The one when Prayer doesn’t work

Have you ever wondered if prayer actually works?

You pray and pray and see no fruit, no results. You’re still sick, you still don’t have a job, your child still isn’t married, you’re still single, still infertile, your friend still died…

You pray and pray and pray. You keep a prayer journal. You try striking deals. You fast. You beg, you cry, you are earnest.

Nothing.

Does it matter? I mean this world is full of trouble everywhere. And it seems to be getting worse.

Perhaps God is angry with us. Maybe He is too busy with other things to worry about my meager needs. Or maybe I am not doing enough, not praying hard enough, long enough.

Or maybe, maybe prayer just doesn’t work.

 

That may be right. Maybe prayer doesn’t work. I prayed for my sister to get better, and she still died from cancer. I pray for support to come in, and we still need a lot more. We pray for Josiah’s allergies, and he still can’t eat anything. We’ve been praying about health issues and it seems like God can’t do anything about it- the only solution is more drugs. We pray for laborers, and we get a few people, but not many. We pray for people to come to Christ, but only a few believe. Does prayer work?

Look at story of Elijah.

23 Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. 24 And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.”26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention (I Kings 18:23-29).

They pray, they plead, they cut themselves. And nothing happens.

Still like this today. In Tibet they spin wheels- big wheels, and small wheels in efforts to pray, to earn favor. They bow and prostrate themselves in effort to beg & plead.

Some places people dance, and scream and make huge gestures towards the sky.

And in corners of rooms, in churches across America- people offer penance.

Some think by their many words they will be heard- if they make it glamerous, say the right phrase- prayers will be answered.

Prayer doesn’t work.

IT is not our efforts, not our words that change things.
In fact is not even our sincerity and good intentions. It is God who changes things. It is God who works.
Prayer is a tool. God is the one who works.

I use a phone to talk to someone. But it is not the phone I connect with, it is the person on the other side. The walkie talkie allows me to communicate to my commander to someone who can help me. But it is not the walkie talkie that saved me- it is the person on the other side who delivers.
We are thankful for phones & walkie talkies, but careful not to love it.

The important thing is who we pray to. Not what we pray about or how we pray.
Prayer doesn’t work. God does. Perhaps it seems like semantics, but I think it can have tremendous impact on our heart, our faith, and on the world.

If we are praying to a false god, or praying to a god we make up, or to/for ourselves- nothing will happen. It is not about our intentions or sincerity. It is not our effort in prayer. It is about God.

God is not a genie who must act according to our whims. He is free. He is sovereign.
So prayer is not a magic formula or incantation. It’s not like we have to pray first or our meeting/planning is not blessed. Perhaps we can & should pray- but we still need to rely on God, not ourselves, not our prayers. Let us rely not on prayer, but on God.
Since it is God who works, then we can not and do not need to rely on our efforts in prayer, but simply plead with God. I don’t need to fear if I am too sinful, or not praying right. I don’t need to work harder in prayer.

When we pray then – we beg; we plead. God is the one who works. We communicate with Him as with a person. And we wait on Him.

Yet, since it is God who works- we can have confidence.

God knows what He is doing.
God is wise.
God is powerful
God has a plan.
God is faithful.

We pray trusting God. Trusting He will do what is best. Trusting He can do something about a problem. God will work all things for good, for His purposes, for His glory.

 

And so when we ask something and it doesn’t happen- what do we do?

  1. We thank God for His wisdom and goodness
  2. We seek to know God, seek His glory.
  3. We ask for understanding and direction.
  4. We keep praying, until we can’t anymore

 

Elijah prayed- and God answered

James tells us He prayed and it did not rain, he prayed again and it did.

Who was Elijah?
Bible describes him as Elijah the tishbite.
Not Elijah the prophet, the great man, the holy man, the spiritual giant.
Elijah was a man like us.
And the effective prayer of a rightesous man availeth much.
God works thru prayer.
He has designed us to pray

  • To show His faithfulness, power, glory
  • To build dependence on Him
  • To build our relationship with Him

And because of Jesus, we can come into His presence.

See,  in some ways it makes sense all the things the Baal worshippers did, that the Tibetans do now. I mean, how can we come into the presence of an Almighty God? How can we ask God to intervene?

Jesus paid the price with His blood, so we can enter His presence. Jesus intercedes on our behalf. And the Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray now.

What should our response be?

To pray

… even when we doubt or unsure
… even if we don’t know how
… even if we have prayed a long time already

We pray to a God

… who is all-powerful
… who exists outside of time
… who is sovereign over everything
… who hears our prayers
… who delights in us
… who is faithful
… who is good and loves us

Let’s Pray for

… for forgiveness
… for healing and help
… for laborers
… for God’s glory
… for God’s will|
… for the miraculous

  • Not just what we have seen
  • Not just for what we can do ourselves
  • Not just what we think possible
  • Not just what we can imagine

Pray for God to move & God to act.

This world needs help. I need help. You need help. God can help, so let’s pray, and ask him to work!

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