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What is Prayer and How Does it Work?

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Theology and Politics from a Conservative, Biblical Perspective

This is a tough one. Truthfully, many Christians think we know a great deal about prayer but it continues to be a bit of a mystery for me. I do pray. I do exercise faith in God’s ability to solve problems and direct my steps and I’m sure you do the same. The Bible tells us that He is very interested in our lives and wants what is best for us. Of course, that “best” is the fulfillment of His will for our personal lives.

Have you ever prayed and come to realize that God is going to answer that prayer? It’s happened to me many times and I am so grateful that the Holy Spirit attests to the fact that the prayer was heard and an answer would be forthcoming. However, there are also times when I speak to God in prayer and actually have no faith that He will respond in the positive. It’s weird. It’s like my prayers don’t go above the ceiling in my home. They go out of my mouth or mind and drop back down to the floor. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to persevere in prayer because of a “lack of faith,” or if the answer to that prayer is a flat out “No” or “Not yet.” It’s frustrating at times because it would be so much easier for us if when we talked with God, we could see His face, hear the tone of His voice and essentially come to realize what it is He wants, as He did in Jesus when Jesus walked this earth and interacted with His disciples and others.

Being with people and communicating directly with them provides feedback immediately. But we do not have that luxury when we talk to God. Our relationship with Him is based on faith and the truth of His Word (written or in the Personage of His Son, Jesus). There’s so much we have to learn to understand about this relationship and if we are not seriously into His Word, we’ll never learn. Moreover, without His Word, we can quickly and very easily go off track and into the area of “feelz” to determine what God wants or what He is doing.

Let me provide an example for you. I know a family member who is an alcoholic and has done drugs in the past. He can go through 5-7 packs of cigarettes in a matter of days. He has been through at least three rehabs for alcoholism and has attended many AA meetings. He was just visiting us from California because it appeared as though he and his wife were getting ready to split up. While he was here, he bought two large bottles of Jameson whiskey and a liter of ginger ale. From the time he got up to the time he went to bed, he had a glass of whiskey in his hand. When he wasn’t drinking, he was smoking and in between he’d eat as many sweet things as he could. Most alcoholics will try to satisfy their cravings for alcohol with sugary treats because the high content of sugar tends to do what the high content of sugar in hard liquor does.

To listen to him talk, one immediately notices a constant slurring of words. Sometimes in the middle of a sentence he will simply stop, screw up his face as though thinking really hard and eventually find the word he was looking for, which could take 30 seconds or more. It’s awkward. He is a handyman by trade and though he has some great ideas, the execution of those ideas comes up short often. He was helping me with a few of the jobs I needed done here (and I was grateful for the help), but his work is so haphazard and shoddy that I wound up redoing specifics with another family member who was also visiting.

While he is working, there is a constant stream of consciousness coming out of his mouth as if to help him focus on the job at hand. This, coupled with trash talk and foul language got tiring.

His fingers have swollen a great deal from all the alcohol intake. He is constantly bobbing back and forth and talks to himself and/or repeats the same three notes as though humming the start of a tune. To see him in this condition knowing that he has tried to kick the habit is frustrating.

I tell you all this as background. I’m not condemning him at all. My heart goes out to him. I’m saddened and frustrated at the same time. Between his smoking and his alcoholism, chances are great that he is literally killing himself. I also noticed a bulge on the back of his neck. While it might simply be a problem with a vertebrae, it could also be pointing to something much worse like a type of cancer that is painless.

When we talked to him about spiritual things and he told us that he was “fine.” He and God are “good.”

He did go to church with us and sat in on the adult Sunday school class I taught on two Sundays. He attended the service with us and heard the gospel presented on both Sundays.

I spoke with other family members about this man who just turned 54 but looks at those he is in his late 60s, and we all shared our frustration together. The other family member said, “We are praying for him. Our whole church is praying for him. We’ve tried talking to him. We just do not know what to do.”

God tells us that He wants no one to perish and all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). So we know that part of our job is to pray for people. I’ve realized again that I can convince no one of their need for Jesus and the salvation He offers because of the work He did on the cross as a substitute for us. I can share that info but I cannot convince.

I have prayed for this man to see his sin, to recognize his addictions and to understand that he needs what Jesus offers. Even if/when he does receive salvation, he has a hard road ahead of him because there is no guarantee that God will immediately remove the cravings for alcohol. He might, but He is under no obligation to do so.

While praying for him, I found that my prayers fell flat. In essence I wasn’t believing what I was praying. There appeared to be no working faith in me on behalf of this family member. It’s not like I don’t have faith because there have been many times of praying for situations or people where my faith expressed to God seemed evident. His response to those prayers seemed clear as well.

What was I to do? Tons of people are praying for this family member and yet there is no change. He’s actually worsening. Jesus tells us of the corrupt judge and the widow. She kept “nagging” at the judge to give her justice and the judge kept refusing, right? Eventually though, because he wanted some peace of mind, he gave her what she wanted just to get her out of his hair (Luke 18). Jesus says that God will respond even more quickly. Hold that thought.

Then we have all of Paul’s comments about prayer and how often we should pray (without ceasing; 1 Thess 5:17) and that God wants to hear our prayers. James says something interesting regarding prayer as well. In James 5:16 he says, “the fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” The context there is speaking of confessing our sins to one another. When we confess sin that we’ve committed against others (in word or deed), and follow that up with prayer, there is forgiveness and a drawing closer together. This glorifies God and causes growth in both of the people involved – one who confessed and one who was willing to set it aside and forget it. We should do this as far as we are able (Romans 12:18).

Moreover, Paul tells us not only to pray, but to rejoice! (1 Thess 5:16-18). There is ample Scripture that testifies about our need for prayer in general. But why do some things appear to take a lifetime while other things happen very quickly? I don’t know, but if I could guess, I’d have to say that there is a huge difference between our “timeline” and God’s.

What I mean by that is that we are stuck in time on earth, on this physical plane. God is not. He is outside of time though He can come into time whenever He wishes (as Jesus did while He lived on this planet and during the Theophanies in the Old Testament. But God is not sequestered, restricted or bothered by time as we are now.

What IF, we are to pray for a person’s salvation once, then praise God for it all the rest of the time, instead of constantly repeating the same request for that person’s salvation?

During this frustrating time with this family member, I woke up at about 3:30 one morning and kept thinking about this situation and prayer and God’s response to our prayers. Then I thought, “When I continue to ask God for the SAME thing to happen it seems like I’m doing that because I didn’t believe He would do it, so now I am asking again!

What if I simply ask once then praise Him for His response to that situation every time after that? I think by doing that, I am building my faith and actively releasing the situation to God and trusting Him to deal with it as He sees fit.

Going back to the idea that God is outside of time, and a day with the Lord is like a thousand years (2 Peter 3:8), etc., what if when people began praying for this family member, God already ANSWERED it? No, it’s not yet accomplished as far as we can tell, but it will be accomplished in God’s timing.

Since God exists outside of our time and is not controlled by it and is omniscient, He literally sees everything at once. How could it be otherwise? The cross is always before Him. Our requests are always before Him. Our lives all at once are always before Him because He knows the end from the beginning. From His perspective, it all happens at once. This is why Jesus could honestly say just before being crucified that Satan IS defeated now though he is allowed to continue working against God.

In fact, Satan is actually just as bound by time as we are because of his fall and the rebellion he caused in Adam and Eve. Through that, he became inextricably bound in our time and is somewhat restricted because of it.

I don’t know if I’m making sense or not frankly, but it is starting to become more clear to me. I began thinking of this family member and realized that he doesn’t have a chance. God has been asked and God will respond in a way that glorifies Him. Whether this family member is saved today or at the end of his life before going into eternity makes no difference. The fact that he will be saved I believe, is a done deal. My heart is free to praise God for His provision.

I am spending my time literally praising (not asking), God for what He is going to do in this family member’s life. I think it will be fascinating to see and as I say, it may take more years to come to fruition before anyone actually sees it. That is totally in God’s hands as He wills and as He chooses.

I have concluded that continuing to ask God for the same thing over and over is actually a sign of doubt, not faith. We ask, then we should spend our time praising God for His response to that prayer. That, I believe is the evidence of faith.

Let me know what you think, will you? I’m still fleshing this out and though I did not reference many Scriptures in this article, I may break this down more in future articles. I’m realizing just how fascinating prayer is and what a privilege it is for all Christians to participate in that process. For me, I need to spend more time focusing on the aspect of praising God for His answers to my prayers. Amen?

Theology and Politics from a Conservative, Biblical Perspective


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    • Jude

      Thank you for your post. The disciples of Jesus also wondered ” what is prayer and how does it work”. Jesus gave them a sample prayer which is still very powerful to send and meditate on. I attend a Baptist Church, so I know that this may not go over well with you, but, if you are seriously interested in learning more about prayer, read the other Holy Books. Like the Koran, and the Baghavad Gita. Even our Bible says that we will be taught by nations with a language strange to us. Prayer is very powerful and we usually try it as a last resort but it should really be the first action applied to solving a problem.

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