Does Prayer Really Work?

Most everyone, whether they believe in God or not, has a basic understanding of the concept of prayer.  In times of trouble or great need, it is not unusual to hear anyone request a prayer be said for them.  It’s almost like prayer is considered to be a last hope; the lifeline taken hold of by a drowning victim when all other efforts to swim ashore has failed.  Even Christians will clutch at prayer as a last endeavor when all of their own attempts to solve some problem has come to nothing.

Prayer is so much more.  Perhaps our lack of trust in prayer comes as lack of understanding as to how prayer works.  The human race is impatient.  We all want what we want and we want it now!  So often we are convinced that our own solution to a problem is the very best outcome.  There could be no other way; therefore, we take on the NOW attitude.  Why wait?  We have a need; let’s get what we want at this moment!

God doesn’t work that way because He happens to be perfect.  He knows the beginning from the end.  He already knows what we need, when we need it, and if we need it at all.  He knows when there’s something far better out there than what we are presently desiring.  He knows when instant answers are the best thing for us and also when delay is much better.  Prayer is so misunderstood.  We know it’s a tool but mistakingly we see it as an implement to get what we want, rather than something that gives us access to our Father; something that can grow our trust and, therefore, our inner peace, when used properly.

To help us, let’s take a look at Matthew 7:7.  In the King James Version it reads, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”  (In doing a proper study of God’s Word it is advisable to look into several translations.  Make certain, for accurate study, that it is indeed a translation and not a paraphrase.  Don’t just use one translation because all languages change as the years pass.  For example, in the King James Version, Ephesians 2:3 begins, “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past…”  Immediately upon reading this, it’s easy to assume the verse is referring to the manner in which we speak.  The word “conversation” means to speak, right?  It does today but during the time when King James had the Bible translated, the word “conversation” referred to behavior.  It was correctly translated from the Greek to the English for that period of time.  Check out modern translations but make certain it is a direct translation from the Greek to the English.  Searching is all part of the fun of discovery.)  Back to our text in Matthew 7:7.  When we first read this verse we can mistakingly believe that to ask, seek, and knock is a one time action.  Therefore, we ask and don’t receive so we sink into disappointment in God.  Just as it’s important to pay attention to modern translations due to language changes, it’s also important to note sentence structure.  In the case of Matthew 7:7, the verbs, ask, seek, and knock are actually written in the present continuous.  Therefore, a more accurate reading is: “Keep on asking…keep on seeking…keep on knocking.”  When we understand something as simple as that, it helps us tremendously in our understanding of prayer.  I have talked with many who have been disappointed in God simply because they misunderstood this verse.  The next question that may come is: why does God want us to keep asking, seeking and knocking?  Does He want us to beg?

Let’s take a look at two more passages that are often misunderstood: Luke 11:5-8 and Luke 18:1-18.  The first speaks of someone waking his neighbor at midnight to ask for bread to give to his guests.  The latter passage speaks of a widow begging for mercy from an unrighteous judge.  Are these passages suggesting that God delights in us begging from him, wondering and hoping without knowing if He will indeed help us? No, that isn’t how God works.  That would be cruel.  The passages are not about begging but rather about God helping us to recognize our need for Him to do something.  Realizing our need for Him is a daily continuous attitude.  He’s not to be a last resort but the first port of call in a storm.  It’s saying to God, “I can’t but I know you can — in every area, great or small, of my life.”

Prayer is a loving partnership between us and our Father.  It’s us inviting God to work.  We pray — God works — in His time.  While we trust and wait, we keep on keeping on.  Often, when we are praying, hoping and waiting for God to do something for our particular situation, we tend to just stand there, paralyzed in fear; all belief in Him to help is wavering.   This only renders us more fearful as we wait.  Instead, we must press on, acting out our trust in the midst of what we may find fearful.

George Mueller is a wonderful example.  He ran an orphanage in Bristol, England in the 1800’s.  One evening as the children were put to bed, the staff knew there was nothing to give them for breakfast.  George prayed for God’s provision and instructed his staff to carry on as normal.  When morning arrived, the children were being dressed by the staff.  As they were getting ready there was still no breakfast.  Did George cancel breakfast?  No, he had already presented the need to God, so he continued on with his usual activity.  As the table was being set with the breakfast dishes, a knock sounded at the door.  A milk wagon had broken down.  The driver asked if the orphanage could use the milk?  Bread also arrived in similar fashion.  George had refused to stand there and fret.  He prayed and carried on.  He is one of my heroes of the faith.

Just as blood gives us physical life, prayer is our spiritual life force.  Without it we will shrivel into a  fearful being, shaking in distrust.  A correct attitude of prayer keeps us resting in faith no matter what the moments may bring.

The Birds Still Sing

This has been a wild weather week for many of the southeastern states in the USA; strong wind gusts, hail the size of golf balls, booming thunder, sharp lightening, and tornadoes ripping across the land.  Thankfully, my mother and I, and our home, were left untouched.  A few branches scattered across the lawn, but nothing more.

Over the years I have been amazed at the power of storms; and, equally amazed at the resolute attitude of animals to keep going and rebuild in the wake of any storm’s aftermath.  Like ours, their homes are often destroyed, too.  I have seen a bird’s nest keep hold on the tree branches in the roughest of winds, and have also seen them topple to the ground in the softest of breezes, but I have never seen these winged creatures give up in despair.  No matter the calamity, the birds still sing.

It seems that animals and birds have an inborn understanding of God’s character revealed in nature.  They sense God’s finger drawing messages of love in the earth and His voice speaking truth in the wind.  I love the verse in Romans 1:20 that tells us, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and the sky.  Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities — His eternal power and divine nature.  So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”  God is everywhere and He can be found if we look with eyes searching for truth.  He promised that if we seek we will find.

Why is it so easy for us humans to despair?  Why don’t animals give up when nature strikes its cruel blows?  At the end of every storm, how can animals accept their tragedies with composure and continue on in peaceful stride?  Why do we humans agonize over material ruin while the birds still sing when they have lost all?

Jesus taught the truths of nature to His followers when He said to them in Matthew 6:25-27, “I tell you not to worry about everyday life — whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear.  Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?  Look at the birds.  They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, because your Heavenly Father feeds them.  Aren’t you far more valuable to Him than they are?  Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”

If only we humans could take hold of positive resolve when adversity strikes.  If only we could move on peacefully to build again when disaster takes away what we toiled so long  to gain.  If only we would determine to search for God’s truth in the middle of every mishap.  When we seek, we find.  When we knock, the door is opened.  When we ask, we receive all we need.

The next time difficulties come your way, don’t forget why the birds still sing.

 

What Do I Do About It?

I have shared before, what I call, the wisdom of Lucy.  Lucy Shockney is a dear friend whom I met in France where she and her family were missionaries for many years.  God has blessed Lucy with terrific insights into everyday life.  Recently she shared another nugget of gold.  She was talking about the difficulties in life that come to us all.  No one is exempt from hard times.  Lucy writes:  “If the question that plagues you is ‘why,’ knowing why doesn’t solve the problem.  The real question is, ‘what do I do about it?”‘  That’s the one that solves the problem, that refuses to submit to circumstances.  The ‘whys’ are a distraction.  The ‘what am I going to do about it?’ is the road map to greatness.”  I find her thoughts simple and yet profound.

It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of doubt, depression, and anxiety.  To ask why is easy and even understandable.  We want answers to our melancholy.  We want it to go away, so we ask why?  However, as Lucy pointed out, to merely mull over the why question will do nothing but distract us from the road to our liberation.  Indeed, it is in asking ourselves, what are we going to do about it, that the path to freedom from our despondency will be revealed.

So, what, exactly, can we do about it?  Two answers come to me.  The first has been a favorite of mine from the time I became a Christian.  It’s found in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and I will show you great and mighty things that you do not yet know.”  Isn’t the truth of that verse amazing?  The promise is: just by calling to Father, He will answer, and He will reveal truth to us that will aid us in our troubles.  It’s not a maybe or possibly so; it’s an “I will.”  Anytime God says “I will,” it is well worth our time to meditate upon that truth and follow it through.

The second thought that comes to me in regard to, what can we do about it, is found in Matthew 7:7.  Jesus was talking with His followers, encouraging them how to live successfully in this troubled world.  He said, “Keep on asking, and you will receive.  Keep on seeking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”  I have listened with sadness to some Christians who have misunderstood this verse.  Some actually believe that God is being somewhat cruel, insisting that “keep on asking” means, if we ask enough times, He will answer.  Oh, my!  That interpretation is so incorrect. What would enough times be?  Five?  One hundred?  It’s absurd to consider that Jesus would be so callous to the things that hurt us.  That’s not how love works; therefore, that’s not how Jesus works.

So, what is He saying?  He’s telling us that every time we find ourselves in some situation of despair, then ask, seek, and knock.  He says to keep on doing this with every trial that comes our way.  With every new feeling of sadness or with every new burden that weighs us down, we must seek Him and His help.  We must so diligently ask, seek, and knock that it becomes a habit in our lives.

As Lucy reminded us, when we quit focusing on the ‘why’ and focus instead on ‘what can I do about it,’ then we put ourselves in the way of deliverance from all that drains our joy.  So, when troubles come, and they will, what can we do about it?  Call to Father.  Ask His help.  Seek His comfort.  Knock on the door of His guidance, and He will show you great and mighty things that you never even dreamed about.  It’s a promise.

The One Necessary Thing

The Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, are records of Jesus’ life on earth. In it we read about many of the miracles He performed. We take note of Jesus, the great storyteller, revealing spiritual truths through everyday experiences and examples. We see Jesus and His busy schedule: teaching His followers, healing the sick, feeding the multitudes, preaching in the Synagogues, debating the religious leaders of the day, casting out demons, even settling disputes among His disciples.

Yes, Jesus was a very busy person, teaching many truths about successful Christian living. However, throughout His ministry, it is interesting to note that Jesus points only to one crucial thing that is necessary to living the abundant Christian life. There is only one thing we must practice in order to know His peace, courage, strength, joy, and direction through all our days.

We have no record that Jesus ever taught a seminar on sermon preparation. There is no record of Him giving instruction on how to conduct a feeding program and helps to the poor. He never gave a lecture on healing ministry, He never suggested a tea cafe to reach the community or a daycare center for the children. There is no record that He gave instruction on conducting a youth camp at the Sea of Galilee. All of the above are wonderful tools today, that when led by the Holy Spirit, the love of God can be shared. Even so, there is no record of Jesus giving any teaching on these matters.

He taught one necessary thing: it’s a tremendous spiritual truth that is absolutely essential in order for any of the above to be effective in leading others to know Jesus. It’s a necessary thing in order for any of us to maintain inner peace in the midst of turmoil. It’s a thing often ignored; it’s often put aside until a later time; it’s often hurried through on the busiest of days. It’s the thing called — prayer.

How to pray is what Jesus taught, and it is what He showed us by His own example. Even on His busiest of days, when He was ministering all day and into the night, it is recorded that “Jesus awoke long before daybreak and went out alone into the wilderness to pray.”Luke 1:35

Jesus tells us how to pray in Matthew 5:9-13. We call it The Lord’s Prayer. It’s a tremendous model on how we should pray. There is another instruction on prayer that Jesus gave us, recorded in Matthew 7:7-8, “Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks.”

There are those who would read these words and quickly say that they have asked, sought, and knocked, and God did not answer their prayer. Here is an important truth: God always answers our prayers. Sometimes He says, yes. Sometimes He says, no. Sometimes He says, wait a while. In the meantime, we are instructed to keep asking and seeking and knocking. Why do this if the answer is wait or if the answer is slow in coming? Because asking and seeking and knocking is for our benefit. Those actions keep us focused heavenward. When we focus heavenward, our very thoughts take on a more godly attitude. When we take on a more godly attitude, then God is able to build strength of character in us. When strength of character is built in us, then faith and trust in our Father grows more secure.

Too often we focus on that which we don’t understand, and we quit praying. Jesus urges in His teaching to — keep on keeping on. That determination and obedience is what sharpens our spiritual ears to hear Him when He speaks. If we aren’t ready to listen, it stands to reason that we will never hear. When we do not hear, discouragement sets in, and we declare that God doesn’t answer our prayers. It’s a spiritually debilitating circle. It doesn’t have to be so!

Let’s determine today, and each day as we awake, that we will obey the teaching of Jesus and we will pray; we will talk to Him, telling Him quite simply how we feel about things going on in our lives, what we feel we need, perhaps how we are worried about those around us, what we would like to happen in our world, etc. Ask God for help with everything that troubles you or confuses you. Just talk. Pour out your heart in your own words. When we do this, we will grow to understand that prayer is for our very best. We will grow to a greater understanding of God and His ways. We will come to know a joy so great it can never be measured. Remember this — of a certainty, such immense joy can never be found — without the one necessary thing — prayer.