Lately there seem to be more social media posts claiming “prayers don’t work.” Perhaps this is in light of all the terrorist attacks and mass murders taking place. It is especially ironic when dozens or even hundreds of people are gunned down while at their church or mosque worshipping God. The conclusion of many atheists, agnostics and skeptics is prayer obviously didn’t help these people.
There have always been those who wonder, “Does prayer work?” These questions are about much more than just prayer. In reality they are using the existence of evil in the world to prove that God doesn’t exist because if he did exist, he wouldn’t be much of a God, certainly not a loving, just, good and omnipotent God that Christians claim him to be.
Does prayer work? The simply answer is yes. How do you know? Through consistent answers to prayer over an extended period of time, God speaks to those who are truly seeking the truth. Let’s understand a few basics about prayer.
The purpose of prayer
Why do we even need to ask God for anything if he already knows what we need? If God has a sovereign plan for each person and the world, do our prayers make any difference in anything? Prayer is one way God has ordained for us to get things we need from him. In the model prayer Jesus gave to us in Matthew 6, he taught us to ask God for our daily bread. God has also ordained for us to work for our needs and not be lazy. God teaches us to understand the balance between our responsibility in life and his. Augustine said, “We should pray like everything depends upon God and work like everything depends on us.”
However, prayer is about more than getting things from God. It is also about what God does in us as we pray. Prayer builds dependency upon God. James 1:17 tells us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” God wants to be the source for everything in our life. In this role we stay close to him and develop an attitude of gratitude for all he has done for us. By nature we are independent and ungrateful.
Prayer is a way to change this flaw in us.
Prayer also grows our faith because it makes God more real to us. Nothing makes the invisible God more real than receiving a specific answer to prayer. Hebrews 11:6 tells us we please God through faith and, “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” The beginning point of prayer is to believe in the existence of God, otherwise there is no point in prayer.
How prayer works
Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name it will be done for you.” Someone will say, “I asked for a lot of things in his name and never got anything.” This promise doesn’t mean just tacking the phrase “in Jesus name” onto your prayer. True praying begins in the heart of God. Like little children, we don’t know what to ask for, what is in our best interest or what is for God’s greatest glory (Romans 8:26-27).
So to accomplish these goals we must allow God to place his desires in us (Psalm 37:4). Now we pray back to God what we desire, which is also what God desires for us. This is God directing our prayers according to Romans 8.
These kinds of prayers always get answered. This is what praying in Jesus name means. This is how Jesus prayed. He said he didn’t come to earth to do his will but the will of his Father.
Can’t we ever pray on our own for something we want? We can and we do. We often ask God for things we don’t feel are contrary to his truth. God as a loving and wise parent will give us one of three answers: “yes,” “no” or “wait.” In these kind of prayers our attitude should be “I want this God, but your will be done.” When God says “no” or “wait” and we are disappointed or heartbroken, we need to remember the nature of God. He loves us and is far wiser than us. He works from an eternal perspective not a temporal one.
My responsibility in prayer
Psalm 66:18 says, “If I cherish iniquity in my heart, God won’t listen to me.” We must keep our lives on praying ground. It is pretty simple. I can’t be asking God to answer my prayers if I have known areas of disobedience in my life. God is not obligated to hear or answer anything when we are in such a state.
Many books have been written about prayer and all its various dimensions. However, in its simplest form prayer is asking. It is about building and deepening my relationship with God. It is about making the invisible God visible and real to me. It is about moving my life from the natural into the supernatural realm. It is about watching God make the impossible possible. People in their arrogance can claim prayer doesn’t work. But prayer is really just about God wanting us to call home more often to hear our voice because he loves and misses us.
Dr. John Hawkins, Sr. runs Gateway Counseling Center in Boynton Beach along with his son John Jr. He can be reached by visiting gatewaycounseling.com.