Summary: First in a series on Prayer dealing with a proper perspective of prayer.
Prayer is one of the most talked about topics in the Bible. It is also one of the most misunderstood and mysterious topics of the Bible. Prayer is probably the least practiced discipline among God-followers.
At its simplest level, prayer is talking with God rather than talking to God. True prayer is a dialogue. Sometimes we talk about what is on our heart. Sometimes we bring Him our requests. Dialogue includes talking and listening. God reveals His side of the dialogue by various means.
A simple way to get your head around prayer is to think of the relationship between a child and father. For some, that may be difficult, but imagine how a HEALTHY relationship might function.
There would probably be general conversation.
There would be times of instruction and advice.
There would be times of pouring out our heart concerning the struggles of life.
There would be times of asking for advice or wisdom.
There would be times of expressing gratitude and appreciation.
And of course, there would be times of requesting help.
We generally think of prayer only as asking God for something. Just as a conversation in a healthy relationship with a parent, a relationship with God goes much deeper and further than just asking. Today and for the next several weeks, I want to focus on the subject of talking with God. I remember a famous radio teacher from many years ago who began every program with these words.
“God is still on the throne and prayer changes things.”
One of the greatest struggles regarding prayer involves the stark realization that for most of us, much of the time, prayer seems to change very little. The intensity or immensity of our prayers doesn’t seem to make a bit of difference. Hundreds of people prayed concerning my dad’s open heart surgery. He died anyway. Hundreds of people prayed for past church members. Eleanor, Gene, both Carols, both Bills. They all died. Numerous people have prayed for my MS – I still have it, though it currently seems to have minimal interference.
How many times have you asked God to show you where you lost stuff with no answer? How many times have we prayed for healing for someone? We have asked God to heal numerous people in the past 22 years without one immediate healing. Most of us have a long list of times when prayer didn’t seem to make any difference.
Is there power in prayer or not? How many times do we trip over the passages that clearly promise to ask whatever we will and God will answer? We read of miraculous interventions and supernatural events all through the Bible and church history wondering where they are now. We sometimes wonder if there is even any point in praying.
Gideon from the time of the Judges wondered the same thing.
The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, "The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior." Then Gideon said to him, "O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian." Judges 6:12-13
It is not the power or intensity of our prayers but the working of an all wise and powerful God who has graciously included OUR prayers as an essential element in accomplishing HIS ends. The act of prayer alone doesn't change things or people. God changes things and people sometimes in response to the prayers of the saints but always in harmony with His ultimate plan. Prayer only has power when God gives it power.
If God is all-powerful and perfectly knows what is best and loves us infinitely, why doesn't he answer our prayers. I will address that question more thoroughly later. James is clear that sometimes he doesn't answer our prayers because they stem from a selfish motive. It's clear that other times, our request does not fit with his ultimate plan. If a father has planned a fabulous day for his children and wants to surprise them, he will deny their pleas to do something else. They will think he is not being fair by not letting them play at Charlie’s that day. They may resist getting in the car and complain because they had their own agenda in mind. All the while, there is something much more significant in store.
God is much more interested in what the practice of talking to Him does IN us than what it does FOR us. Prayer may seldom change things (especially if they run contrary to His plan) but they almost always bring about significant change in the one engaged in Divine dialogue.