I would like to begin with a confession. Confession is a dangerous thing you know. Its good for the soul but bad for the reputation. But here is my confession guys - I struggle to pray.
Perhaps, the best way for me to explain it is with an illustration.
I enjoy exercising and in every workout there are generally 3 phases. The warm up, the workout and the cool down. I am OK at doing the warm up, enjoy the workout and hate the cool down. The cool down phase is generally when you do your stretching. And in my mind I feel like during the cool down phase I am not accomplishing anything. So I usually just skip it. And that's pretty much how I feel about prayer. Read the Bible? yes! I love it because I can feel the excitement of learning something new and discovering, digging and exploring the word. But prayer feels a lot like a cool down phase of a workout - like nothing is really happening.
So these last few weeks I have really had to confront this problem and here is what I discovered. The reason why I often struggle to pray is because I don't see the point. As far as I'm concerned if something is going to happen, its going to happen. And if something is not going to happen, its not going to happen. And me praying about it is not going to change anything. God knows whats coming already, so whats the point of prayer right? So I concluded a long time ago that I pray, not to change anything, but to change myself. Prayer changes me. And that's it. When I pray over a situation, nothing really changes but I do, so why not?
But I have to be honest here guys. This explanation of prayer never really did it for me. It killed my motivation to pray. Now let me be clear, its not that I don't pray. I do pray a lot. But there was something missing. There was a lack of urgency and motivation about prayer in my spiritual life.
That is, until 3 weeks ago when I looked into James 5:16,
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.The second part of this verse is the part that messed me up. Notice what James says here. He says that prayer is powerful. Now, I'm not a genius or anything but in order for something to be powerful it has to have power. And power literally means, "the ability or capacity to do something". So basically, if prayer is "powerful" that's another way of saying that prayer is "able to do something". And this flew in the face of everything I believed about prayer. It just didn't add up. In my mind, if something was going to happen it was going to happen. And if it was not going to happen it was not going to happen. And praying wouldn't change any of that. But James seems to be suggesting the opposite. James says prayer is able to do something. It is powerful and effective.
But it got worse for me. James doesn't just stop there. He keeps going by pointing back to the story of Elijah in the Old Testament. The story begins in 1 Kings 17, at a time when Israel had turned its back on God and, as a nation, was worshiping pagan idols. The people were being led by Ahab, the most evil king Israel ever had, and his wife Jezebel who was a pagan priestess. They had strayed so far from God that God sent them a prophet named Elijah to call the people back to himself. And as the story begins Elijah says to Ahab, "As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!” (1) And lo and behold, verse 7 tells us that "there was no rainfall anywhere in the land."
Now, notice James' comment on this: "Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years" (James 5:17).
In other words, James credits the drought with Elijah's prayer. I'm really uncomfortable with this. It's weird. It's bizarre. And you can't even wiggle out of it by saying that its because Elijah was a prophet because James makes that impossible when he says, "Elijah was a human being, even as we are..." In short, forget the prophet thing. That has nothing to do with it. He was a Joe Schmo like the rest of us. And his prayer stopped the rain.
The story continues. Jezebel wanted to kill Elijah so he went into hiding for those three and a half years of drought. When the time drew to a close God spoke to Elijah and said, “Go and present yourself to King Ahab. Tell him that I will soon send rain” (1 Kings 18:1)! So Elijah went to Ahab and told him, “Go get something to eat and drink, for I hear a mighty rainstorm coming!” So Ahab went to eat and drink. But Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and bowed low to the ground and prayed with his face between his knees (41-42). And this chapter of the story ends like this: "soon the sky was black with clouds. A heavy wind brought a terrific rainstorm" (45).
Notice what James never says. He never says that God caused the rainstorm. Was God the power behind it? Of course. Elijah didn't have any power. He's just like the rest of us. But James, rather than crediting God for the event, credits Elijah's prayer instead. "Again he prayed," James says, "and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops" (James 5:18).
Now here is the part that weirded me out. James seems to be suggesting something radical here. Prayer has power. It can bring about results. Elijah prayed and it caused a drought. Elijah prayed again and it caused a storm. And the insinuation is this: if Elijah had not prayed, neither the drought nor the rain would have come. In order for Elijah's prayer to have power it has to be the effectual cause of the events. If it isn't, then James is lying to us. Worse yet, God is lying to us.
Throughout this story God had the power and he was there ready to use it. But Elijah's prayer was the key to unlock the power. Once again, James seems to be suggesting that your prayer, my prayer - they have the ability to change the course of history. That when we pray, things that would not otherwise happen do in fact happen.
This gives me a whole new way of looking at prayer
When I pray, something happens that would not otherwise happen if I don’t pray.
I discovered that this whole "what will happen will happen and what wont happen wont happen and my prayer doesn't make any difference" was the hidden myth killing my prayer life. And its possible its killing yours too. And look - I cant make sense of all of this. There are still questions about prayer that I find difficult to answer. But one thing is clear. When God's people pray their prayers are powerful. When you pray for your son and your daughter that they would come back to God, when you pray for healing, when you pray for revival, when you pray for victory over temptation, when you pray for the restoration of your marriage - there seems to be a mysterious reality in scripture that your prayer has the power to bring something to pass that would not otherwise happen.
In the book "The Great Controversy" pg. 525 we read, "It is a part of God's plan to grant us, in answer to the prayer of faith, that which He would not bestow did we not thus ask." And this is what James is saying. There are things in this life that will never happen if you don't pray for them. And there are things in this life that will happen only because you prayed.
If prayer changes nothing, then why pray? But if prayer has the power to produce wonderful results. If it has the capacity to bring blessings that would not otherwise come. If it has the ability to change the course of history. Then prayer becomes the most important thing I can do every day.