I’m not a don’t-bother-him-he’s-praying kind of guy. I mostly pray on the fly. Whether I’m mowing the grass, walking the dog, in the shower, trying to sleep, whatever and whenever – I often pray. Nothing long mind you, but long enough to praise, give thanks, or make petitions. It’s always been that way with me except public prayer. When it comes to public prayer people expect something a bit longer and more, shall I say, colorful and substantive. On those occasions I’m happy to oblige. That doesn’t mean I pray to be heard by folks, it simply means I can cover more territory when necessary.
The Bible talks a good deal about prayer. Well, that’s not exactly true, it shows a good deal about prayer. Just a quick search of the NASB shows the words “pray” or “prayer” are used over 200 times out of a total number of over 31,000 Bible verses. Not a high percentage when you think about it. However, going beyond just the words, the Bible does show demonstrations of prayer, worship which reflects prayer, and phrases that, in the context, indicate prayer is going on. So it’s fair to say prayer plays a significant role in the lives of many biblical characters.
The other day I took note of a column title in a monthly magazine we receive. The title – “What Prayer Can Do”. I read the column regularly, but the other day I took special note of the title. Uhm….what if we switched just one little word? If we moved the word “can” one word to the left. It would become “What Can Prayer Do?” No longer a statement, it now becomes a question.
I suspect I’m not alone in often wondering “What can prayer do?” I often ask myself what prayer can do to make the situation I’m in better, or different, or gone. I hear stories about the powerful effect of prayer and confess, all too often, I don’t see results from my prayers that those stories describe. Is it because I don’t know how to pray? Am I not praying long enough or often enough? Is it because I’m not a totally righteous man therefore my prayers are not efficient or effective and simply ricochet around the room and never make it to the father’s throne? Am I not letting the holy spirit intercede for me when I seem to simply ramble with words and thoughts?
A few years ago my wife and I were praying fervently that our house in another state would sell and we’d get out from under the burden of two mortgages. In the scheme of things not an earth shattering request. However, it was a big deal to us. Nevertheless, for months on end nothing happened. Not even any offers. I was frustrated at first, then a bit miffed that this little request wasn’t being granted. I figured shoot, anyone could wait it out – it would take God’s doing to sell the house in a “miraculous” fashion. It never happened.
When I read Jesus’ words that faith the size of a mustard seed can be mountain-moving, I could simply conclude my unanswered prayers are a direct result of the size of my faith. But wait! He’s saying this kind of thing to some of his hand-picked followers who often couldn’t make heads or tails of his teachings and turned tail when the pressure was on. What’s up with that?
He also tells them that if they were to ask “ANYTHING” in his name it would be granted to them. Again, what’s up with that? Usually my prayers center on fairly trivial matters in the overall scope of life: jobs, personal discipline, safe travel and the like. We also pray for our kids, our grand kids, family members, and friends. Often they’re hoisting their own petitions and we’re simply along for the ride and moral support but nonetheless we pray for them. We ask sincerely. And we ask in the name of our Lord and Savior. So what’s missing?
Don’t get me wrong. I value prayer. It’s simply that I often wonder what can prayer do that, let’s say, a positive mental attitude can’t do? What can prayer do that making wise choices and doing the right thing doesn’t do? What can prayer do that simply waiting things out couldn’t do? Answer:
It’s about God not about us. We pray in order to come in alignment with God’s will. We pray to change our heart about a situation not someone else’s. We pray to express our simple dependency on God to provide our needs not our wants. We pray because it’s our primary means of having conversation with God – to hear him talk – not us. We pray for others to let them know our heart is reaching out to theirs. Prayer is not a matter of we-have-not-because-we-ask-not. It’s often a matter of being thankful for what we have – it’s called contentment.
What can prayer do? Reckon you’ll want to answer that one for yourself.