Does It Actually Work?

Can we be sure our prayers are heard when things don’t go our way?

We live in a results-driven world. Most endeavors we entertain are weighed with the benefits in mind as opposed to the costs. Is the weight I’ll lose worth the pain and time of that workout program? Is the deliciousness of that cookie worth the extra calories? Will that TV really give me five hundred dollars-worth of happiness? In every choice we make, it seems we expect a tangible return. Perhaps it’s our consumer-driven culture, human nature, or some combination thereof, but when we make an intentional choice to do something, we expect it to work out as we hope, and if it does not, we are disappointed and often angry.

So how does prayer fit in?

This week, I had to go in for a physical. I was not nervous, per se, but as I rode the elevator up to the doctor’s office, I had some concerns creep into the back of my mind. Family histories of health issues I didn’t realize I even remembered whispered in my subconscious. I thought about my poor eating habits and lack of exercise. Could my heart be going bad? What if I had cancer? What would happen to my children? I had to be there for them.

As I often do when I’m worried, I prayed. I asked for God’s protection from all infirmities, and if I did have some illness, I asked for the strength to combat it. After my blood pressure and pulse were taken and my blood was drawn, the nurse informed me I would have an EKG.

“I knew it!” I thought. “My heart must be bad.”

So, when the doctor saw me and asked if I exercised a lot, I confessed. I told her it had been difficult since my second child was born and that I hardly exercised anymore, aside from chasing my two-year-old around. She snorted in surprise, and I soon learned the reason she had asked had to do with my good, low resting heart rate, not some sign of catastrophe. The exam continued and every conceivable issue I could imagine seemed to be assuaged. My doctor even felt my thyroid, and before I could mention my mother’s thyroid disease, my doctor told me it felt normal. I left the exam without a sign of illness.

Using the scale with which we weigh our other choices, I could say that my prayer worked, that God heard my cry for protection and that He listened and kept me free from harm. That might be true, or He might have kept me healthy regardless of my prayer. Either way, I’m thankful and give Him praise for a clean bill of health.

But, it got me thinking. What if we did weigh our prayer life as we did other parts of our life. As humans, we never seem to be satisfied. Our brand new car eventually becomes our old car, and we want an upgrade. The same might go for our house or apartment, or our clothes, or our jewelry, or any number of things we think fulfill our every heart’s desire. If that was how we approached prayer, then wouldn’t God be nothing but a wish-granting genie? With each wish He granted, wouldn’t we just up the ante until our requests became nearly impossible? And what happens when our wishes aren’t granted? Does that mean we would look at God as cheaply as we look at an old shirt or broken down car, used-up and in need of replacement?

Fortunately, God is much greater than a fulfiller of wishes, and prayer is meant to be much more than a laundry list of requests. In Luke 11:2-4, Jesus is asked how to pray. He replies,

“When you pray, say: Father,[a] hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.[b]
    Give us each day our daily bread.[c]
    And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”[d]

Nowhere does Jesus mention when and how to submit our wish list. That is because, when we lower our communication with God in this way, we objectify Him as a provider of gratification rather than as a beloved and loving father. Our prayer life should be more than going to God when we want or need something. Prayer is our means of developing a relationship with Our Creator, and while there is no tangible evidence to prove that it is working, as in our wildest dreams coming true, it provides a greater benefit than anything else we can hope for. We become vehicles of His will being realized in our lives, and as not only our Creator but also a loving Father, He knows far better than we do all the things that will give us a rewarding, joyful life.

When we pray, let’s remember the prayer Jesus taught, and let’s put our relationship with God and our concern for others above our wishes for ourselves. In doing so, prayer will not only work, but it will work in ways we never imagined.

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