Do we believe prayer works?
As Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, who have been taught to pray, and who often encourage each other to spend time in prayer, it seems like a strange question to ponder. Of course we believe prayer works. Would we spend so much time in prayer if we didn’t believe prayer works? Still, the question lingers, needing a response. Do we believe prayer works?
The question seems important because of our tendency to place stipulations on our prayers. It’s as if we need to make an excuse ahead of time just in case God chooses not to answer a request, so we make statements of why God may not work. Statements such as, faith is really important so we must believe before we ask. Or statements indicating we know God won’t work outside of the laws of science so we don’t even ask. Or the fail safe declaration of adding on to any prayer if it’s in God’s will. Obviously, all of these statements are true. God typically doesn’t work outside of science, and God will never answer a prayer if it falls outside of God’s will for our good, or the good of the world. Yet why do we feel the need to always stipulate our prayers. Is it because deep down inside we wonder if prayer really works?
Acts 12 presents a perfect example of our dilema. Acts 12 shares the story of Peter’s miraculous escape from prison. King Herod, grandson of Herod the Great, is the defacto leader of Israel for Rome, and he knows how to appease the power brokers to remain in a position of authority. Herod has recently beheaded James the brother of John, to the delight of the Jewish crowds, and now is determined to do the same to Peter. The early church is horrified. They’ve already lost one pillar of the church, they fear they are about to lose another. Thus they organize all night prayer vigils begging God for Peter’s deliverance.
On the night that Peter was sentenced to die, an angel arrives in the prison, awakens Peter from sleep, and encourages him to get ready. Peter had been chained to two guards, and there were other guards watching the doors, but it didn’t matter. The angel leads Peter safely past the guards, out the front gate, and into the city streets before departing once Peter is safe. Upon recognizing that he has indeed been rescued, Peter heads to the house where the church is praying for his deliverance. However, while the early church has been praying fervently for Peter’s release, they are so surprised when Peter arrives at the door that they assume it must be someone else. Peter can’t be free from prison, otherwise they wouldn’t be praying.
It’s interesting, the church has called an all night prayer meeting to ask God to save Peter, but it appears they have no expectation that God will actually answer the prayer. When Peter does show up at the door, their expectations for deliverance are so small, they are completely surprised that God actually answered their request. It raises the question, do they actually believe prayer works, or are they just praying because it’s something Christians are suppose to do?
Before we start criticizing the early church too much, we should probably ask ourselves the same question; do we actually believe prayer works? Do we believe when we pray that God has the power to act on our behalf for good? Do we believe that God is always working toward good, and that God will denounce evil, and denounce sin, and denounce the brokenness of the world? Perhaps an even more important question is, do we expect God to answer? Its one thing to know God has the power to respond and do anything, but do we actually expect God to use power to answer prayers? When we pray for healing, do we actually believe and expect God to heal? When we pray for marriages to be healed, do we expect and believe God will step in and change hearts and heal relationships? When we pray for justice, do we believe and expect God to be active in the world to bring about justice? When we pray for revival, do we expect God to answer?
This discussion is so much bigger than is our faith strong enough. We need to ask in faith, but this is bigger. This is a fundamental question about the purpose and power of prayer. Do we believe prayer works? Do we believe that God, at times, chooses to act because we have asked? Do we believe that our prayers make any type of difference? Do we believe that God is actually listening and God will respond?
I don’t know why God chooses to answer some prayers, and not others. God’s ways are always beyond our own. Still, we need to pray with boldness, not just believing God can act, but trusting that God will act. We should pray expecting God to respond, and not be surprised when God does. Because prayer works, just ask Peter.