The Power of Prayer
Do you have a two-bit prayer life?
In James 4:2 we find these words: "You do not have, because you do not ask." Let me ask you a question: If you were to stop praying, would it radically affect your life? Or is that question one that you can't answer because it's like that old trick question: "Have you stopped beating your wife?" In other words, is it possible that you are one of those Christians who couldn't stop praying because you have never really started?
On the other hand, are you one of those Christians who pray regularly out of a sense of habit or a sense of duty — but who doubts seriously the power of prayer because you have never sensed its effect in your life?
Again, I ask: If you were to stop praying, would it radically affect your life?
Perhaps you are one of those Christians who would really like to pray, but you have fallen victim to the modern, "sophisticated" concept that prayer is merely a psychological exercise in self-help — and therefore you are turned off by the concept of participating in a sham — by, in effect, praying to yourself.
An Age of Unbelief
There is no doubt that we live in an age that does not believe in prayer. The great tragedy is that Christians have become caught up in the philosophy of our age, a philosophy that enthroned Science as god. We are taught on every side that we live in an impersonal universe, a world that is a great, remorseless machine, obeying relentless laws. And in the midst of it all, we tiny humans are nothing but transient pygmies.
The result is that we have a hollow god — a god that has no heart, no compassion, for Science cannot feel or laugh or show mercy. Science can only analyze, measure, dissect, weigh and speculate. And so we feel a sense of meaninglessness; a loss of significance; an erosion of hope; a lack of power.
Oh, many of us who call ourselves Christians go through the motions of prayer. But our prayers are often infrequent and vague and faithless. Most of us pray prayers that a stone god could answer:
"Father, we pray for all those who it is our duty to pray for."
"Father, forgive us of all our unforgiven sins."
Our prayers tend to be empty, meaningless rituals. We are like the king in Shakespeare's Hamlet who tried to pray for the forgiveness of his sin of murder in order to purge his feeling of guilt. His prayer was ineffective. As he put it, "It didn't even reach the ceiling."
When the king analyzed his problem, Shakespeare put words of wisdom in his mouth that are as profound as any that mere Man has ever written about prayer: "My words fly up; my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to Heaven go."
Like this king, we are often guilty of praying without meaning. Consider, for example, the songs which we sing as prayers, but which we do not mean at all. In fact, we would be appalled if the Lord answered them. A good example is to be found in the popular prayer song, "Take My Life And Let It Be":
"Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite will I withhold;
Take my intellect and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose."
Even when we occasionally pray honestly, earnestly, and specifically for something, most of us pray with little or no expectation of fulfillment. The proof of this is that when our prayers are answered, we either react with astonishment, or else we react with crass unbelief, attributing the answer to some natural cause or process — like luck.
In this regard we are like the little boy playing on the roof of his house. He loses his balance and starts sliding off. As he approaches the edge of the roof, he cries out, "Help me, Lord!" A moment later his pants catch on a nail and he is saved from falling. He looks up and says, "Never mind, Lord!"
An Impotent God
There is a very special problem with prayer that exists throughout Christendom. Many Christians have been taught at one time or another that although God once worked wondrously, directly, and even miraculously in response to prayer to order the events of Man, He no longer does so. God is different now, for at the end of the First Century He placed the universe under the operation of certain immutable laws of nature, and therefore miracles are no longer possible. The age of the supernatural has passed forever. God is now limited in what He can do.
I know this attitude well because I grew up with it and because I still encounter it all the time. In my boyhood church, if the elders were asked to pray for a person who was ill, they always prayed, "Lord, please help the doctors to diagnose this problem correctly and, please help them to remember how to treat it properly." If they had prayed, "Lord, we are concerned about this person, please heal him," there would have been several coronaries in the congregation because the word "heal" had been used. We just didn't believe in supernatural healing.
A few years ago I announced on the radio that I was taking a group to Israel. I asked the listeners to pray for our safety. In response, I received a letter from a lawyer in Louisville, Kentucky, who wrote: "Since I have been raised in the same church you were, you will understand that while I wish you well on your journey, and a safe return to your home, I cannot offer prayers to God for that purpose as I do not believe God intervenes in human affairs now." He ended the letter with this observation: "Man is man, and God is God, and the two hardly ever meet."
What rank heresy all this is! I can think of few concepts more unbiblical. How can you believe in a God who retired in the First Century when the Word says that He is "the same yesterday and today, yes and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
It is no wonder that the prayers of so many Christians lack power! Like the Deists of old, they have, in effect, denied that God still has any personal, intimate interest in His creation. They deny the supernatural and the miraculous — and many even deny the reality of the Holy Spirit as the supernatural presence of God in the world today.
In the process, they deny the power of prayer, for I ask you: Why pray if God is aloof, the supernatural is a sham, the age of miracles has ceased, and the Holy Spirit is nothing but a symbol of God?
My friends, we need to wake up to the biblical fact that God is still the same today as in biblical times. He has not changed. In Malachi 3:6 He says, "I, the Lord, do not change."
We need to wake up to the fact that God's power is not limited. And we need to believe the fact that God is still intensely interested in every minute detail of His creation. Also, we need to understand that God is still in control of history. In short, God is still on the throne, He still hears prayers, and He still performs miracles.
What nonsense it is when Christians deny the supernatural and the possibility of miracles and then bow their heads and pray! I say to you, if the age of miracles has ceased, then prayer is a farce. For how can God even hear us in prayer if something miraculous does not occur? After all, you and I are not radio transmitters!
The power of God is limitless, yet you and I, as weak and frail and silly as we are, have the power to limit the action of God in our own lives through our unbelief. We have not because we ask not, and when we ask, we do not ask in faith.
The Example of Jesus
In Luke 11:1 we are told that the disciples of Jesus asked Him to teach them how to pray. Have you ever stopped to think about the significance of that request?
We have no record of the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to teach or preach or interpret the Scriptures. But they came to Him and said, "Lord, teach us how to pray." Why?
I believe it was because they had concluded in their observations of Jesus that His remarkable power was related to His prayer life. I think they saw that for Jesus, prayer was a necessity. It was more than an occasional practice on His part, it was a lifelong habit.
It was, in fact, an attitude of His mind and heart. It was an atmosphere in which He lived. He literally "prayed without ceasing" — as the Apostle Paul urged us to do (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Jesus prayed as He healed the sick. He prayed as He fed the hungry. He prayed as he raised the dead. He prayed for His disciples. He prayed for Himself. And He prayed for us — for you and me — at the last supper when He prayed that all those who might believe on Him would be one.
The life of the greatest man who ever lived was a life of prayer. He prayed because He believed what He preached when He said, "The Son can do nothing of Himself" (John 5:19). He also said, "The Father abiding in Me does His works" (John 14:10). Jesus had a conscious and constant sense of need, and out of that sense there arose a continuing attitude of prayer.
How different are our attitudes in contrast! Our problem is that we have such an unexplainable attitude of self-sufficiency. Thus, we tend to think of prayer as an emergency measure, something to resort to when all our own efforts have failed.
But, you see, the secret of the life of Jesus is that He never once thought of managing things on His own. He never said to Himself, "I'll just rely on my training, my experience, my knowledge, or the natural ability I was born with." No — He said, "By Myself I can do nothing!"
That attitude should give us a clue as to why so many of us have a two-bit prayer life. Think back for a moment to the time you came to Christ. Think how you did it. If you did it with any sincerity and conviction at all, you had to do so with the attitude of a little child. It had to be a moment of humiliation in which you set all your pride aside — all your leverage, all your affluence, and all your influence. You could only come in the humility of a child.
And that is the "stigma" of prayer. For you see, anytime you pray to God in honesty and sincerity, you are admitting your need of Him. You are admitting that you can't handle the situation. You are confessing that you do not have adequate leverage to cope with the problem. And we don't like to do that because it hurts our foolish pride.
One other thing that we can learn from the prayer life of Jesus is that He considered all of life worth praying about. He didn't save prayer for just the "big" problems of life — for the emergencies. And like Jesus, you and I need to apply prayer to all aspects of our lives:
- To the phone call we're making
- To the letter we're writing
- To the vacation we're about to take
- To the school report we're preparing
- To the game we're going to play
- Yes, even to the room we are cleaning
Carl Sandburg summed it up beautifully in his poem, "Washerwoman":
"The washerwoman is a member of the Salvation Army.
And over the tub of suds rubbing underwear clean
She sings that Jesus will wash her sins away
And the red wrongs she has done God and man
Shall be white as driven snow.
Rubbing underwear she sings of the Last Great Washday."
Do you have a two-bit prayer life? If so, what is your excuse? Reach out in faith, and start praying about everything. Your soul will be enriched, and your life will be radically changed.
"The Serenity Prayer"
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference;
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time,
Enjoying hardship as a pathway to peace;
Taking as He did, the sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His will,
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
— A Prayer by Reinhold Niebahr
"A Preacher's Prayer"
Bob Russell, former pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, has the following prayer written on the flyleaf of his Bible:
"Before I break the bread of life, Lord, break me! Wash from my heart and lip the iniquity there. I want to preach, yea, hemorrhage under the divine anointing. God, strip me of all pride, all cleverness, all showmanship...
Let Christ be exalted, the Cross be central, and the Plea be with passion. May my eyes never be dry. Just now, Lord, take me out of myself, usurp anything I've planned to say when it's in the way of Your message. Here I am, Lord. I'm your vessel! Amen."
"A Homemaker's Prayer"
"Lord, thank you for this sink of dirty dishes; we have plenty of food to eat. Thank you for this pile of dirty, stinky laundry; we have plenty of nice clothes to wear. And I would like to thank you, Lord, for those unmade beds; they were so warm and comfortable last night. My thanks to you, Lord, for this bathroom, complete with all the splattered mirrors, soggy and grimy towels, and dirty lavatory. They are so convenient. Thank you for this finger-smudged refrigerator that needs cleaning. It has served us faithfully for many years. It is full of cold drinks and enough leftovers for two or three meals. Thank you, Lord, for this oven that absolutely must be cleaned today. It has baked so many good things over the years. Lord, the presence of all these chores awaiting me says You have richly blessed my family. I shall do them cheerfully, and I shall do them gratefully. Amen." (Author unknown.)
— Contributed by Jane Kasel, Moorpark, California
A Boy's Prayer
Last week I took my children to a restaurant. My six-year-old son asked if he could say grace. As we bowed our heads, he said:
God is great and God is good. Let us thank Him for the food. And I would even thank You more if mom gets us ice cream for dessert. And liberty and justice for all! Amen.
Along with the laughter from nearby customers, I heard a woman remark, "That's what's wrong with this country. Kids today don't even know how to pray. Asking God for ice cream — why, I never!"
Hearing this, my son burst into tears and asked me, "Dad, did I do wrong? Is God mad at me?"
As I held him and assured him that God was certainly not mad at him, an elderly gentleman approached the table. He winked at my son and said, "I happen to know that God thought that was a great prayer."
"Really?" my son asked.
"Cross my heart," replied the man.
Then, with a gesture indicating the woman who started this whole thing, he whispered, "Too bad she never asks God for ice cream. A little ice cream is good for the soul sometimes."
Naturally, I bought my kids ice cream at the end of the meal. My son stared at his for a moment and then did something I will remember the rest of my life. He picked up his sundae and, without a word, walked over and placed it in front of the woman. With a big smile he told her, "Here, this is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul, and my soul is good already."
— Contributed by Wayne Gaylord of Forney, Texas
- Your thumb is nearest to you, so begin your prayers by praying for those closest to you. They are the easiest ones to remember. To pray for our loved ones is, as C.S. Lewis once said, a "sweet duty."
- The next finger is the pointing finger. Pray for those who teach, instruct and heal. This includes teachers, doctors, and ministers. They need support and wisdom for pointing others in the right direction.
- The next finger is the tallest finger. It reminds us of our leaders. Pray for the President, leaders in business and industry, and administrators. These people shape our nation and guide public opinion. They need God's guidance.
- The fourth finger is the ring finger. Surprising to many is the fact that this is our weakest finger, as any piano teacher will testify. It should remind us to pray for those who are weak, in trouble or pain. They need our prayers day and night.
- And, lastly, comes our little finger; the smallest finger. This is where we should place ourselves in relation to God and others. Your pinkie should remind you to pray for yourself. By the time you have prayed for the other four groups, your own needs will be put into proper perspective, and you will be able to pray for yourself more effectively.
— Contributed by Dr. Thomas Webb of Macon, Georgia
A Profound Insight about Prayer
Legend has it that this commentary about prayer was found on the body of a Confederate Soldier. Regardless of its origin, it is a thought-provoking insight.
"I asked for strength — that I might achieve.
He made me weak — that I might obey.
I asked for health — that I might do great things.
He gave me grace — that I might do better things.
I asked for riches — that I might be happy.
He gave me poverty — that I might be wise.
I asked for power — that I might have the praise of men.
He gave me weakness — that I might feel the need of Him.
I asked for all things — that I might enjoy life.
He gave me life — that I might enjoy all things.
I received nothing that I asked for;
But all that I hoped for.
My prayers were answered."
A Prayer for Our Nation
The following prayer was written by Bob Russell, pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He delivered it at a Governor's prayer breakfast in Frankfort, Kentucky. The prayer was modified by Joe Wright, pastor of Central Christian Church in Wichita, Kansas, and then delivered to the Kansas State Legislature. Some Democrats in the Kansas Legislature strongly objected to the prayer, and their objections brought it to the attention of the press and the American people. Paul Harvey read it twice and received the largest response in the history of his radio program. It is printed here in its modified form.
"Heavenly Father, we come before You today to ask Your forgiveness and seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, "Woe to those who call evil good," but that's exactly what we've done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values.
We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it moral pluralism.
We have worshiped other gods and called it multi-culturalism.
We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building esteem.
We have abused power and called it political savvy.
We have coveted our neighbors' possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
Search us, O God, and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.
Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas and who have been ordained by You to govern this great state. Grant them Your wisdom to rule, and may their decisions direct us to the center of Your will.
I ask this in the name of Your Son, the living Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen."