The Power of Prayer
by Major Chick Yuill –
Prayer, it seems, is big news. In fact, a recent issue of Newsweek magazine devoted its cover article to the subject under the banner headline, “Is God Listening?” The magazine conducted a poll which produced some very interesting statistics: according to Newsweek, 87 percent of Americans believe God answers prayer; 75 percent ask for strength to overcome personal weakness; 79 percent believe God answers prayer for healing someone with an incurable disease.
Despite these very positive responses, the article faced up to some of the questions raised by petitionary prayer. Why does God answer some prayers and not others? Why don’t people lose faith when their prayers don’t seem to be answered? But the most challenging part of the article for anyone who believes in a God who loves us and who loves to answer prayer was that relating to the experience and investigation of the late scientist, Carl Sagan. The writer summarized Sagan’s criticisms as follows:
Sagan reserved particular scorn for petitionary prayer, which by its very utterance renders God’s qualities of omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence mutually contradictory. Does God need to be reminded that someone is sick, Sagan asked. Or does he know, but he won’t do anything about it unless someone else asks him to? Of course, many believers have wrestled with these same questions.
They certainly have asked such questions! And none of us has all the answers. Prayer will remain a mystery this side of eternity. If we understood it we would know as much as God, and any Christian teacher or preacher who deals with the subject had better do so with a great deal of humility. However, a proper humility and a due reticence are no excuse for avoiding such a vital subject. So here are my basic convictions about the mystery–and more importantly, the miracle of petitionary prayer.
God wants us to pray. We believe in a God who not only reveals his will to us, but who says, “Come, let us reason together.” I don’t understand how it works, but I know that an omnipotent and omniscient God shares his creation and his creativity with his children. In all his decisions regarding his children, he has taken my little prayers into account.
God always answers prayer. Sometimes he says, “Yes.” Sometimes he says “No.” Sometimes he says, “Wait.” It may seem like we’re not being heard but all I have learned about God assures me that he never ignores my prayers.
When God does not grant my petition, it is for my good. When my kids were little, they used to ask me if they could eat a candy bar last thing at night before going to bed, or if they could ride their bikes on a busy street. Of course, I refused and they didn’t always like my answer. But I was older and wiser, and I had to protect them from childish foolishness. God is infinitely wise. He knows that many of the things I ask for just wouldn’t be good for me.
I believe when God says, “Wait,” he is teaching me the importance of persistence. Do you remember Jesus’ story of the widow who came seeking justice from the unjust judge? Her prayers were answered precisely because she did not give up easily. Our persistence in prayer is an indication of just how important that prayer is to us and how much we really want God to act.
The better we know God, the better we know how to pray. The closer I live to God and the more I seek to know and to do his will, the more my prayers will be in accordance with his will. That’s when I really begin to see big answers to big prayers.
When we pray, something always happens. Prayer releases my faith and opens up the channels to God’s power. Prayer and change go together. Sometimes the situation will be changed; sometimes I will be changed. Either way, be prepared for God to move.
Corporate prayer is especially powerful. Jesus himself spoke about the fact that where two or three agree in prayer, things happen. Try to think of prayer less as purely an individual activity. Get together with groups of two or three or half a dozen. Seek God’s will and start to pray. Then stand back and be amazed!
Prayer needs to be specific. So many of our prayers are so vague that we wouldn’t really know whether God had answered them or not. Ask God to give you the names of a couple of people whose salvation you want to pray for, or to show you specifically what your corps or church really needs. Keep a little book; write in one column the date when you began to pray and in another the dates when you began to see answers. It’ll strengthen your faith more than you can imagine.
So get praying. Life will still hold challenges and difficulties. Prayer will still be a mystery. But God will be real, you will be able to know him better, your Christian service will be more effective, and your world will surely be transformed.