Walking the Tightrope of Prayer: Prayer Works?!

As you may have read in my previous post, my baby was very sick last week. Friends and family have been praying for him—and us. On Friday he was very down and out, and a friend of mine gathered a few others and prayed for him again. Saturday morning he woke up and was nearly 100% well. I noted his progress on Facebook, saying I was thankful for the prayers on behalf of my son. I also thanked God for the miracle in my son’s body. Someone called me and said, “Praise God! Prayer works!” I agree with her, but maybe only to the first half of her remark.

Prayer . . . works?!

I bristle at the phrase, “prayer works.” My father, a pastor of 40 years and seminary professor, reminds me that there’s no biblical example of such a response/phrasing. And no wonder; it’s truly troublesome.

My vacuum cleaner “works” when I plug it in. If it isn’t working, I check the plug. If still doesn’t work, I fiddle with it until it does. Prayer isn’t like this. It isn’t an extension cord to heaven that powers up a “working” response from God. We don’t fiddle around with it until we figure out how make it work for us.

How would my friend whose daughter has cancer respond to someone saying “prayer works?” Or what about when our best friend Jonathan died of a brain tumor after years and years of fervent praying. Did prayer then, not “work?” Is God broken? Are my prayers broken?

Beneath my friend’s remark that “prayer works,” was the genuine intention to give glory to God. But again, I feel troubled. If I give glory to God when my son is healed, what do I do if my son isn’t healed? Does God get glory then? Does He . . . deserve it?

Giving Thanks to God in All Things

I am reminded of these Scriptures: “God is Spirit” (John4:24), “the Spirit gives life” (John 6:63, 2 Corinthians 2), “Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25),
“God is creator” (Isaiah 40;28), “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of light,” (James 1:17).

If there’s any life in our mortal bodies, it’s because God holds all life together. His very breath and word is life. If there’s any healing, it’s because all good gifts come from God. And so I can rest assured that I can give thanks to God for health, life, and all good gifts like the vitality of my son. And when someone dies, or someone is not healed, I can still give thanks for the life that was, the life that was given, and . . . the life that will be someday given back fully, completely, eternally.

I do believe that prayer “works” . . . it does a work in me. Praying is more about uniting our hearts to God’s and surrendering to His life in our life. I also believe that “The prayers of a righteous person avail much” (James 5:16)… but what is it actually “availing?” I also believe, like I noted earlier, that prayer moves God in some way, but I don’t really know the how and why. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. All I know is that I want to be careful with the assumptions within the language I choose use regarding prayer.

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