Prayer—does it make any difference?
by Mervyn Morelock, Lt. Colonel –
Recently, an e-mail from a friend asked, “Does prayer really make any difference? Why is it that when I pray, sometimes it feels that I am only mouthing words that go no higher than the ceiling? Why is it that when I pray for my loved ones, God doesn’t seem to answer? Is God listening?”
These questions and many others have been posed for generations. We are puzzled and discouraged when, after many people have prayed for someone, they still die.
Over the years, my library has expanded with books that attempt to answer these and other questions about prayer. Rosalind Rinker’s books on conversational prayer, Salvation Army publications, books of prayer, magazines like Pray! And now, a new book written by Philip Yancey includes intriguing chapters that seek to answer many of these problems. It’s called, “PRAYER, Does it make any difference?”
The book deals with questions we all have asked ourselves: “If God knows everything, what’s the point of prayer? Is God listening? Why should God care about me? Why do so many prayers go unanswered? Why does God let the world go on as it does and doesn’t intervene? Does prayer really help with physical healing?”
Prayer is one of the mysteries of life for most of us.
Recent headlines tell of a disgraced religious leader. If we really are honest with ourselves, we ask, “How could this happen to one who lived so close to God and whose listeners hung on his every word? What was his prayer life like? Was it as bad as my own? How could he have fallen? Could it happen to me?”
For answers to these and other troubling questions we need first to examine what the Scriptures have to say about prayer. In Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus gave specific instructions on how to pray, and other portions of Scripture show us how he prayed.
Yancey’s book is a helpful guide to learn about prayer. He calls himself, “a pilgrim, not an expert.”
He writes, “The psychiatrist Gerald C. May observed, ‘After twenty years of listening to the yearnings of people’s hearts, I am convinced that human beings have an inborn desire for God. Whether we are consciously religious or not, this desire is our deepest longing and most precious treasure.’ Surely, if we are made in God’s own image, God will find a way to fulfill that deepest longing. Prayer is that way.”
“When it comes to prayer, we are all beginners.”
Yancey says, “In the process of writing, I have come to see prayer as a privilege, not a duty. Like all good things, prayer requires some discipline. Yet I believe that life with God should seem more like a friendship than duty. Prayer includes moments of ecstasy and also dullness, mindless distraction and acute concentration, flashes of joy and bouts of irritation. In other words, prayer has features in common with all relationships that matter.”
If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must learn about prayer. Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around two themes:
Why doesn’t God act the way we want God to?
And why don’t I act the way God wants me to?
Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge.
I believe in prayer. It does make a difference, even if only in me. I’ve seen many answers to prayer: freeing a girl from demon possession, acts of physical healing, restoring broken relationships, etc. But I’ve also had those times when God has chosen not to answer my prayers. So what do I do? Stop praying? No, because God directs us to pray without giving up. And it is not unusual to have the experience that when he says “no,” or “wait,” that he has something better in mind than my poor prayers could have ever imagined!
I want my prayer life, as Yancey says, “To seem more like a friendship than a duty.”
“Prayer—does it make any difference?” My answer: “Yes!” And often the difference is in me!