Prayer is to Christianity what salt is to peanuts.
It’s a big important idea in Christianity.
If you were in a primary school classroom and asked the students to randomly say ten things that came to mind when they thought of the Bible and Christians, it’s a pretty sure bet that prayer would be on the list somewhere.
It seems sensible that if there is an omniscient, omnipotent, loving God that created us, we should be able to communicate with him somehow.
Prayer, that mysterious form of communication between man and God.
Put your hand up if you don’t think you pray enough?
It seems so simple right? Just pray. The Bible says to. It doesn’t even sound very hard. But for some it is. Even if you pray a lot, I’ll bet there are times when you’re not sure why you do, or what the point is.
Even in the Bible there are many examples of great men of God complaining about their prayers not being answered. Check out the Psalms and Lamentations for a few examples.
The great mystery of prayer
Skeptics scoff at the idea of prayer. They argue that studies clearly demonstrate prayer has no statistical effect on any variable and is a complete waste of time. Nothing but emptiness and religious nonsense.
But prayer is fundamental to Christianity and in many ways fundamental to human nature.
The word ‘pray’ appears over 300 hundred times in Scripture (not including the plural, or any synonyms of the word).
Most other religions pray, or have some form of quiet reflection or meditation, some with very strict guidelines and schedules.
The Bible assures us that when we pray, earnestly, God answers (Matthew 21:22).
The Bible tells us to pray for our enemies (Luke 6:28).
Garth Brooks says that one of God’s greatest gifts in unanswered prayers.
Many, many Non Christians the world over inexplicably pray during times of intense pressure, or turmoil. They prey for safety, for luck, comfort, for goodwill, for their family, for things in their life. Many a prayer has been made, by most earnest of hearts, without even really knowing who it is directed towards. Indeed people in desperate situations will cry out with desperation to the heavens for any form of Grace or mercy that may be on offer at a given time.
Well known atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell said:
“For although I had long ceased to believe in the efficacy of prayer, I was so lonely and so in need of some supporter such as the Christian God, that I took to saying prayers again when I ceased to believe in their efficacy.”
Almost every human on earth has at some idea of what it means to pray to God, or a god.
For such a seemingly simple idea, a lot of ink has been spilled on the subject.
Skeptics say that science has disproven the efficacy of prayer. Some respond to this by saying that science is not qualified to deal with prayer and matters of intercession because the attempt to scientifically test a prayer immediately invalidates its sincerity. Others claim that this methodology fails Deutoronomy 6:16.
I think it’s fair to criticise the formal testing of the efficacy of prayer with something as crude as the scientific method. However, I also think it’s a bit convenient to say that ‘prayer cannot be tested’, or ‘that’s just not how prayer works’. This seems at first glance to be a rather nice little scapegoat. It is plainly clear both in scripture and through science that the Lord allows us to test claims against his existence and his attributes. Indeed the apostles routinely resorted to clear apologetic arguments to make the case for Christ’s resurrection, appealing to his fulfillment of OT prophecies, the facts surrounding his crucifixion, and the multiple eye witness testimonies. It seems unreasonable to think that in his mercy and grace he would not allow the possibility for us to test the claims of the efficacy of prayer too.
Why would God not be willing to demonstrate in real time the efficacy of prayers to his Church?
The Bible has a whole lot to say about prayer. It has a lot of guidelines for how to pray. Jesus Christ especially mentioned prayer a lot, how to do it and how not to do it. He even gave a word for word example of what to say.
Yet, if you’re anything like me, you probably don’t pray enough, or you don’t think you pray enough. You’re not alone.
It’s tough to know that something so fundamental to Christianity and so seemingly simple can feel so elusive. Of course I’m sure many sincere Christians go through at least some periods where they feel like they’re not praying enough, or that their prayers are not being heard or are otherwise confused about prayer and God’s purpose for it.
And yet, even Christ himself prayed so earnestly that he sweat blood. This was apparently to no avail. Of course Christ was perfect, and if anyone was to have his prayers answered it would be Jesus Christ our Saviour. Of course this depends on what you consider an answered prayer too. Ultimately Christ prayed for the Father’s ‘will be done’. This I think, is quite a telling example of where so many of us may be going wrong when it comes to prayer and expectation.
If we are not praying for His will be done, then how can our prayers possibly be anything but totally selfish?
I think I’ll leave it there.
Much, much more on this later.