Prayer works?

June 25, 2014


The Story of a guy

He was a sophomore in high school…   A fairly average guy. Average student, average athlete, nice enough but not popular… just a guy. Like most sophomore guys he liked girls. And like most sophomores there was a different one every week that he thought about or was sure that he was in love with. Never talked to them mind you… they frightened him to death. But there was one girl that was always on his mind… even when he had his flings (in his mind), she always finished first. That being said, she was older than him and “out of his league.” They were friends but there was NO hope that it would ever go farther than that. You know older girls simply can’t date younger guys. There is some sort of stigma attached to it like, “Apparently you couldn’t get a guy your age so you had to dip into the kiddie pool.” Why that same stigma is not attached to guys is beyond me?!

At some point that same year he became much more aware of the Great God of the Universe. So he began to pray this simple and naïve prayer: “God make it work out between ___________ and me.”   He prayed that prayer every night.   Faithfully. Religiously. Without fail… for 2 ½ years! Again with NO expectation that it would ever be answered in the way he wanted. Again, don’t get me wrong… there were other girls, but this one was the one.

Jump forward to the Spring of his Senior year. She was away at college but they continued to communicate in a “friendly” way.   Naturally communication back then was not what it is now. Through the encouragement of a friend he asked her to his Senior prom. There isn’t enough space here to tell you about the antics and dread that went into that phone call. Not to mention the joy, relief and inexplicable terror when she said, “Yes.”

As it turned out that was the beginning of something. Little did he know that she had developed a “thing” for him as well. Sometime later they were engaged and in their early 20’s they married.

It’s now almost 40 years later… they have 4 children and their marriage continues to blossom and grow.   He often thinks back to the many nights when he prayed that prayer, “God make it work out between ___________ and me.”   So should he say “prayer works?”

Truth be told, this rumination is about prayer, but maybe not in the way you might think. Some of you will not agree with what I am about to say… take it as a challenge.

I have heard people say over the years that “prayer works.” Of course it’s only said when they receive an answer to their prayers that they deem acceptable. Right?   Personally I wouldn’t be offended if people never said “prayer works” ever again. What do we say to the parents whose child is critically ill… those who pour out their hearts and prayers to God… and their child dies. Do we say “pray works”? Or what do we say to the person who’s loved one goes off to war.   They pray fervently that their soldier might return home safely only to meet a casket at the airport. “Prayer works?” Actually we are conspicuously silent about prayer during those occasions, other than “I’ll be praying for you,” whatever that means. We need to be careful what we claim in the good times if it is not true in the bad times. Maybe a more acceptable slogan? “Pray.   And be willing and ready to accept what God has in store.” That’s a hard one.

The notion that “prayer works” makes prayer sound like we control the outcome if we are just willing to put in the time and effort and can conjure enough faith. That is an abomination. Sounds way too much like many television evangelists. I am not a fan of most of them.

I think the truth is closer to this. Yes, we are called to be people of prayer. We are not called to be people who think they can manipulate God’s desires by our consistent and faithful prayers.   We also need to be prepared to not have our prayers answered in the way we want… even in the most dreadful circumstances.

Philip Yancey in his most recent book The Question That Never Goes Away: Why? recounts his very difficult experience at speaking to the community in Sandy Hook Connecticut a week after a number of their first graders and some teachers were slaughtered in school. There was a time of questions and answers after his address. He says that at one point someone approached the microphone and asked “the question that he was afraid would be asked.” “Can we be assured that God will protect our children?”   No matter how many hours a day we spend, fervently praying for Gods’ protection, there are no guarantees.   Yancey goes on to say that for whatever reason Christians do worship a God who guarantees this: He will walk with us and not abandon us during our darkest hours… but He will not guarantee protection from the dreadful circumstances of this world.

Do you see that if we think God must answer our prayers in the way we want, then we in fact control God. That cannot be.

So at the end of the day… what should Christians be about? I would say this: We are called to honor God and Glorify Him… no matter what. We are called to receive and accept His Will… no matter what. We are called to worship Him… no matter what.   It is not our prerogative to think that God must do what we want or even that God wants to do what we want. God wants and needs to do what He wants. If our desires are in line with that then our prayers may be answered in the way we hope for.

I know that someone will think… what about…

James 5:16   Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (and many other verses like this one)

I am not saying the prayers of a righteous person are not powerful and effective… I’m just saying that the prayers of that person (righteous) will always be in God’s will. So of course they will be powerful and effective.   It’s just that “self interest” prayers are not always in God’s will as much as we might like to think they are.

Once again, at the end of the day we need to refrain from saying “prayer works.” What we need to say is “Praise God… no matter what.”

P.S. Do I really need to tell you who “the guy” is?


Bill Little