Ask Anything: Prayer, how does it work? What can it do and not do?

Today’s guest post is from Nancy Movick.  Nancy serves Discovery (among another things)overseeing and launching our Support Groups Ministry.  She is a gifted leadership developer and an encourager to many.  Nancy is an R.N, has served as a Nursing Co Ordinator and Executive Pastor at previous churches.  

Here is an excerpt from this excellent overview on what the Bible says about prayer:

“I don’t mean to be “Pollyanna” here. This is a very personal subject for me. I too have spent many hours on my knees praying for healing for loved ones, and for relief from fear, guilt, and pain. I have found myself chanting a single lined prayer over and over again because I couldn’t stop myself, my heart too afraid to form any other words….”

And here is the whole article:  

Prayer is something that I think a lot of us wrestle with. In some ways it is where the rubber hits the road.  Sometimes our willingness to believe that God exists is in proportion to whether or not we think God answers our prayers.

Another thing that is challenging and confusing about prayer is that we see different examples of prayer in the Bible that seem to contradict one another. We see a parable that shows us that we should never stop praying.

Luke 18:1-8  The Parable of the Persistent Widow

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” 

We also see a more passive way of praying.

Psalm 46: 10-11

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Jesus went away and prayed often—we imagine a very private and intimate time between him and God.  

Mark 1: 35, Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Luke 5:16, But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

We see Jesus thanking God for his provision in John 6:11.

Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and it is then that he teaches them to pray what we now call the LORD’s prayer.

Matthew 6:5-14

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,

Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

We see prayer as a time to praise God for who he is and what he does.

Psalm 145: 1-8

I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.

Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.

One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.

They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty— and I will meditate on your wonderful works.[b]…

They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.

They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.

Prayer can be a time to confess your sins and ask for forgiveness.

Psalm 51:1-2

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions..

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…

Prayer can be a place to petition God for your needs and desires.

1 John 5:14

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

Prayer can be corporate.

Matthew 18:20

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Prayer can be song—when the words you sing become a fragrant flower to God.

Psalm 96:1-3

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.

Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.

Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples…

Prayers can be questions and laments when you feel confused or abandoned by God.

Psalm 13:1-4

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on answer, and me Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,

and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

Prayer sometimes seems to require something more contrite and less cavalier. We approach God with the understanding that he is holy and we feel compelled to “slip off our shoes” because the ground is holy.

Psalm 15:1-2

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;

How can this all be true about prayer?

Prayer is communication—communion with the God of the Universe. He is the God who created all things and is all-powerful; He is also the God who is intimately attentive to the smallest of things—things we do not even take notice of because they seem unimportant.

The prophet Jeremiah reminds us about another characteristic of God that perhaps speaks to the complexity of prayer.

Jeremiah 2:32 Does a young woman forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number.

God pines over us and misses us when we fail to communicate with him.

Prayer is multi-faceted, like our relationships with the ones we love—because that is what it is—communication with God who loves us.

I think about the ways I relate to the people I love and it makes a little more sense in my head.  God wants a relationship with me, with you, with us.  As with our relationships with our loved ones—there is not one way we relate. If we only related to each other in whispers in a quiet room with the doors closed we would miss out on so much. If we only related in groups, we would never get to know the intimate details of each other’s hearts. If we communicate only when we are happy, then we would not understand the things that scare or worry us, nor would we learn the deepest desires of each other’s hearts.

We know each other because we do life together, day in and day out. We recognize each other’s laughter in a crowd and know what triggers fear in each other’s heart.   We know what brings them delight and how they will smile when they are happy.

Prayer is that. It is the experience of getting to know God and sharing yourself with him.

Will God answer your requests?

David tells us in Psalm 37:4

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Sit with Him often and you will find your heart learning to desire what He wants for you.

I don’t mean to be “Pollyanna” here. This is a very personal subject for me. I too have spent many hours on my knees praying for healing for loved ones, and for relief from fear, guilt, and pain. I have found myself chanting a single lined prayer over and over again because I couldn’t stop myself, my heart too afraid to form any other words.

There have been times that I have prayed and, years later, I still do not understand why God did not intervene in the way I hoped he would. Other times I have prayed and God has given me a new way of looking at something or taught me to trust that his way is best.  Sometimes I have forgotten to pray and it seems He still blesses me in spite of my lack of participation.

So why pray?  Because the Creator of the universe, the one who knew you before you were known by anyone else, is waiting to talk. It’s impossible to describe and harder yet to convince you if you don’t believe it, but crazy as it sounds, God is waiting to talk to you, eager to help you learn to want what is best and never too big to hold you when you just need someone to just be there.

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