Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.—James 5.16This last weekend I was in Wheeling, WV conducting our Awakening weekend seminar. Leading up to this event, I sent out an email message (and posted one on Facebook) for folks to be praying for this event simply because prayer is “powerful and effective.” This generated some responses and questions that I would like to address in this week’s E-sight, as I am quite positive that they reflect the concerns of a number of folks out there who didn’t write in as well.
You see, any time we talk about prayer, inescapably, there will always be questions about the prayers we have so desperately prayed and felt as if God did not come through for us. The subject of prayer touches a raw nerve for many and I, too, find myself in that category. Culturally, within modern Christianity, there are two extremes. One is the vending-machine type of understanding that says, “Ask anything in Jesus’ name and it will be done,” and the other is the viewpoint that “prayer doesn’t really change God or things, but rather it is for the purpose of changing us.” Both views have their pitfalls and subtle lie about the character of our God. I believe that prayer actually does change things. It changes what is possible for God even in some circumstances. But I also believe that prayer is not the only variable in many situations. Yes, prayer does make a difference, always, but there is also the free moral decisions of those involved that we have to take into account.
There are four points I want to give you this week to think about in relation to the subject of prayer.
1. God’s promises are principles, not formulas.
When the Bible promises something, too many times, we translate it as a formula. We think that if we do what the Bible says, then we are guaranteed a certain outcome. Then when the outcome fails, so does our faith in the promise. But again, God’s promises are principles, not formulas.
A common example that I run into all the time is in Proverbs 22.6:
“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
This is a principle about being purposeful in our child training. It tells us that raising our children with a determined purpose is effective. But remember, this promise is a principle. Not a formula. It does not negate the free will of the child itself. It is possible for the child, even rightly trained, to turn and rebel against that training. But for the majority, the training does pay off and is the largest determinant in the life a person chooses. But how many parents of wayward children have I met who beat themselves up over the decisions their kids have made? We need to remember that, first, every parent makes mistakes, and second, that every child has the freedom to be responsive to proper training or to rebel. The principle in Proverbs 22 is for parents to do their part.
2. We live in a world that is unfathomably complex.
Too many times there are only two possible reasons given for why a prayer was not answered. Either it must not have been God’s will or the person praying did not have enough faith. I believe that both of these answers can be very destructive if this second point about the complexity of this world is also not understood. Many times we are left either blaming God for not coming through for us, or blaming ourselves for not having enough faith to bring about the desired outcome for which we prayed. Both of these are very destructive to a relationship with God. There are two examples of this I’d like you to consider. One is in Daniel 10 where neither God’s will nor Daniel’s faith was the problem. Rather it was the complexity of another being’s free will preventing Gabriel from answering Daniel’s prayer for 21 days. Someone else was getting in the way. And the second is in Matthew 17 (17:21), where the casting out of a certain kind of demon required much more than God’s will and the faith of the Disciples. The casting out of this demon was much more complex than average.
Whatever one makes of these two examples, it becomes very clear that the free moral decisions that are made on this planet make life here a lot more complex than we understand. One day, God is going to pull back the veil so we can understand. But on that day, He will not be showing us why He DID intervene in one situation and why He DIDN’T intervene in another. But rather, He will be showing us why He COULD intervene in some situations and why He COULDN’T intervene in another. And that is a very different understanding of what it means for God to give us free will.
3. Prayer, because of the free will of all who are involved, never guarantees we will automatically get what we prayed for. But it DOES make a difference.
We have no way of knowing how things would have turned out if we had not prayed. But just because we do not see that exact outcome we prayed for, our prayers did make a difference. The situation was different. The substances God had to work with were dramatically different. So pray, and get everyone you know to pray too. And believe that you ARE making a difference. And if it doesn’t turn out the way we, and God, desire, as hard as this may be, know that this situation must have been very complex. We must trust that God did do all He could, and that our prayer enabled God to do more than He could have had we not prayed. This leads me to my fourth and final point.
4. When we pray, it is vitally necessary to remember that God looks like Jesus Christ.
Jesus healed all. He didn’t make them muster up enough faith first. And He never looked at suffering as part of God’s will. He saw it as an enemy element which must be overcome. There was only one place Jesus did not perform the miracles He did everywhere else. Nazareth. But remember, it was not by choice that Jesus did not perform His miracles there. The complexity of the situation in Nazareth prevented Jesus from being able to perform miracles there.
Please, know and believe that your prayers are powerful and effective. They really are!! Does that mean that everything we pray for will just happen? Even if it’s God’s will, the answer sometimes can still be no. I’m sorry. Prayer is a powerful variable, but it is not the only variable. There are many variables in each situation: God’s will, faith, prayer, AND every free moral decision that has ever been made by free moral agents that went into creating this situation (free will). And that’s just to name four; I’m sure there are even more variables than that.
There is so much more I would like to say about prayer, but this is already the longest E-sight we have written to date. I apologize for its length, but I felt it was needed.
In conclusion, should we pray? Absolutely!! It changes more than just ourselves. It makes a definite difference in the outcome of the events that transpire around us, whether the DESIRED outcome transpires or not.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.—James 5.16
I wish you God’s best this week.
Love like the rain, love like the sun, and go enlarge the kingdom.