Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Does Prayer Work?

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:16

I had been out of town all week and had not seen my precious granddaughters in a long while. My wife was planning a big dinner for Monday night to get us all together and I discovered that it was my night to cover the clinic for the uninsured. I really wanted to be home with my family. On the way to work I thought out loud, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they cancelled my clinic tonight.”

About 11:00 that morning I received a call from the clinic letting me know that for some unusual reason no patients had signed up that night, so they were cancelling the clinic. “All right! Thank you, Lord!”

On the way to my car that evening I stumbled across the thought, ”Did God cancel that clinic because I wanted him to?” I winced at the possibility. That’s far more responsibility than I want.

Wouldn’t it be great if God answered all our wishes, especially the ones that were really, really important? It was great to be at home with my granddaughters that night, but do I really want a God who pops up like a genie to grant my requests? I can only imagine the ripple effect that my wish produced on those patients not coming to clinic. Only God knows and I do not want that responsibility.

What does this wish-granting dynamic tell me about prayer---about begging God to give me what I want for me or those I love? What if I pray for something, and God grants it and that messes up His plan for someone else? I can’t have a sunny day for my church picnic and our local farmer get the rain he needs at the same time. Only God can sort this out, so perhaps I should just shut up and let God do what he wants without my input.

But Jesus prayed; Jesus prayed to the God of the Universe, not to a genie in the bottle. And Jesus tells us to pray.

Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6: 9-13. And we know the prayers of David in Psalm 51: 7-12, Psalm 23, Psalms 100, Ps 139, the prayers in James 5 and the prayer of Isaiah 6:1-8. And we know from the Bible that it is right to cry out from the depths of our hearts with our greatest desires, even if we don’t know how they fit into God’s plan---Jesus did in the Garden. We just need to offer those prayers in the same way Jesus did in Luke 22:42. I can’t go wrong if I pray these prayers. Why not take seven days this week and pray each of them, and two on Sunday? If I use these prayers as my model, I need not worry about messing up God’s best plan and I am more likely to recognize my place within it.

Dear God,

I ask for what my heart cries out; but please, please let your will be done.


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