The Question of Prayer

If there’s a spiritual topic my friends and I discuss the most, it’s prayer. What’s the purpose and what does Scripture say about it?

A couple girlfriends and I shed a few tears on the topic over hand-brewed coffee and breakfast at Kitchen No. 324 just this month.

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I’ve had several friends email or call me to discuss the issue, and this semester I’ve been meeting with a college student who is struggling with prayer’s purpose as she watches a friend’s health decline slowly and painfully.

For some religions, prayer is meditation. A centering of our mind upon a single thought…or emptying our mind of all thoughts entirely. Liturgical congregations are more apt to “pray the hours,” or observe several regular moments of focused daily prayer. Prayer, in this way, is a discipline; intentional and habitual. These are sacred pauses meant to re-focus our mind on spiritual things. A watch alarm beeps, pulling us out from a stressful moment to “set our minds on things above” (Colossians 3:2). I love that. But this type of prayer can also become unfeeling and dutiful, lacking any real devotion to the Recipient.

In southern Protestant churches like the Baptist ones I’ve attended the past…oh, fifteen years or so…prayer seems to be used more as a vehicle of petition or requesting. We even use that term in Sunday school classes and small group settings: “Does anyone have any prayer requests?” We are seeking out the needs of the community around us, then offering those requests to God. Unfortunately this interchange can oftentimes become an opportunity for gossip, complaining, or “one-upping” each others’ trials, and we spend more time talking about the needs/requests than we do actually talking to God about them. Prayer in this sense is more like a help hotline or a Christmas list for Santa, I mean, God.

I’ve established in previous posts a few of my thoughts on the purpose of prayer:

1) Communication with and obedience to God     See post: Even If He Does Not

2) To intercede for others    See post: Fourteen Thousand Sheep

3) To change us, not our circumstances      See post: Bow Your Head

Check out my links to the posts above and I think you’ll get a more comprehensive idea of what the Lord’s been teaching me about prayer.

But I’m still left with more questions than answers concerning prayer and I’d like to share them with you here:

If prayer’s purpose is communication with God, then how can general communication, like the kind we encounter with our spouse or friends be “answered” or  “unanswered?” It’s simply shared. Requests are “answered.”

Why does he answer some peoples’ prayers and not others?

Personal story: I can’t tell you how many moments Joey and I (and our family and friends and many of you) have spent in prayer for Finn’s health. Even before he was born. God did not “answer” our prayer of complete healing and normalcy. He has answered many specific, miraculous prayers along the way, but Finn was born with Spina Bifida and it will always affect his life and ours in a very real and oftentimes painful way. Nevertheless, I won’t stop asking Him.

A friend was recently struggling with her daughter’s delayed mobility and missed milestones. She came to me for encouragement, wisdom and prayer. I was honored to pray for her and selfishly felt a little less “alone” because another believing momma was struggling like I am. Her child’s health was confusing and we were pleading to God for healing…together. I was elated to hear that after months of testing, her daughter’s diagnosis was normal and healthy, just delayed. Our prayers were answered! Victory. But as soon as I felt thankfulness to God for healing her, lies crept into the dark corners of my heart. Satan convinced me that she had more faith than I did. That’s why her daughter is healthy and my son is not. Her friends and family “claimed victory” and my clan just didn’t get it right. We must not have drank the right spiritual cocktail or sprinkled the appropriate amount of faith into our prayers. Lies. Lies. Lies.

Friends, our prayers are not opportunities to manipulate God into getting what we want or what we think we deserve. He loves us and I believe He wants to answer my prayers just as much as He did for my dear friend. I’m not sure why Finn is in a wheelchair, but I have come to realize that I will never understand.

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And honestly, no answer would even suffice anyway. He just is. And God is still good.

More questions:

So is there “power in prayer,” as my mom’s embroidered pillow tells me?  What does Scripture say about this? The Gospels are riddled with verses about asking (requesting) and receiving. “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21:22). I’m stumped here.

Why does the hashtag ” #prayerworks ” bother me? It sounds like an advertisement for cleaning supplies on QVC.

Does God care about petty prayers like sports victories for our kids? Shouldn’t we be praying more about the process of our children learning how to lose with integrity and win with grace? Or does He care when I ask Him to please hold off on the rain for my upcoming garage sale? Do we “waste” our prayers in this way? Is that possible?

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Jesus tells us to pray like He did. He gave us a few examples:

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV) The Lord’s Prayer

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.”

And there’s the example of His prayer in the Garden before His death:

Matthew 26:36-56 (ESV)

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here…” and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will. [Disciples are sleeping when Jesus returns to them] 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” [Disciples are found sleeping again] 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.

Jesus teaches us that prayer is for “hallowing,” or praising God for his holiness, for requesting daily needs, for forgiveness, protection from sin, and for deliverance. And in the Garden, it’s for pleading with God about what we desire–not once, but THREE times. Jesus went to the cross despite His sobbing bequests to His Father, but He still asked. He still communed with His Lord in a real and intimate way.

So what are your thoughts on prayer? I’m hoping many of you will comment on this post and let me know what you think. One thing is certain: prayer is important for the life of a believer. Paramount, maybe. We must do it. But why and how? Help! Thanks for listening and sharing.

 

 

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10 thoughts on “The Question of Prayer

  1. So challenging!! And James tells us that the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective. Does this mean there’s some recipe for righteousness, and once attained, you can pray with impact?
    Of course, we know that is Satan. There’s no recipe for effective prayers.
    I certainly don’t believe we can “waste” our prayers, as if to suggest we have a limited number that God will answer. If nothing else, I’ve learned that prayer serves as a way to connect with your Dad. He knows our hearts but there’s something so much more intimate about being able to talk with him. Similar to our earthly father, he wants all of the things we want for us, but sometimes those things aren’t attainable and our father simply serves as a listening ear who loves well.
    Thanks for sharing and getting my mind thinking about this today.

  2. Friend, I was just thinking about this last night. About the prayers of a mother. Long story shorter, we watched 12 Years A Slave. As you can imagine this was horrifying to me even more so because of my kids. As I was praying with Cooper at bedtime, it hit me like a ton of bricks the amount of prayers that went out of mothers mouth whose children were taken from them & beaten…and how many slaves themselves cried out in agony for the beatings to stop. It hit me again how we see so clearly now how wrongo this is. But then, many people thought it was ok and even biblical (cringe). While others thought it was wrong, but never did anything to stop it. As my mind raced last night and I wanted the ugliness to stop, God reminded me of the current pain & suffering of millions if orphans and kids abused in foster care…as we sit idly by not wanting to get involved because it’s too messy. Slavery seems to clearly wrong now, what is it going to be like when someone opens their history books to learn of churches letting this tragedy unfold in our backyards?

    • Ugh. That movie was so hard to watch and I just can’t imagine watching it with your babies in mind. I love your conviction to advocate for the downtrodden, specifically orphans. I’m so grateful the Lord places specific justice issues on each of our hearts. You amaze me.

  3. You put into words so beautifully the questions I have about prayers. Someone at work asked me if I believe that if, say, fifty people are praying for something as opposed to just one, the Lord pays more attention to that situation. I tend to think “no”, but then why do we rely so much on prayer chains and congregations and multitudes of people praying for a specific need? I don’t know and it’s probably just as well I don’t dwell on answers, but just keep talking to the Lord.

  4. Prayer is such a tough one and it’s so mysterious! Have you read “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster? There is a chapter in there about prayer that is really good! Might be worth checking out!

  5. I meant to comment on this days ago…
    I came across this verse after our breakfast.
    Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath. Psalm 116:2
    I love that imagery and the truth that I should choose to pray BECAUSE He is listening. What an honor that the God of the Universe listens to me. To my thoughts. To my simple and self centered concerns. For me it’s so much about being relational with Him. Just like I treasure you and my dearests pouring their thoughts and dreams and insecurities to me, I know that my heavenly Father wants the same of me. It builds trust and faith for me to speak and share and cry out to Him.

    Love you, friend. Love your wisdom and your heart. Love going through life with you. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Heal Him | our invincible summers

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