Many church people are secretly convinced that prayer doesn’t work. Otherwise, why would the rest of us need to spend so much time encouraging them to pray? If most Christians really believe prayer brings God’s power, why that constant confession, “I know I don’t pray like I should?” If I know my prayer life is anemic, why not change that? Or have I simply concluded it’s no use? If it’s just pie-in-the-sky mumbo jumbo, what’s the difference anyway?
Our church family in McLean is preparing for 40 days of prayer beginning September 7. Like a lot of other people, I am concerned about the bumper crop of hopelessness that is so evident in God’s church today; the famine of prayer. When the people of God fall to their knees in prayer, God rises from his throne and turns on a generator in Heaven. He opens the windows of His Great House and pours out amazing benefits.
Without a doubt, not every prayer can be answered. Would you really want to live in a town where parents are obligated to blindly give their children everything they might ask for? Wise parents say No a lot. And scripture is clear that God reserves the right to pass over some of our requests as well. For example:
- Prayer doesn’t work when it’s neglected. Scripture counsels us, “You have not because you ask not.” Can you even imagine how many times that promise, “I’ll be sure to pray for you,” never gets fulfilled?
- Prayers can’t be answered when they run counter to God’s purposes. In John 14:13, Christ promises that when we ask anything in his name, God will do it. But praying “in my name,” does not mean invoking his name at the end: it means desiring his interests rather than my own.
- Prayers go nowhere when they are self-indulgent. See James 4:3. How can prayers for my personal ease and comfort be offered in the name of the Lord who says I cannot follow him without first denying myself and picking up a cross?
- Prayers can be shut out when our lives are in defiance of God. In Isaiah 1:15, God promises to shut his eyes and ears to the prayers of people whose lives are given over to behavior he despises.
- Prayers are put on hold when they are premature. Revelation 6:10 affords us a glimpse of martyred saints now in heaven calling on God to punish the forces of persecution on the Earth. The Lord replies that the time is not right: a few more things must first happen before he finally avenges the Church. Sometimes we need to pray and then watch for a while.
My prayer life becomes deeper and more time-consuming every year. Most days, I cannot wait until it’s time for my appointment with my Father. That’s because the presence and the power of God come most commonly when we call upon Him. Next time I’ll share some of the kinds of prayers the Bible promises God is always quick to answer.
Lift up the Cross!