A reflection on the power of prayer (or its perceived lack of power)

September 15, 2016

I wrote the following for my church’s weekly email blast.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to listen to podcasts. And you won’t be surprised to know that I often listen to podcasts related to church and Christian theology.

In the past week, I’ve heard two podcasts about formerly prominent Christian clergy who’ve now lost their faith. [ed. note: here and here.] It breaks my heart. I can’t help but wonder if their training for ministry adequately prepared them for the acute spiritual warfare that accompanies a call to pastoral ministry.

I pray that the Lord will bring them back to their senses.

In both cases, these former pastors cited unanswered prayer as one important reason for their abandoning the faith. One of them wondered aloud, for instance, why God would fail to grant a prayer request for a dying child. If God won’t answer even that prayer, he asked, why would he answer any prayer? Unless, of course, there were no God.

Very smart Christians have offered good answers to these kinds of questions. And on my blog, I’ve tried to do so as well.

For whatever reason, however, unanswered prayer hasn’t been a big challenge for me. Even in instances of profound grief, which I’ve experienced firsthand, I have a sense that God is with those of us who are suffering and is working for our good—even when he doesn’t give us what we pray for.

In general, my experience with prayer agrees with William Temple, an Archbishop of Canterbury from the 20th century. He said, “When I pray, coincidences happen. When I don’t, they don’t.”

Besides, given what the Bible, including the red-letter words of Jesus, teaches about prayer, who am I to complain? I know I don’t pray often enough or with nearly enough persistence. I’m sure there are many prayers that God would answer for me if only I would pray them, or if only I wouldn’t give up on them so easily!

Here’s a frightening thought: How has my own ministry been hampered by a lack of faithfulness in prayer?

I shared this fear on my blog last week, and a friend helpfully cited Paul’s words from Philippians 3:13: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”

Amen!

I’m grateful that many of you have joined me these past few weeks in praying each day for our new :44 service, which begins this Sunday. Will you continue to make prayer your top priority?

Or if you’ve tried and failed to do so, pray that the Holy Spirit would give you the power to change.

Your church needs your prayers. Your pastor needs your prayers. Your friends and loved ones need your prayers. You need your prayers!

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