Prayer is a crazy topic. I started a sermon series on it last week and this week I’m talking about the tension of prayer. Basically that we experience answered prayer and unanswered prayer. That the Bible says the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective but prayer isn’t about getting enough righteousness badges to have God grant your request. That a person can feel like God’s not answering any of their prayers but still have hope and faith in him (author of Lamentations, see chapter 3). As I’ve talked to others about prayer it seems the conversation quickly runs to the problem of evil, whether prayer makes a difference or is just for God to shape us, how dangerous certain teaching on prayer can be and lots of other stuff. Most people have some strong opinions! Well, there’s a lot to be discussed, but here’s a few things that seem to be true to me.
- If we follow Jesus then we should pray. Throughout Scripture prayer is just assumed. It was important enough that Jesus wandered 0ff by himself for long periods of time to do it.
- Prayer is complex. I don’t mean there’s some complex formula for how we should pray. I mean if a prayer doesn’t get answered it isn’t as easy as saying, “you just need to have more faith,” nor is it as easy as saying, “well, I guess that just wasn’t part of God’s plan.” The way we explain prayer and it’s impact smacks of someone saying what’s wr0ng with our economy is that we just need more money–too simple and not insightful.
- Our relationship with God and our lives matter. I can’t get away from both OT and NT stories and teaching where the lives of the people of God impact the effectiveness of their prayers. Some would say this makes prayer reliant on our works and not God’s grace. If God’s answer to prayer is tied in any way to righteousness and sin then it is something we make happen and it makes God seem childish, not unconditionally loving. But can’t you be unconditionally loving without giving someone everything they ask for regardless of what they do? I can love an alcoholic without giving into his plea for money or booze. I love him by not giving it to him even though that is the very thing he longs for and believes will make him happy at the time. I can love a racist without affirming her worldview and hatred. In fact, I may chastise her to try and turn her away from her racism. Yet we struggle with the idea that God would basically do the same thing. Why do we struggle with this concept so much?
- Prayer isn’t just something God uses to shape us, it makes a difference in the world. (I am not saying one outcome of prayer is that it can be used to shape us.) If prayer is just something that shapes us then Jesus had no idea what he was talking about. He said there were demons that only came out by prayer. He told his disciples that through prayer they could do miracles. He told his disciples to persist in prayers for justice and that God would respond. Prayer isn’t a genie in a bottle, but it isn’t pointless.