Does Prayer Actually Work?
Have you ever seen the movie Bruce Almighty? There is a scene in the film when Jim Carrey, playing God, is tasked with answering prayers in the form of emails. He ferociously types away, answering emails at an unbelievable rate, only to realize that no dent has been made in the overall email count. Instead he finds that the influx of prayer requests has now surpassed his starting number.
If the scene doesn’t ring a bell, check it out here!
The scene, while humorous, unfortunately serves only to perpetuate an erroneous view of prayer. This view feeds into the question I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves, “does prayer actually work”?
To answer that, let’s first discuss what prayer isn’t.
Quarters & Gumball Machines
A prayer isn’t a quarter – and God isn’t a gumball machine. In fact, if our prayers consist mostly of asking for things – then we’ve missed the whole point. Sadly, prayer has become mostly associated with the idea of asking and receiving. And while a major component of praying is in fact “petitioning” – it’s not the whole thing.
I talk to Bri pretty much all day. And if we’re not talking in person, we’re texting each other. We don’t talk out of obligation – we talk because we love each other. We talk because we have a relationship that was founded on honest, open, and constant communication.
Granted, there are times when we have to request things from one another. But our communication is always less about “asking”, and more about relationship.
Prayer functions the same way.
What Prayer ‘Really’ Is
Prayer is one of the means by which we facilitate a relationship with God. It is our opportunity to be honest, open, and vulnerable with Him.
Take for instance Psalms 36:16-17 (NLT):
16 They mock me and call me names;
they snarl at me.
17 How long, O Lord, will you look on and do nothing?
Rescue me from their fierce attacks.
Protect my life from these lions!
Not a particularly cheerful passage of scripture. In fact, the Psalmist seems to get a bit accusatory with God.
On the other hand, take a look at Psalms 16:11 (NLT):
11 You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
There is definitely a stark difference between both passages. But that’s prayer – it’s honest, and straightforward communication.
Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The key word here is boldly. We have the assurance that we can pray to God in a manner that is true to what we feel, and where we are.
This is a relationship, after-all. And any authentic relationship prides itself on openness and candor.
So Does it Work?
Does prayer actually work? Yes. Absolutely, yes.
Prayer works in the same fashion that authentic communication works for any relationship. Again, the overall goal in prayer is not to “ask for things”, it is to foster relationship with God Himself.
Thus, if genuine communication always serves to bolster the relationship we have with others – the same may be said of prayer.
So yes – it works.
The Better Question…
I think the better question to ask is whether or not God answers prayer.
I believe He does, but I also believe that prayer as a whole has a lot more to do with us than we think it does.
Some Final Thoughts
I’ve always wondered if the people who pull up next to me think I’m talking to myself while driving. Probably – but whatever.
Truth is, I love to pray out loud in the car. I’ll talk to the Lord about anything and everything.
I tell Him about how tired I am in the morning, but I make sure to thank Him for waking me up again and giving me another day of life.
On my way home, I tell Him about things that happened at work, and how I felt about them. I ask Him to keep me safe while I drive. I thank Him for blessing me with a beautiful son, and a wife that loves me. I talk to the Lord about how I sometimes feel distant from Him. I tell Him how our relationship feels like a seesaw occasionally.
Other times I’m overwhelmed with how good He is, and I can’t help but spend my entire time of prayer thanking Him repetitively.
The point is, it brings me great joy to know He’s here for all of it. He hears my happy prayers, and thankful ones, just as much as my sad prayers, and angry ones. He hears them all, because this is a relationship. And we can bank on the fact that God is here and available for us in both the valleys, and the mountaintops.
Ultimately, our prayer life ought to reflect a level of genuine openness between us and the Lord.
So I tell you what, I invite you to talk with God; ask for things, sure, but talk with Him – have a conversation, because like any father who loves their child dearly – He just wants to hear from us.