By Elizabeth Spencer, Crosswalk.com
The other day, a sweet online friend posted a weighty prayer request. Her child’s health hung in the balance, and she was asking for prayer that the outcome of medical tests would be in his earthly future’s favor.
A few days later, she joyfully shared the results— “Benign!”—along with the tag, “The power of prayer.” I joined many others in rejoicing with her. I thanked God for His “yes” and for the privilege of participating in His good, pleasing, and perfect will through prayer. I agreed - prayer is indeed powerful.
But afterward, I started to wonder: what, exactly, is “The power of prayer”? I often see that expression used when God grants a request for a specific outcome to a situation. The person making the request responds by saying—in all gratitude and joy—“The power of prayer!” But do we say this when God says “no”? When our little country church family collectively and individually cried out to God to save a beloved brother who was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and who died quickly despite our fervent pleas, did we respond to the news of his death with “The power of prayer”? I don’t think so. I know I didn’t.
And yet, I believe prayer does have power entirely independent of God’s answers—indeed, ahead of God’s answers—in these seven ways that are surely just the beginning.
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1. Prayer Connects Us to the "I AM"
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)
Prayer is a conversation with God. Because our great High Priest Jesus has gone before us and torn down the veil separating us in our fallenness from God in His holiness, we can—upon confession of sin and profession of faith—walk right into the throne room of grace and have a private audience with the maker of the universe. We can do this anytime, from any location. We do not have to get in a line or make an appointment. We will never be put on hold or told to leave a message. This is direct communication with the God who knows us intimately and loves us infinitely. And in this communication, we find a connection to the true source of our strength.
It’s an elementary example, but if I’m using a corded tool and don’t have it plugged into an outlet, it doesn’t matter what setting I put it on or what it might theoretically be able to do for me; the tool is going to be dead. And so, too, are we dead without being plugged into God via the outlet of prayer. But when we pray, His power surges through us.
2. Prayer Demonstrates Our Faith
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
When we pray, we confirm our faith. We make visible and external our internal, invisible belief in something or someone we cannot see fully - yet. When we cry out to God, we give voice to our confidence that He exists, that He cares about what troubles us, and that He has the power to do something about those troubles. If we don’t believe any of this, why are we praying in the first place? Or who are we praying to? We might just as soon send “positive vibes” or well wishes to those we’re standing in the gap for.
One muscle of the power of prayer is that it demonstrates faith. Faith pleases God, and by it, mountains are moved.
3. Prayer Pauses Us
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.” (James 5:13a)
Prayer is not my default reaction to trouble. My natural bent is to run around frantically, pinging from action to action without actually finishing anything while rambling incoherently to myself. It is not a pretty sight.
It’s worth noting that James’ answer to his own question—“Is anyone among you in trouble?”—is not, “Post about it on social media” or “Stay up half the night fretting about it” or “Order something online that will make you feel better.” No, James’ characteristically brief response is, “Let them pray.”
Prayer puts us on holy hold. It halts our striving and ceasing, which are so often fruitless or at the very least premature, and stops us long enough for God to get a word in edgewise. By this pause, we are often prevented from doing something that is a waste of time or something that would actually make the situation worse.
4. Prayer Aligns Us with God's Will
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18)
I don’t see any exclusions in Paul’s counsel to “pray on all occasions.” I don’t see “pray on all occasions except the occasion when you’re discouraged” or “pray on all occasions except the occasion when you can do something about the problem yourself.” I just see “pray on all occasions.” This reads to me like a directive, not a suggestion, from God as delivered by His servant Paul.
The most powerful life we’ll ever live is the life that fits itself into God’s will rather than fitting God’s will into it. God’s will is for us to pray, so it is to our best, strengthened good to do it.
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5. Prayer Sets Us on a Path to Peace
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6,7)
Early in my marriage, my always-calm husband had the habit of telling me to “just chill out” about situations I was, well, hot about. Of course, this had the exact opposite effect on my mood and emotions, and so, being a wise man, he eventually eliminated this phrase from his marital vocabulary.
I’m so thankful God doesn’t tell us to “just chill out” in Philippians 4:6. He doesn’t drop “don’t be anxious about anything” into His great love letter and then move on to a new subject. Instead, He offers us an alternative to worry: prayer. We start from a position of anxiousness but do not camp out there. We continue down the road, moving next to prayer, which, along with a side trip of thankfulness, ultimately leads us to peace.
6. Prayer Unites Us as a Body
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.” (Acts 2:42-44)
When my little country congregation cried out to God a few years ago for the healing of one of our number, we were united by our belief in the power of prayer and by our love for our brother. God did not grant our request for his earthly healing, but praying for him still unified us in heart and in purpose. Through prayer, we went through that tragedy together. It is now part of our shared history, a bonding point we look back on.
The body of Christ has much to split it apart, and the enemy has gained ample ground in this area in recent years. Few things turn unbelievers away from the church door, like dissension behind that door, but maybe nothing draws them in like a unified family they find themselves wanting to be part of. Prayer can get the lost, the broken, the hurting in the door, and, once inside, it can keep them there.
7. Prayer Makes Us More Like Christ
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10,11)
One way we can be like someone is to do what they do. We have to be careful with human examples, but if our perfect Savior did it and it’s something we can do, it’s something we should do. Prayer is one of those things.
Jesus prayed when He was baptized (Luke 3:21). He prayed on the mountain (Matthew 14:23). He prayed in the early morning (Mark 1:35). He prayed for Himself (John 17:1-5). He prayed for His disciples (John 17:6-19). He prayed for all believers (John 17:20-26).
Sometimes, I’m tempted not to pray if a situation seems too far gone for a “yes” from God. But here, as everywhere, Jesus shows me a better way, the way He took. In the Garden of Gethsemane, though He knew God would not—could not, for the sake of love—grant His plea, He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42a). And then, perhaps with the strength He found by connecting with His Father through prayer (see #1, above), Jesus prayed the most powerful prayer of all: “yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42b)
The power of prayer lies not in its ending but in its beginning - not nearly so much in God’s answer as in our asking in the first place. Prayer is our posture before God—literally, sometimes, when we bend the knee or lie prostrate, but always in the bowed-low stance of our heart toward our on-high God. We might be inclined to say “all we can do is pray” about a need or a burden or a fear. But when we understand prayer’s true power, we realize a far greater “all”: God can do all this with us, through us, and for us when we pray.
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