Does prayer really make a difference?
Scientific research among people facing serious illness or surgery suggests that prayer increases the likelihood of success. While some such studies could be explained away as psycho-somatic phenomena, there are studies in which the prayer of others improved a patient’s odds of recovery. God isn’t impressed by these studies, so why would you be convinced?
Logically, a God who is almighty and all-knowing, and who loves the people he created, would answer prayer. Only the philosophical idea of determinism–that life is immutably bound by natural laws or some divine “script” that prescribes all the events and outcomes of life–leaves no room for answered prayer. Who would pray to a God whose hands were tied anyway?
The reason to believe that prayer makes a difference is that the Bible says it does. Here are just a few such promises Jesus gave: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. . . If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:7-11). “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19). “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7). “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:23-24).
Praying in Jesus’ name is what Christians do. Jesus has made us God’s children by taking away the sin that alienates people from God. For Jesus’ sake we can come to God with the confidence of children who know their Father loves them. Christians believe that because God’s love was demonstrated in the life of Jesus and in the horrible death he suffered to atone for our wrongs. (Romans 5:8 says: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”) Jesus was God in human flesh. He DID answer prayers, miraculously. Prayer made a difference in the life of every wounded sinner Jesus healed.
The Bible provides examples of how prayer changed the course of life. When the prophet Isaiah came to King Hezekiah with the message from God that he was about to die, Hezekiah prayed that his life would be spared. God not only sent Isaiah back with the answer that God would add 15 years to Hezekiah’s life, but he gave the king a meteorological sign to demonstrate that God can over-ride the laws of nature. (See Isaiah 38.) The apostle James uses an example from Old Testament history to encourage bold prayer. He writes: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain” (James 5:16-18).
Not every religious request is a prayer, of course. Faith in Jesus and trust in God’s promises are a prerequisite of prayer. Christians add “Your will be done” to their petitions because they want God to over-rule requests that would not be in their best interest or to give them something better than what they asked for. That, of course, is what any loving father would do. And if God’s answer isn’t immediate, Christians follow the counsel of Jesus who told a parable to encourage us to “always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:3).
When his disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he began the Lord’s Prayer with: “Our Father in heaven.” That’s the whole story. God is our dear Father for Jesus’ sake, so he loves to answer prayer. And God is in heaven, capable of doing anything, so he certainly can answer prayer. Prayer makes a difference.