Many Christians believe in the value of prayer but not so much the effectiveness of prayer. We think it’s good to do, and good for us, but that it doesn’t make much of a difference to the future (since “God will do what he wants anyway”). And so we don’t pray.
But is that right? What if we’re getting it wrong? What if the Bible told us that prayer really was effective?
Now I firmly believe in the sovereignty of God as taught by the Bible. God “works out everything in conformity to the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:11). Yet I also believe in the effectiveness of prayer. Listen to these verses from Paul (who most definitely taught God’s sovereignty!):
“He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” (2 Cor 1:10-11. my italics)
“I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” (Phil 1:19 my italics)
In these verses Paul sees a clear connection between prayer and his deliverance. Prayer is effective and he invites his readers to continue praying for him. Prayer is a fundamental part of his gospel strategy.
In the following verses he talks about prayer with the clear intention that it would influence the future:
“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Eph 6:19-20)
“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives…” (Col 1:9)
“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” (Col 1:12)
These are not the prayers of people who are trying to “get in the right frame of mind” or “be spiritual” or anything like that. They are concerned with the future and are praying for a particular kind of future – with mission, deliverance, maturity etc in view. Many more examples could be added from Paul and other authors (see Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8, for example).
This means that we also need to believe that prayer is effective. God is in control most definitely, but at the same time our prayers are effective (even if we might not be quite sure how those two ideas coexist). We have permission, freedom and encouragement from God to pray to him and bring our prayerful influence to bear on the future.
So pray about the things that are on your mind. Pray for the future that you want (although obviously not for ungodly selfishness). Bring your list of requests. God is not an ATM but he is a God who wants us to come to him frequently with every good prayer and every worry and anxiety.
So pray about your friends, your spouse, your kids, our pastors, our ministries, our mission partners, our health and on the list goes… (I’ll write about prayer systems and diaries in the future). If you’re fearful of unanswered prayer, pray that God will help you see the good in any future scenario that doesn’t fit exactly with what you were praying for. But don’t let this fear prevent you from praying.
Prayer is effective, and I think conviction on this point will lead to more actually praying by Bible believing Christians.
(Note: My friend pointed out James 5:16 to me: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”. Quite true, and I had forgotten about it in my usual blog-writing haste. In context, this verse is about praying for the sick and it raises all sorts of questions for me. I haven’t deeply looked into it yet, so will not make any comments!)