The phrase has become so commonplace that it may come across as meaningless. We hear it when loved ones die, challenges arise, or when tragedy strikes. And out it stumbles: “I’ll pray for you.” Often when I say that, I want to do more. I’m a fixer and want to remove the pain, struggle, or situation – immediately. But although prayer may seem like a passive response, I have learned the hard way that it is often the only response that results in positive change.
According to Traders Point Pastor Aaron Brockett in his sermon, When You Don’t Know Where to Start, on October 23, 2016, “Sometimes God answers prayer by changing my circumstances. But most of the time, God answers prayer by changing me.” Just ask Job, Paul, or the many other Bible characters who lived through tumultuous circumstances that did not change. But in the process of crying out to God, these individuals grew in their relationships with Him and eventually trusted in God’s power, not their own. Some, like Job, experienced redemption, but others did not. Moses never made it to the Promised Land. Paul didn’t have his thorn removed. Even Jesus prayed before his arrest and crucifixion, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” We all know how that prayer ended.
I believe that the reason many people feel that prayer is an inadequate response is that they don’t understand the power or purpose of it. I didn’t. Growing up, I had memorized many prayers and would repeat them diligently each Sunday morning. When my life hit lows, my prayer life would reach highs. My requests would usually be desperate pleas for relief or removal of the challenge before me. Often I felt like my prayers fell on deaf ears. Where was the God that I prayed to each week? Why was He ignoring this situation? What was taking so long? My questions often went unanswered.
Looking back, I realize now that I had the prayer thing all wrong. This became crystal clear to me through Aaron’s words: “Prayer was never meant to be a transaction but a conversation,” he said. “And there’s a big, big difference between those two.” He shared an example of placing an order with the drive-through window attendant versus having a cup of coffee with a friend. At the drive-through, you want something, you request it, and you expect it to be fulfilled in exactly the way you ordered it. “It’s one-and-done.” A conversation with a friend is totally different, “It’s two-way and it’s continual, it’s persistent. … And Jesus is simply saying, ‘Listen, I don’t want you to treat prayer like a transaction; it’s a conversation,’” Aaron said.
Does prayer work? Yes, God does indeed answer prayers – just not always in the way we expect or may accept at the time. Personally, prayer has dramatically changed me and sometimes changed circumstances, mine and those of loved ones. But don’t trust me, ask best-selling author Stormie Omartian who has sold more than 28 million books in her The Power of Praying series. She grew up in an abusive home and spent much of her childhood years locked in a closet. Over her 40+ years of writing, she has shared stories of the power prayer has had in her own life and in the lives of thousands of others she has encountered while writing more than 50 books. “Once I realized that my job was to pray, and it was God’s work to answer, I felt more at ease,” she said, “It wasn’t all up to me. It was up to God. All I had to do was have faith that God answers prayer.” And having faith in someone requires a relationship.
What are you praying for today? Maybe the situation that you pray will change is exactly the circumstance that will help you change – and, in the process, grow closer to God.
“God wants to do something in me, not something for me.” ~Aaron Brockett