The Power of Prayer?

[Originally published to on 01.09.12]

Over the past week, I have spent much time reflecting on prayer.  This has been prompted by a number of interesting prayer “experiences” that have challenged me to critically evaluate both my beliefs on prayer and how I pray on a daily basis.

No doubt you have at one point or another heard the phrase “the power of prayer.”  Perhaps it was the preacher at the pulpit of your local congregation who used it; or maybe that one guy in your small group who always seems to know the right Christian cliché for every situation.  Whoever it was, the phrase is generally used in the context of an argument to this effect: If we pray more, we will get what we want/need more.  Now, disregarding the task of evaluating whether or not this theory is true, I want to address what such a mentality toward prayer does.

Thinking of prayer as some sort of ask/receive system with God objectifies prayer, making it out to be a tool or mean to get what we want.  This is a vicious view.  Prayer in its essence is not some tool that yields us benefit, but rather a genuine conversation with the one true and living God.  It is when we forget what prayer is, a conversation, or to whom we pray, God, that we begin to think of it as just a mean to our own end.  We begin to say that it is “the power of prayer” that gives us what we want.  We hear an amazing story of a prayer being answered in a miraculous way and exclaim either in our minds or aloud, “that’s the power of prayer!”  However, it is not the power of prayer that provides us with what we ask, but the power of the One to whom we pray.  God alone has both the ability and the volition to bestow on us what He may, not the medium through which we ask Him things.  To think that prayer holds power in itself (that is, without the power of God) is to make an idol out of it.

Now to the two experiences that brought about this and other thought.

The first was a clip on a recent airing of the Colbert Report (if you would be so kind as to refrain judgment of me based on whatever your opinion of the show and/or network may be in favor of simply evaluating what Mr. Colbert has to say, that would be swell).  In it, Colbert responds to an interview in which Pat Robertson, televangelist and host of The 700 Club, claims that the United States can only be saved through “overwhelming prayer” by launching into his [Colbert’s] idea of an overwhelming prayer (to view the clip, click here).  In this prayer, Colbert makes quite the philosophically acute quip in his remark [at about 5:00 of the clip], “…although Pat [Robertson] says you already know what’s going to happen, so either this prayer has already worked or it hasn’t, which means it’s either unnecessary or pointless.”  This statement calls to question the nature of determinism and its obvious connection with praying for things to come.  Colbert questions prayer’s utility.  If God has determined what is to come (that is, set into motion immutably), does asking Him for a certain future outcome actually have any use?–it obviously will not change the outcome.

This question has the potential to go far deeper than we, as finite creatures, may be able to.  However, there is still much that we may be able to glean.  I will not here begin to share my raw thoughts on the matter (raw thought sharing is better left for the dialectic), but will note one thing: Colbert assumes that because God “already know[s] what’s going to happen,” it is determined (following his line of logic to his conclusion of prayer being “either unnecessary or pointless”).  Is this necessarily true?  Does God’s foreknowledge of something also determine it to be?  If it does, then why pray at all?

At the same time, I also was shown how God truly does answer prayers this week.  On Saturday morning I asked God that he would help me find a tenant to come in and rent the place that I am moving out of for the first time.  Now, I am not the best at asking things of God through prayer, hence the asking of this for the first time, though I have been looking for another tenant for well over a month.  Nor am I much of a faithful prayer, struggling to have confidence that what I ask, God will provide in accordance with His will.  But after I finished praying and spending some time in the Word, I walked downstairs to throw a load of laundry in the wash and found one of my housemates talking with a friend of his who I had never met before.  To my amazement, my housemate introduced me to his friend and told me that he (the friend) was looking for a new place to stay!  So, I told him about my apartment and he has now begun the process of negotiating with my landlord!

While some will surely call this coincidence, I call it God’s answer.  Perhaps after the first or second time something like this happened, I would have thought it coincidence as well.  But seeing answers to prayers like this consistently, both in my own life and others’ over the last few years, has not only completely reshaped my view on prayer, but has shown me how trustworthy our God truly is!

Experiencing each of these drastically different ideas on prayer in the same week has led to some interesting thoughts, to say the least.  But now, let’s hear some of your thoughts.  What do you think about prayer?  Are these initial thoughts on it valid?  What do you think of Colbert’s ideas in his video?  Come, let us reason together.


One comment on “The Power of Prayer?

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