Does Prayer Make Any Difference?
In his book, Prayer, Does it Make Any Difference? Phillip Yancey writes: “Everywhere, I encounter the gap between prayer in theory and prayer in practice. In theory prayer is the essential human act, a priceless point of contact with the God of the universe. In practice prayer is often confusing and fraught with frustration.” (pp. 15) Phillip Yancey goes on to say that his publisher conducted a website poll and that out of 678 persons questioned, only 23 felt satisfied with the time they were spending in prayer. Let’s try to find reasons why this is true and see what we can do about it.
Some people see prayer as a duty and feel guilty because they don’t spend enough time in prayer. And other people wonder if prayer works because when they ask God for things, He doesn’t always give them what they want. We try to fit God into our little box – into our limited worldview – And when He doesn’t fit we sometimes forget our smallness and God’s vastness. And through it all God keeps asking us to keep praying and trusting Him even when we don’t understand how He is answering our prayers. But how are we to pray?
God tells us in Scripture that when we pray we can: “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) God calls us to this habit of attention - this “being still” in our spirit. He calls us to stop worrying about all of our problems. To take a vacation from trying to control those uncontrollable things in our lives. And to give our problems and our lives to Him. Be still, Let go. Let God.
Being still prepares us for the second part of what God is calling us to do. “Know that I am God.” Know that God is just and merciful and holy and good. Know that God loves you and desires that you love Him back. Know that God takes care of the universe and that He can take care of you. He’s asking us to come to Him and : “Be still and know that I am God.”
We settle into prayer and lower our defenses and ask forgiveness for our sins. Stop trying to be the god of our lives and let God be God of our lives.. Let God wash us and make us whiter than snow. Let God help us trust Him more. Let God love others through us and bless others through our lives. Be still and know that He is our heavenly Father and enjoy His love. Prayer is a wonderful gift.
We are taught in Scriptures to come to God in prayer with a humble spirit. Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:5-7) We have to buck our culture which teaches us to “win” to be “first” and to be proud and competitive. We don’t always fit into our culture because the Holy Spirit will lead us to be humble and serving and we must follow.
Jesus teaches the importance of his followers learning to be humble. He tells a story of two men praying –first the Pharisee standing tall and proudly thanking God that he is better than other people and then the tax collector bowing down and crying out to God to be merciful to him since he is a sinner. (Luke 18:10) Jesus quickly tells us that God rejects the Pharisee’s prayer but He accepts the tax collector’s prayer. And then Jesus ends his story with these words: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Along with learning how to pray we may be plagued with the question of why. Why pray? Does it make any difference? Jesus teaches his disciples that “Whatever you ask in My name that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)
And many other passages in the Bible promise the believer that his or her prayers will be answered if they believe. 1 John 5:14 says: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”
Because of these and other wonderful prayer promises in Scripture there are Christians who are sure that they will receive whatever they ask in prayer quickly. Their very sick child will get well and they will get the job they want! Their aunt who is blind will see and they will have enough money to buy that expensive sports car. They have prayed in faith and now they wait for these things to happen. And many times they do.
But sometimes they don’t! Sometimes what they prayed for isn’t happening - they can’t see it happening. Sometimes their prayers aren’t answered in the way they had pictured or in the time frame they had wanted. It isn’t happening the way they believe the Bible says it should! Maybe they aren’t praying hard enough? Perhaps they don’t have enough faith? They pray harder and even fast and try to have more faith. But they still can’t see their prayers being answered!
Doesn’t God want these good things for them? Did they read those scriptures about prayer – about asking and receiving correctly? Now they are getting discouraged! Maybe God isn’t listening to them. And eventually these people who have prayed start asking the question of why. Why pray? Does it even make any difference?
Does prayer make a difference? When we read the Bible we find that Jesus constantly prayed while He was on earth and His example does answer that question. Prayer did make a difference for Jesus. He prayed constantly and the time He devoted to prayer was the most important thing He did. Surely we should follow His example. Jesus clung to prayer as to a lifeline. But Jesus also had what we might call “unanswered prayers!”
One of Jesus’ longest prayers is prayed for us –you and me - those who would believe – those who would be His followers in the future. Jesus begs God for unity for his followers in the future. Let’s listen: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You.” (John 17:21) Unfortunately when we read church history we can clearly see how far that prayer remains from being answered!
Another prayer of Jesus’ that doesn’t seem answered to our way of thinking is when Jesus spent all night praying for God to guide Him in choosing the twelve disciples whom He would entrust with his mission. And the next morning Jesus goes out and calls his disciples and they all come to Him. These men were the answer to his prayer.
But then, one of the disciples was Judas Iscariot who became a traitor! When Jesus prays all night for guidance in selecting his disciples, does God answer His prayer by guiding Him to select Judas – the traitor? But then Judas’ act of betraying Jesus led to the cross and the salvation of the world. In strange and mysterious ways, God can even use the bad and work it together for good for His purposes.
Phillip Yancey quotes Ray Anderson in his book, “The Gospel According to Judas. ” Ray Anderson got an idea about prayer while he was questioning how Jesus could have chosen Judas after praying for God’s guidance. This is his idea about prayer: “Prayer is not a means of removing the unknown and unpredictable elements in life, but rather a way of including the unknown and unpredictable in the outworking of the grace of God in our lives.” (Phillip Yancey, Prayer, Does it Make Any Difference? Page 82)
Many times our prayers are answered quickly and miraculously. But then at other times they are not. When we read in Hebrews 11 about some of the great men and women of faith we find that God did mighty things and performed wonderful miracles through many of these faithful saints. But then we read that there were other saints – just as faithful - who “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seem them afar off and were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” (Hebrews 11:13)
It seems that God always answers all of the prayers of the faithful! But some prayers are answered right away in our time frame the way we like it and others are answered on the other side and possibly in another and better way! Scripture does promise us that in heaven we will all be victorious with Jesus Christ over everything! (1 John 5:4, Rom.8:37,1 Cor.15:57)
Surely prayer is a deep mystery and there is more to prayer than we can ever understand. Our timeless God who sees the bigger picture knows what is best. And we are called to believe His promises even when we haven’t seen and touched and tasted. To trust Him even though we may not understand what He is doing. And to have faith in Him until the day that our faith turns into sight!
Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference?