Purpose and Power of Prayer
I am often asked by people, “Why do you pray?” It does seem odd to some, to see people who by all appearances are rational, clear thinking productive members of society, bow their head and close their eyes and begin to open their mouths speaking, praising and petitioning God at times with loud cries and heavy tears. In fact, I wonder what someone would think if they were to stumble into Evergreen Baptist on a Tuesday evening and see the happenings of our prayer meeting. Would they stick around to hear the hushed prayers regarding specific burdens or listen to loud affirmations when one offers a prayer of thanksgiving and praise for what God has done in their life. They might not stay at all, but instead turn and walk out and think to themselves “These people are a bunch of weirdos”.
Prayer is strange to the naturalistic mind. To the one that dismisses the supernatural or the spiritual, prayer seems not only a waste of time but one of the highest expressions of foolishness. However, because prayer is so counter-intuitive to our natural way of thinking, therein lies its power.
Our natural disposition is action. As Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once remarked “we are all such activists”. It’s true, we can hardly sit still anymore, and we are so anxious about the mountains in our life that we must climb, obstacles in our way that we must overcome. Or at least we think we can overcome them.
One of the purposes of prayer is to remind us of the reality of Christ’s own words in John 15:5 “apart from me you can do nothing.” Our own perceived strength is just that, a product of our own perception. If we were all honest with ourselves, we would all have to agree with Jesus’ assessment of our condition; we are in fact very weak people. Yet when we settle ourselves to pray, we first acknowledge our weakness. Prayer is a humbling endeavor, which I believe is the reason so many have difficulty in prayer or deem it as unimportant. Not only do we acknowledge our weakness, but we recognize that there is One who is greater than we are. When we pray and the utterances of our heart come forth, the one who is listening is God.
The act of prayer by its very definition is extremely relational. I pray because it authenticates my relationship with God. Additionally it establishes the reality that Christians commune with God on a deep and profound level. This relational experience is why not only Jesus focused intensely on prayer in his teachings, but also modeled it for his disciples. There was a connectivity to the Father that Christ had in prayer that must have been extraordinary to witness, hence his disciples asking Jesus, not for him to teach them how to do miracles but “Lord, teach us to pray…”(Luke 11:1).
Prayer is also tremendously powerful. Now there are some who scoff at that statement, however the Biblical testimony and one that is shared by a great bulk of Christians is that prayer works. Just a surface reading of the book of Acts, you begin to notice how often Christians prayed corporately and how extraordinarily their prayers were answered. James 5:16 says “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Working to do what? Well as Tertullian, the early Church Father commenting on prayer once said, “to strengthen the weak, restore the sick, to cleanse the possessed, to open the doors of prison, to loosen the chains of the innocent.”
Even in my own experience, I have seen the power of prayer: A man who had a desperate heart condition, suddenly receiving a clean bill of health. A grandmother who had terminal bone cancer and whose doctors had only given weeks to live, go on to live almost two decades after her doctor’s prognosis. There have been loved ones who had been running from God and their families, coming back to be restored and to find reconciliation. All this and many more, all due to the power of prayer.
To the question that was asked, I pray because I need to. I pray because I love God and I want to be in relationship with Him. I pray because I need supernatural power in my life. Lastly, as C.S. Lewis penned, “I pray because it changes me.”