Does Prayer Really Work?

From time to time in my role as a pastor, I am asked to reflect on the nature of prayer and how it works... or in some cases whether or not it works.  

I've come to accept that my attempts at answering those kinds of questions are not all that satisfying to anyone who is going through a difficult season, or who prayed fervently and nothing worked out the way they hoped. 

Full disclosure... there are times when I struggle with my own answers, too.  

The fact of the matter is that we all tend to go into moments of petitioning the Almighty with a great deal of hope that whatever we're praying for will turn out in our favor.  

And when it doesn't, it can create some cognitive dissonance that our head just has to resolve.  In other words, we have to make sense of it somehow when our prayers don't get answered the way we wanted them to be.  

I have stood with families by the hospital beds of their loved ones who were ill, praying for healing alongside them---healing that never came.  I have also been a witness to miraculous recoveries, positive outcomes in the face of insurmountable odds.  

Why does one family get what they want, and the other doesn't?  It's a question that theologians have wrestled with for centuries.  

I recently read something from Fr. Richard Rohr that gave me additional insight into the efficacy of prayer, how it works, and upon whom it works.  Let me share it: 

We ask not to change God but to change ourselves.  We pray to form a living relationship not to get things done.  Prayer is a symbiotic relationship with life and with God, a synergy that creates a result larger than the exchange itself. Prayer is not a way to control God, or even to get what we want.  God gives us power more than answers. 

In his wonderful book on prayer, Philip Yancey asserts that the person that is affected most by our prayers---even prayers for others---is the person who is praying.  To put a twist on the old chestnut about prayer... Prayer changes us.  

When we enter into our prayer life, we should do so with an expectation that prayer will draw us closer to God and God's ultimate purposes.  

We should enter into prayer with the knowledge that we will find the power we need to face life's challenges, and that we will discover new reservoirs of strength to overcome fear, sorrow, dread, or even tragedy.

And here's something else... 

When we invite people to pray with us or for us it doesn't mean that if we can just get more people praying will assure a more positive outcome---we all know from experience that it doesn't work that way.  God is not tallying the number of prayers to determine an outcome. 

But when people pray with us or for us, we are reminded that we are not alone in whatever we are facing.  They embody Christ's presence with us---standing in solidarity with us in our need. 

This is also important to realize as well...  When we pray for one another, we are tapping into the symbiotic power, the energy of the Spirit that flows in us, through us, and all around us, which means that when we pray for one another---we feel it.  

So as you pray today---for your own needs, the needs of others, and the needs of the world...  know that you are drawing closer to God and availing yourself of the Divine energy that connects you to God and to the world.  

May you pray with confidence, surrendering your outcomes, finding peace in the midst of your struggles, joy in the midst of your triumphs and hope in the knowledge that you are stronger than you know, and that you are not alone.  

May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  

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