Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Prayer Does Not Work

I've recently been struggling with how we interact with God in prayer. I do believe that God hears our prayers, and responds to us in prayer. And I believe prayer to be the most important thing we do as followers of Jesus [yes, more important than studying the Bible, although I give that high priority as well]. Like all relationships, communication is pivotal to relational growth and development. If I want relationship with God, I must communicate with God. Prayer is the primary way I do that.

After that, it gets less clear for me. Many Christians believe that God's "mind" can be changed based on prayer. There are scriptural examples supporting this belief, and I used to believe it was that simple. But now the waters are muddied. I tend to subscribe to other Scriptures that say "Who can know the mind of God?" [Romans 11:34, 1 Corinthians 2:16]. Many say that God "answers" our prayers, or acts based directly on our prayer. I have espoused this belief in the past, yet now I think this might be too simplistic an explanation.

It's like this: I have a dear friend who has struggled with lymphoma for years, and now has had a recent flare up of a more aggressive kind of cancer. She is receiving treatment, which is going well. I know hundreds of people have been praying regularly for her healing, which so far has not come.

Why hasn't God healed my friend as a result of all of the prayers? Surely he isn't waiting to get to 50,000 prayers for her, and then POOF, she's healed. Surely he isn't waiting for one specific person to pray for her, and then POOF, she's healed. Surely he isn't waiting for a "right" prayer to come, and then POOF, she's healed.

So how does God interact with us in prayer? Can we change his mind? Does he act [or not act] based on what we pray?

I am still very short on answers at this point. However, I recently read this helpful quote from Andy Crouch in a book called For the Beauty of the Church:

"Does prayer work? Should prayer work? No. Prayer does not work. It does something far better than work. Prayer brings us into the life of the one by whom all things were made and are being remade."

This feels a lot better to me. Prayer shouldn't "work." Just like talking with my wife doesn't "work." I talk with my wife, and she talks with me, because we love each other. I communicate with her so that I can be brought into her life.

Recently, our 18 month old twins have not been sleeping well. One night this week, my four year old [Ava] prayed for God to give them a good night's sleep. And we all slept like babies. It was very tempting to ask her to pray the same prayer again the next night. But something about that felt giving God my to-do list.

I don't think I want prayer to "work." I want to be brought into the life of the one by whom all things were made and are being remade.

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