Summary: Prayer can open up for us insight into God's will when the way seems dark and uncertain.
Surprised By Prayer!
The popularity of prayer has skyrocketed in recent months. Prayer, talking about prayer, writing about prayer, exploring patterns of prayers and the like have become more prevalent than Tiger Woods' fans at a golf tournament. Prayer has truly come to the forefront of our society today as more and more people are talking about seeking God's intervention in their lives. There are newspaper articles on the topic of prayer. We see images of people praying to God on television shows like "Touched By An Angel." We hear folks who have gone through tragedies talking about how they prayed for God's help. Prayer has become such a hot topic that there are now folks who are talking and writing about the personal benefits of prayer.
In a recent article in Christianity Today magazine there was an articled titled, "Doctors Who Pray," in which several medical doctors expounded upon the medical benefits of prayer for their patients. Dr. Dale Matthews, an internist and associate professor of medicine at the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., is one of a growing number of medical professionals who are discovering the medical benefits of faith and prayer. Dr. Matthews and other doctors are beginning to scientifically study the effects of prayer on illnesses and injuries. In the article, Dr. Matthews says, "Scientific knowledge has demonstrated the positive benefits of religion. I can say, as a physician and scientist--not just as a Christian--that, scientifically, prayer is good for you. The medical effects of faith on health are not a matter of faith, but of science." (Christian Today, January 6, 1997)
Because of the way we are as people, anytime we learn of something that is going to benefit us personally in some way, you can bet there will be many who will jump on the bandwagon. I am deeply concerned about how prayer is being portrayed and about how God is being reduced into some kind of celestial Santa Claus whose primary function is to dole out what we want when we want it. If we understand prayer as simply a means to get what we want and to align ourselves with the "Man upstairs" who can work the system for us then we are totally missing out on the true purpose of prayer. The consequences of this type of understanding of prayer are catastrophic.
Imagine with me for a minute as we go the Intensive Care Unit of Children's Hospital where a mom and dad are anxiously awaiting news on their precious child whose life is hanging in the balance. The little boy is fighting for his life. The doctors are doing everything humanly possible to save the little boy's life. People are praying all over town for the child's health to be restored. Suddenly, the doctor appears from behind the door with his head hanging down and discouragement written all over his face. He walks over to the mother and father, sits down and takes mom's hand, and say's, "I'm so sorry. We did everything we could, but we weren't able to keep your son alive."
What is the mother and father going to be led to believe? Where will they turn? What will they do? If they have been reading many of the pop culture books on prayer, or they have been listening to a preacher who has taught them that all you have to do is ask and God has to give you what you ask for then they are in trouble. Their faith will crumble into a heap of ruins.
This little scenario takes place every day in different situations all across our country. On May 1, 1990, cable television giant Ted Turner accepted an award given by the American Humanist Association for his work on behalf of the environment and world peace. At the banquet, Ted Turner told the captive audience that he had a strict Christian upbringing and at one time considered becoming a missionary. Ted Turner told the crowd that he had been "saved" seven or eight times as a child, but that he became disenchanted with Christianity after his sister died, despite his prayers. Turner said the more he strayed from his faith, "the better I felt." (Spokesman-Review, May 1, 1990)
What a tragedy! I can't tell you how troubled I felt when I read the story of Ted Turner"s life and learned that he had abandoned his faith because of his misunderstanding of the purpose of prayer. I don't know what you think of Ted Turner, but it can hardly be refuted that he is a brilliant man. What a tragedy to learn that his brilliance, which has been used to build a television empire, could have been used to further the cause and Kingdom of Christ. There is power in prayer! Prayer does "work," but not in the way it is being portrayed today. The purpose of prayer is not to benefit us by getting us what we want, to lower our cholesterol count or heart rate, or to allow us to get back at those who have gotten under our skin. The purpose of prayer is to draw us close to the heart of the Father so that our wills, our deepest desires, our passions will be those of the Father and not our own. When we draw close to the heart of the Father then He will be glorified through our lives, our words, and our works done for His glory! People are becoming more interested in prayer so that they can reap personal benefits, but there is an equally devastating practice happening among us today. There are many of us who understand the purpose of prayer, but we are praying with no expectation of God honoring our prayers or acting on our behalf. We are engaging in an empty ritual, sometimes with zeal and fervency, but we certainly never expect anything to happen to turn the situation around. I don't think that we are the first generation to walk away from eloquently worded prayers expecting nothing to happen. In our study for this morning we see how there were many Christians in early Church who prayed fervently for Simon Peter, but then when God answered their prayers they couldn't believe that He really acted on their behalf. Take a look at Acts 12:1-19.