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.

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.