Feb 18, 2011

what's the point of prayer - pt 1

I received this great question by a member of our church regarding prayer. I know it's asked by many people, so I'm going to write about this over the next few days. Here's the question:

Tony, would love to talk with you sometime about some things I have been struggling with in my faith. Being a health care professional, I see truly amazing people with heartbreaking diagnosis, and just situations in life that just hurt me. I pray for these people/situations... but sometimes struggle with what I perceive as a lack of response to these prayers. I read in the bible to pray for your concerns and troubles. But what is the point of prayer if it will not change the outcome... for God knows what’s going on, and really don't think he changes his mind just because we ask for it. I'd love to hear your take on this.

This is such an amazing and honest question, and I wish more people would ask it. It’s full of emotions, yet it also wants to understand what the point of prayer is. That’s the real thing we’re trying to figure out when we ask something like this, and the good news is that there is a great answer that can wrap our arms around.

First, though, you’ll need to let go of what prayer has been to you. In this case, you’re describing prayer as the means to get God to do something. I know you know there is more to it than that, but it may be the primary idea you think of when you think of the concept of prayer.

It is that for a lot of people, and seemingly justifiably so. After all, the Bible contains examples where someone prayed to God and suddenly there was a shift in a situation – someone was healed, an oppression was released, or the Lord specifically moved in a way that He hadn’t before the prayer. There are even some Christian circles where it’s taught that whatever you claim “in the name of Jesus” is guaranteed to happen.

Only it doesn’t always work that way. God isn’t a genie, and while we can recognize this we may still treat Him as such in our prayers. We send up our wishes, and He’s “supposed to” grant them. Especially if they’re “good” prayers – like healing someone who is sick.

Independent studies have been done to see if we can gauge if prayer “works” in this way. In one instance, researchers “proved” that prayer doesn’t change anything because situations didn’t change for people who were prayed for any more than they did for others who weren’t prayed for. Another study showed the opposite, though, in that people who were prayed for did have noted improvements and recovery beyond the others.

Depending upon what people believe about God, they are likely to believe only one of those studies and try to discount the other. However, both happened. Which means only one thing.

We can’t control God, be it through prayer or any other means.

So what is the point of prayer then?

That’s part two. I’ll write more on it soon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:8-11)


Kansas Bob said...

I think that the Psalms often offer a glimpse of what prayer is like as petitions transition to praise and angst to contentment.

Look forward to your future postings on prayer.

deb said...

needed to hear this today...PT 1 & 2 .. after prayer was "talking at" Him... a gentle reminder it's not about my pursuits or needs... since his thoughts are not my thoughts.. looking forward to part 3