Does Prayer Even Do Anything? Doesn’t Stuff Happen Anyway?

peterpencomplex asked:

hi pastor j- i think your blog is AWESOME, but i didn’t have enough room to explain myself. just wanted to say i think you should keep being completely 100% honest/real, because that’s how everyone else knows their walk of faith is not in vain. wanted to ask you about prayer. why do i pray? am i the only one that feels like i am closing my eyes and whispering into a vast darkness of nothingness? why is God so insistent on prayer, yet I don’t see anything changing? (matthew 7).

seeking-a-revival asked:

When we pray for someone I know that our prayers alone cannot change them but when we see prayers answered God has listened and His spirit has helped the person we prayed for? I am not sure what to think when I see a prayer get answered no matter who or how many prayed for a specific cause.

Hey my friends: May I first please commend you because you both actually care about your prayer-life.  When people tell me, “The least we can do is pray,” I always think, “That’s the most we can do.”

But I also know that prayer is extremely, ridiculously, awfully difficult.  Whenever a preacher starts with his guilt-trip — “When was the last time you really prayed, huh?” — I immediately feel like crap.  I’ve never heard anyone say, “Man I got that prayer thing on lock.”  I haven’t met a single person who’s fully confident in the art and results of prayer.

Mostly we feel icky about this because —

1) We feel too guilty to pray.  We’re not sure God wants to hear us after we looked at porn / cussed out my parents / gossiped for two hours / punched that guy in the ear.

2) We’re self-conscious about it.  We’re not sure how long, or what words, or if we’re doing it right, or if we’re truly sincere.

3) And of course: We secretly wonder if it even works.

So here’s one thing I know about prayer.

It’s totally natural to doubt and wonder if prayer is working.

At times I think God just does what He wants: so why should I pray?

At times I think the world will spin without me if I stop praying: so why should I pray?

Very often it feels like I’m chucking coins into the dark: so why should I pray?

At times I’m so distracted and distraught and intermittent during prayer, I don’t think God will hear that one.  Or maybe all that stuff about “unconfessed sin” or “not enough faith” is really true.  Or God didn’t answer a big one and I’m done with Him. So why, oh why, should I pray?

You see: Jesus taught his disciples to pray in a way that we’re participating in God’s story.   Let’s consider that in the Lord’s Prayer, there are several direct petitions, most remarkably, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

God wouldn’t challenge us to ask for things unless the turning of our hearts in His direction actually changes a part of the universe.

I know it sounds like a drunken power-trip. But in other words: Jesus is telling us that when we pray, that somehow this touches upon the heart of the Creator so that the very fabric of reality is moved and shifted and infinitely rippling in incalculable motion, so that we are active participants within the narrative of God.  None of us are bystanders or spectators, ever.

When we ask God to do something: even the very act of asking Him has caused a chain reaction.  It’s already moved you.  And sometimes, like a divine tower crane, God intervenes into history and orchestrates things for your good and for His glory.

It’s by God’s very own grace and love and mercy that He gives us the opportunity to re-write a part of His narrative.  Just think of how crazy that is.  I don’t mean to give you a swole ego here.  I’m just saying: even this knowledge that God hears us should already change the way we pray.  It puts us in the right perspective, in reverence, with gratitude, because He hears you and me, little fragile squishy meaty bony fist-shaking people with our desperate daily worries and concerns.  He hears us.  The God who can smush galaxies with His thumbnail also has His ear on your heart.

When we don’t pray, it could be that by sheer grace, God just answers a prayer we forgot to pray for, to demonstrate He hears us anyway.

It could be that He knows what we wanted before we get a chance to tell Him.

It could be that by sheer grace, God withholds what we wanted, not because He has “something better in store,” but simply because you already have Him.

In the end, asking “does prayer work” is probably the wrong question.  If I asked, “Does marriage work?” or “Does love work?” — we’ve suddenly diminished these things into mechanical institutions.

Here’s an example.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve wasted a day when I don’t do enough, because to me, a productive day is about accomplishing a to-do list.  Most days I feel horrible because I haven’t done all that I set out to do.  Yet: If all I care about is “doing,” but I don’t ask “Why am I even doing this?” — then everything becomes a blunt tool for me to fulfill my daily agenda.  I’m taking the essence out of beauty and replacing it with function.  It’s making a living, but not a life.

Every time I ask, “Does prayer work?” — well, I’ve sort of turned prayer into a pragmatic savior.  It’s a good question, but it’s incomplete and only gives half the picture.

Jesus taught us that prayer begins with, Our Father.  This is important.  This is the space in which rich, vibrant, heart-pulsing intimacy happens.  And when we can rest in Our Father just long enough, then I don’t think we’ll be too disappointed when our prayers don’t “serve” us. We trust that He’s already served us by His Son, who has opened the throne-room to the King who who heals our busted hearts.  This is the ultimate answered prayer that we didn’t even know we were looking for: but He answered anyway.

And it’s only a King-healed heart by the work of Christ that can actually appreciate and appropriately manage the physical provisions that God does give us.  Imagine if you got everything you wanted this very second.  Imagine instantly getting all the fame, the money, and the power in the world.  I would die.  So would you.  When I see a celebrity meltdown and say, “I would be way smarter with all that money,” that’s a terrible over-estimation.  God wants us to be a certain people so that we can do with His earthly blessings.  You’ve seen what happens when we get this out of order.  So it’s definitely okay to ask for things, but prayer is primarily about getting the character of Christ by osmosis.

My friends, a last word. I know it hurts when God doesn’t answer a prayer.  I know that very often, prayer can be a mystery, and we constantly second-guess ourselves, and we’ll feel powerless.  I want to humbly ask that you continue to talk with God regardless of what’s happening around you: because He’s there, regardless of what’s happening around you.  I want to ask that you soak in His grace before His gifts.  I want to ask that you trust Him, that even if He’s not working a miracle you can see right now, that He’s possibly working a much bigger miracle in you and the people around you, and even if nothing else changes, you will.  As corny and cliche as it sounds: I want to ask that you would approach Him as a child sits on his Father’s lap, to both ask for things and to bask in Him.

— J.S.

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11 thoughts on “Does Prayer Even Do Anything? Doesn’t Stuff Happen Anyway?

  1. Prayer really does work, I’ve seen it many times and even having seen that it works… I still struggle to believe it works. Sometimes it works and you get exactly what you asked for, like placing an order in restaurant. Sometimes you don’t quite get what you wanted, but you get what you really needed instead. Sometimes you get more then you ever dreamed of. Sometimes the answer is simply no and you get comfort and a listening ear. What you always get however, is a chance to have deeply intimate relationship, to grow closer, to understand His nature and to discover your own.


    1. I agree with both of you, and well said. Prayer is not talking anyway; it is to be totally connected to God through Jesus. Sometimes it’s your feeling that speaks your part, sometimes God just does something without your clear awareness. It’s about treating the dry rot in my soul which needs constant correction, not about being a hero who can list “answered” wordy prayer.


  2. Super encouraging and challenging. I often find myself thinking that prayer is useless, that the world will go on turning regardless of whether or not I pray. I forget that it’s about so much more than simply writing up a wish list and hoping a few things get checked off. It’s about relationship and being a part of God’s story (sounds hokey but it’s true!). Thanks!


  3. “Prayer is when we talk to God. Meditation is when we listen to Him.” I heard that somewhere and I had very deep experiences with that.
    For me God is my Father and my Mother and as every child I, too feel that I have the right to come to my parents at any time I feel like. I can pour out my heart, I can ask for cookies, I can ask for help, I can share my joys and sorrows… I can do what all children do and have the comfort if I am misbehaving I will still be loved, even when corrected. And God will do what all parents do. Sometimes I will get my cookie, sometimes He will think I had already enough and more would not be good for me. He will send me to school even if I do not like it because for me playing around is so much more fun. He will be at my side when I am sick and teach me how to take better care of myself and others. He will worry if I do something wrong because he knows that it can get me into troubles. He will be joyful when I am doing good as every parent would be.
    God is all love. He has also given us complete freedom. And he will never touch this freedom. Although we will have to take the consequences of our actions. That is part of our learning process, too.
    But we have to be aware of one thing that is really important. God is not our servant. And he is not a businessman. People sometimes pray: “If you give me this, then I will do that… or never do something else again…” – trying to trade with Him like in a market place.
    And others never care much about their relationship with Him but remember it only when in need. And when God does not immediately fulfill their prayers they are angry with him.
    It would be like never visiting your parents, but then when you need – let’s say – money, only then you show up and are surprised that they hesitate.

    When I look around and I see wonderful parents who are so loving and caring with their children, teaching them and nourishing them, then I know one thing: God’s love is so much more. He knows me better than I do myself, he knows what I am supposed to become in the future, so he knows what I need in the present.
    Most of my prayers have been answered. And when they were not fulfilled He always showed me why not.
    Children sometimes can twist their parents “around their little finger”. You know, it works with God, too, but not with slyness or with some fake expressions. It works when you try to keep your heart pure and loving and caring and you ask God to help you in that so that you can spread His love better. Then His heart will melt away and you will receive the gush of his love.


  4. I have a question, and I’m not sure if this is the right place to ask it, but here goes. I love your down-to-earth approach, so here’s something I’ve been wrestling with…If I pray (for example for a loved one to be healed of something that is unlikely and would require a miracle) and I believe that God CAN do a miracle and heal them, but I also know He may choose NOT to, is that a lack of faith? When Jesus told people “Your faith has healed you” what exactly did he mean?


    1. Hey there my friend, I believe prayer is never a perfect straight-line process, just like most things. It’s more about the object of our faith than our degree of faith. There are things we pray for which we don’t need and things we don’t pray for which we do, and as we grow in Him, we might get a few steps in the right direction, but it’s still always a journey. And when Jesus says “Your faith has healed you,” it seems to indicate that those people found their way around to Jesus’s real identity, a whole faith, which is so much bigger than physical healing. In Luke 17, Jesus heals ten men from leprosy but only one comes back to praise Jesus. In return, Jesus says to this man, “Your faith has made you well.” In other words, “You’ve found true wholeness.”

      Here’s one of my favorite quotes on this:
      “The truth of the matter is, we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives- altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter. Frankly, this side of eternity will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the impure. But what I have come to see is that God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture. We do not have to be bright, or pure, or filled with faith, our anything. That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by grace, we live by it as well. And we pray by it.”
      — Richard Foster


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