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Here’s the truth: Not everyone embraces the idea of prayer and some express absolute negativity toward it.
That realization amazed me.
While planning to teach a Bible study on prayer, in my naiveté I believed it would appeal to everyone. After all, even those who don’t consider themselves Christian seem open to receive prayer when offered.
I thought most people would want to improve their prayer life since we can all grow in this area. It’s not as if we learn the right words, capture the right heart of humility, or see a certain percentage of our requests answered in a certain way that we’ve suddenly “made it to the big time.” Our prayer life continues to develop throughout our lives.
Which is why I mistakenly believed that “everyone” would feel drawn to a study like this. But that’s not the case.
Negativity About Prayer
In researching attitudes on prayer, I found some that were rather disturbing. Such as . . .
“Why are you praying to a God who allowed all of this to happen in the first place?”
“I hate to tell you that talking to yourself about my problem is not going to help me.”
“Prayer only benefits the one praying.”
Know that I’ve cleaned up these statements by removing graphic expletives and inappropriate references. Clearly, there is some anger associated with this topic. It flabbergasted me.
Something else surprised me: my reaction to the negative assertions. Rather than offense (which, in the past, has proven a solid go-to response), I felt sadness. Because those who reject the idea of prayer are missing out on so much.
Before I continue, let me insert my assumption (and it’s a giant assumption) about the lives of those who express such contempt toward prayer. It’s likely that they prayed once, or saw a certain, major situation covered in prayer by fervent Christians and did not see the outcome they hoped for.
“Johnny’s” Negative Experience with Prayer
If I allow my imagination to flow freely, I see Johnny – a 7-year-old boy whose family attended church regularly.
That is until his mom got sick with cancer.
Their whole church responded with meals and help with chores. Johnny was often picked up from school by someone from the congregation, then given cookies and TV time until his dad picked him up after work.
They’d return home to find mom in bed, surrounded by several church ladies who said they’d spent the entire afternoon praying for mom and the family. The pastor visited often and he prayed too, sometimes tousling Johnny’s hair and telling him everything would be all right.
Then mom died and that was the end.
God allowed cancer to happen, then He didn’t do a thing when people prayed. It was as if the church people spent all those hours simply talking amongst themselves about mom’s cancer. Prayer had no effect. It accomplished nothing. Not. One. Thing.
Dad never took Johnny to another Sunday service. What good was church anyway?
If we look back at the negative statements, we see they’re anything but gentle. I’ve had many gentle conversations with people who question the effectiveness of prayer. Gentle conversations go like this:
“I don’t believe prayer works.”
“I’m glad you find hope in prayer, but it’s not for me.”
“Does God even respond to prayer?”
Sarcasm and anger lace the first set of statements. It’s clear that there’s more to the story. Which is why I let my imagination create the tale of Johnny and his mom.
The Truth About Prayer
Prayer is more than presenting a wish to God and hoping like heck that He answers. It’s more than crossed fingers or the avoidance of stepping on cracks in the sidewalk.
God answers every prayer request with, “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait,” Regardless of the answer, He always has His best purpose and outcome in mind.
I have no idea why stories like “Johnny’s” happen. That’s not a question to which I’ll ever find an answer. Does God allow them to happen? I believe He does, yes. And although we can’t see it from our current seats in this game called life, somehow such tragedies are a display of God’s great mercy.
Those in Johnny’s shoes doesn’t see that, however. They see themselves as a youngster growing up without a mom. The years of missed love and tenderness still tug at their hearts. They can’t help but see the man that dad became once mom passed.
I understand. At least to the degree that my imagination will allow. My heart aches for those with stories like Johnny.
I lost my dad too early, too, although I was an adult when He passed and offered countless, fervent prayers for his recovery. My kids were Johnny’s age and I’ve watched them grow up without the love, generosity and silly humor of their grandpa. I watched my mom become an entirely different person without him, and I struggled for years with the loss of his tremendous encouragement.
It’s not at all the same as Johnny’s story, I know. However, I can somehow trust that God’s plan is good and that He works all things together for the good of those He’s called. I guess that defines faith, doesn’t it?
What Helps Me Hold Fast to Prayer
Regardless of how the Lord chooses to answer, I’ve discovered many reasons to continue to pray. Here are a few:
- Through prayer, I understand that I am never alone. God is with me always, as close as a breath away.
- Through prayer, I recognize the real enemy of my soul. It’s not the people around me, it’s not the Lord, Himself (who is our advocate and ally), it’s Satan. Prayer gives me power over the enemy and provides for our defense.
- Through prayer, I confront my struggles (worry, shame, confusion, fear, and others) in the power and authority of Jesus. Because I am a child of God, they have no hold on me.
- Through prayer, I garner hope in the Lord of the universe. Hope is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen. Prayer helps me keep my spiritual eyes on things unseen and watch for God to move in unexpected ways.
- Through prayer, God allows me to participate in His work. In many instances, God has prompted me to pray for things I’d have never considered on my own. He draws us into His plans by using the practice of prayer.
- Through prayer, my faith is increased. When I’ve prayed, I watch for answers (again, those answers may be “yes,” “no,” or “wait”) that I would not expect had I failed to ask. Not only do I see prayers answered, I have learned to trust (by witnessing) that His answer is always best even when it differs from what I’ve asked.
- Through prayer, I live in confidence knowing I am in His will. In fact, I’m in the very center of His will.
- Through prayer, I feel whole and complete. I am empowered to move into all He has for me. He becomes more and I become less – and as my reliance on Him increases, I am enabled to do far more than I could do on my own.
Through prayer, I understand that I am never alone. God is with me always, as close as a breath away
Prayer Matters and it Works
The truth is, prayer matters and it works. God hears, He cares, and He always responds, whether we see it or not.
The next many weeks of this blog will focus on prayer and provide a more in-depth examination into some of these reasons to pray. We’ll focus on wrapping our minds around the blessings, joy, and tremendous benefits of prayer with the hope of inspiring a deeper, more satisfying prayer walk that helps us connect with God, living in His will and not our own.
Be Strengthened Today, by His Word,