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Prayer Doesn't "Work"

This episode is entitled “Prayer Doesn’t ‘Work.’” That’d be a bit confusing to you if you listened in yesterday because that episode was called “Prayer Works.” What’s going on?

Well, what you probably should know is that a lot of people ask the question, “How can I get my prayers to work?” Maybe you’ve asked that question yourself. It’s a question that makes sense because we see all these promises throughout the New Testament about how if we ask God for things he’s supposed to answer us. And this especially if we as in Jesus’ name. That’s why we end our prayers that way, after all, isn’t it? We want God to answer our prayers.

But we wouldn’t ask that question if we didn’t have prayers that seem to go unanswered, would we? It’s a near universal experience among Christians to ask God for things that he doesn’t give us. And good things. Important things. But our mom still died of cancer. We still lost our job. Our marriage still failed. Of course we ask “How can I get my prayers to work?”

The underlying assumption is a humble one. We are really asking, What am I doing wrong in my prayers and how can I correct it? We’re not attributing malice to God or something like that. We want to know how we can fix our prayer lives so that they work better.

But that may actually be the problem itself. Not that we’re humble to think we’re maybe not doing something right. But the idea that prayer can “work” at all.

What you have to see is, to ask that question at all—how can I get my prayers to work?—it’s actually to assume that there’s some trick to prayer, or some right method of prayer that will get God to do what we want him to. It’s almost like we’re looking for the right words that will ply God’s ear. Or like God is withholding things from us because we forgot to say please. And really, it’s looking at prayer like it’s some kind of divine mechanism. To ask how we can get our prayers to work is actually to forget that God is a person.

If you’ve been with us from the beginning, you’ll remember that prayer is fundamentally about our relationship to God. God is our Father in heaven who delights to hear us, who invites us to voice our anxieties, needs, hopes and dreams. And he does so because he loves us and wants us to know him. Prayer is entering into relationship with him, a kind of sharing in the divine family.

That’s why trying to “get your prayers to work” doesn’t fit. It doesn’t make sense because God is not a machine to be worked or a creature to be persuaded—or worse, manipulated. Instead, God is the divine person who invites us to bring our requests to him.

Pray with me. Father, forgive us the ways that we’ve tried to manipulate you into giving us what we want. Help us to know the real you, and to see our prayers as a part of that relationship with you. And help us to be faithful in prayer even when you don’t answer our prayers how we want you to. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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