October 2021 Connection

Does Prayer Work?

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” –  Philippians 4:6
 
Odds are good that you’ve heard my theology of prayer before, but in case you haven’t, I’ll give you the CliffsNotes version of it: Sometimes, we think about prayer as God’s newspaper. We let God know what is going on in our lives and in the world, and God chooses how to respond to the things we’ve made God aware of. The problem with this way of thinking about prayer is that it forgets that God is all knowing. In other words, God already knows the things we raise up in prayer long before we ever pray the words or think the thoughts. So, are we just wasting our breath with prayer? No! We’re not wasting our time or our breath. Rather, I believe that God uses prayer as a time for us to accomplish two things: (1) First, we
become more acutely aware of the needs of our neighbors and our world. Prayer forces us to come face to face with the celebrations and concerns of those around us. (2) Secondly, we become more intimately aware of what matters most to God, how God is responding in our world, and how God is (not “might be”) calling us to be God’s hands and feet in the world, responding to needs.
 
With that understanding of prayer, let’s ask the question again, “Does prayer work?” Our good Christian instincts might have us shouting, “YES!” but let’s think through why it is. In Philippians, we are encouraged to lift every petition, thanksgiving and request to God. We are to do this in all situations, even those that might cause us anxiety.
 
As I’m writing this, I’m only 22 hours removed from praying inside an ambulance as our one year old daughter, Jane, was being taken to the hospital following a 5 minute seizure during which this scared-half-to-death dad held her in my arms just hoping and praying that her breathing would continue. As we were rushed to the ER, I remember looking out the backdoor window, trying to determine how far away
we were, only able to pray the deep guttural prayers – the kind for which no words can be found. I firmly believe God heard my prayer, even though I wasn’t sure what I was praying, exactly. As I stood by her gurney in the ER bay, surrounded by doctors and nurses, I texted a quick prayer request to some clergy friends of mine who I was supposed to be with on retreat. For that whole afternoon, I received messages that they were praying for us. With only Stephanie, Jane, and I in the ER room waiting for test results, we felt an acute awareness that we weren’t alone in that moment. Not only was God’s Spirit present with us, but so were the spirits of all who were praying. As our prayer request made its way to the church prayer
chain, we immediately began feeling as though we were surrounded by our church family.
 
So, how did the wordless prayers of a frightened dad work? Or the prayers of a near breathless mom hurrying from her office to the ER? Or the prayers of friends and church families? How did they work? I believe that it was those prayers that helped to remind Stephanie and I that we weren’t alone in a scary moment. It was those prayers that allowed God to dispatch so many words of love, support, care, and concern from so many who love us. It was those prayers that bolstered the energy of doctors, nurses, techs, EMTs, and hospital staff, and reminded them of the sacred task of life and compassion to which they, too, are called. It was those prayers that made space for the hand of God to be laid upon a little girl who was scared and not feeling well.
 
But, What About When the Prayers Don’t Seem to Work?
Even as I write this, I’m sitting in the living room defending my keyboard from the alsdkjfskldfjskdjf energized fingers of the same little girl who is now feeling much better, and my heart is aching for those
parents whose experiences are not as reassuring, or medical emergencies without good outcomes. Did
prayer not work there? Did God simply not care enough? Did God forget to bolster the energy of the
doctors, or were the prayers of friends and churches just not effective? It can be tempted to think that,
can’t it? But notice that it was never about God interjecting in the situation to defend certain nerve-endings in Jane’s brain and not in other children. It was never about God’s preference for one child or another, or the sins of the parents visited upon the children. As much as it breaks my heart to say, there are times when the body does not work the way it is supposed to. Sometimes microscopic cells misbehave, and sometimes accidents occur because the laws of physics always remain constant. Sometimes the amazing accomplishments achieved though chemotherapy work, and sometimes it’s just not enough or in time.  These aren’t things I say lightly, but things we must acknowledge.
 
And so, when our hearts break in this world, we find comfort in God’s dispatch of those who have been
praying who now surround us in our grieving. We find comfort that the peace we’ve prayed for is still
possible, and that suffering is no longer endured.
 
It’s never that our prayers didn’t work! Prayer just doesn’t work that way! The joy of prayer is that we become more connected to one another and to God, and God becomes more connected to us! And when we are connected in that way, we can journey every storm…together.
 
Pastor Brian
 
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