
If we follow Jesus’ lead and sincerely pray for God’s will over ours, we then trust that the answers we get aren’t always what we want, and yet we also trust that we are his beloved and that he works all things for good, as Paul says in Romans 8.
We can’t possibly understand all of God’s ways, can we? If we did, we would be like God and that was the first step into sin, back in the day of creation, according Genesis 3. Faith is believing and trusting even when we can’t see clearly and we don’t fully understand. God is God and we are not. God is mystery and powerful, loving and patient.
Prayer is a good gift from God; we have a promise that he does hear and care; he does want us to come to him and give all that is on our hearts and minds. We can ask God anything and even if the answers are not what we hope for, we can trust they are – in God’s love – being worked out according to his will. Sometimes an answer may take years to be seen and perhaps we won’t even see the final answer. Sometimes, the answer lies within us and God may be molding us to do something. But we can trust that God hears and is always with us.
One thing I know about prayer: if we don’t pray, our spirits begin to feel dried out and empty. But then when we do pray, it is like a flowing stream that brings fresh water into a reservoir that had been stagnant and full of toxins. When we are faithful to spend time with our Lord, the Spirit of God moves in us, refreshes our spirits and renews our faith.
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done …