Does Prayer Work?
Prayer can be an ongoing conversation with God, but does it make any difference?
When we talk to God, we’re praying. When God talks to us, we’re schizophrenic.Lily Tomlin
The idea of talking to God—praying—is kind of weird, isn’t it?
Usually when you talk to someone, you can hear his or her response to you. But prayer is different. Prayer looks like you’re basically just talking to yourself.
How do you talk with someone who doesn’t necessarily talk back—audibly, at least? And if you believe that God not only listens to prayers but answers them too, how do you distinguish your own thoughts and feelings from God’s answers?
Then there’s the really big question: Does prayer even work?
What’s the point of praying if God already knows the future, orchestrates what’s going to happen, and knows what we need? And yet, billions of people all over the world practice some form of prayer. Why bother if it doesn’t make a difference?
Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and adherents to many other religions share a common thread of prayer.
For instance, Buddhists believe not so much in praying to an external god but in praying to awaken their own abilities buried deep within. Muslims believe that their prayers, which are required five times a day, are a reminder of God and a calling to a greater purpose beyond themselves.
Christians, too, believe that prayer can powerfully change lives, that it should be practiced regularly, and that it can help us refocus our priorities. Christianity further teaches that prayer also has the ability to dramatically affect the world and influence how God chooses to interact with humanity.2
But how does that work? If God is a supreme, omnipotent being, won’t he work out his purposes however he wants? It seems unlikely that our measly little prayers would affect his plans.
Many Christians would describe it like this: In mysterious but sovereign ways, God has decided to allow prayer to influence and accomplish his will. He chose prayer as the means through which to involve his followers in his plan. Prayer is one way God accomplishes his purposes in, through, and surrounding the one who prays.
A Changed Heart
Many of us pray to God as if he were a genie in a bottle. We hope that, if we’re lucky, he’ll hear us and act according to our wishes.
However, many faiths, including Christianity, paint a deeper and more intimate portrait of prayer. Rather than using God as a means to an end, within prayer God is the end. The believer prays, trusting in the character and power of God.
One of the chief purposes of prayer, then, is to transform the heart of the person praying to more closely resemble the heart of God. It’s not so much about getting tangible “results” from God. It is rather an opportunity to know God more fully, to better understand what he wants of each of us, and to establish a lifelong relationship.
Prayer is a lifestyle of humble dependence, of living in community and harmony with God, the source of life.
Ask and It Will Be Given
This is not to say that there’s no place for making specific, personal requests for God’s direction and provision. In speaking to his disciples about prayer, Jesus said:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!3
According to these verses, prayer is an opportunity to approach the greatest father of all time and openly express our needs and desires and directly ask for help.
But how could God, an entity massive enough to create the universe, really care about the little details of my tiny life?
This is the heart of the Christian message—God cares so deeply about each one of us that he has provided a way for us to have an authentic, intimate relationship with him. Prayer is one of the incredible blessings of the Christian faith, for the more we believe, the more God reveals himself.
Like anything worthwhile, prayer is a process. It takes time, commitment, and discipline.4 Prayer is not meant to happen only in times of desperation. It is meant to be an ongoing conversation.
And that’s where it gets fascinating. As someone invests in and becomes more comfortable with prayer, one of the ways in which it “works” is in the growing trust that person gains.
Praying people have reported miracles and answers to prayers that they never would have imagined and certainly couldn’t have created on their own. They believe that prayer made the difference.
Imagine a miracle that you would like to see—maybe the healing of sick relative, the repairing of a broken relationship, or the redeeming of a seemingly hopeless situation. Could prayer be your answer? Could miracles become your experience?
- Jane Wagner, In Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, directed by John Bailey, (Showtime Networks, 1985), performed by Lily Tomlin.
- There are numerous examples of this throughout the Bible. For just a few, see The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, Genesis 25:21, 2 Samuel 24–25, 2 Kings 20:5, 1 Chronicles 5:20, Isaiah 38:5, Luke 1:13, and Acts 28:8.
- Ibid., Matthew 7:7–11.
- If you find yourself struggling, it may help to find another person or group of people with whom you can pray regularly. This can help you stay motivated and focused. Ask a friend or family member, or join a prayer group at a local church. You can also contact us at info@ExploreGod.com to pray with you and help you get started.
- Photo Credit: Pearl / Lightstock.