Having long worshiped in churches where prayer is preached as a means of healing and attainment, both for oneself and others, I’ve struggled to understand how it works. Do my fervent pleas change God’s mind, as did Moses’?
God was so angry with the Hebrew people that he was about the destroy them. Moses prayed, and “The Lord changed his mind,” Exodus 32:14 says (NASB).
Hannah couldn’t have children. “In her deep anguish,” scripture says in the book of I Samuel, Hannah prayed to the Lord and asked for a son. A priest blessed her, and Hannah got what she asked for.
Jesus not only healed people but brought them back to life. More than that, he told his followers that “anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works,” John 14:12 (NLV).
In scripture, God repeatedly invites those who love him to bring our requests to him, promising to meet our needs. Yet I frequently act as if prayer doesn’t matter. When I’m tired or busy, prayer is often the first thing to go. Worse, when I don’t see a quick answer, it makes me doubt. Is God even listening?
Recently, while sorting through my mom’s papers, I found a paraphrased quote attributed to the mid-twentieth century British evangelist and faith healer Smith Wigglesworth. “If we have prayed six times about one thing,” he said, “then we have prayed five times in unbelief.”
Having five kids at home, I know that if they repeatedly ask me the same question, it gets pretty annoying. So how should we pray? I’m not naive enough to believe that God grants everything we ask. But instead of repeatedly asking for the same thing, I’ve begun thanking him.
“Thank you God for providing for our oldest son’s needs as he graduates from high school. Thank you that you are carrying out your plan and purpose for my work and life. Thank you for touching those I love who are sick. ”
I’m not telling God how to do these things. I’m not throwing it out to the universe as some sort of cosmic wish espoused in some popular self-help books. I’m simply asking—once—in faith that God will meet my needs, and then I’m thanking him—not because of me but because of his great love, grace, and compassion.
Last year, when my mom was battling cancer, God gave me a beautiful picture of how this works. In this image my mom lay sick on a hospital bed. Christ appeared and lay back, entering her body. As he did, she rose up through him. This is the exchange God offers through salvation. He died in our place so we could have eternal life. But it is also his promise to us here-and-now.
When I pray, God promises to enter into my situation. No matter how bleak, how desperate, or how unlikely my condition, prayer changes things. Is it no wonder it’s so hard to keep on in prayer? If there’s anything God’s supernatural enemy doesn’t want, it’s this all-powerful presence working in my life.