12 October 2010

The Power of Prayer - Does it Work?


The second reading in the breviary for Morning Prayer today was a familiar one. St. James reminds us that an "effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." An example was given of Elias first praying for it not to rain, and then praying that it might rain. Both prayers were answered. Are all prayers always answered so quickly and completely?

One of my favorite actresses regrettably stated publicly awhile ago that she doesn't believe in the power of prayer. The reasons given were along the lines that if prayer worked, then why do so many bad things happen in the world? She brings up an interesting point, and that is that our prayers are not always answered precisely in the manner in which we want them answered. So does this mean that prayer means nothing and accomplishes nothing? Certainly not.

The flaw in the actress's mindset, at least as it was stated in the interview, is that she focuses only on what she wishes to receive. First, can someone who is selfish and seeking only to receive truly issue an "effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man?" And what if that prayer is for others? Is that not unselfish? On one level it is easy to say that prayers for the benefit of others are unselfish, but this is not inherently true. If such prayers come from a desire to have one's own will done rather than the will of God, then they are not unselfish. Yet, God can answer all prayers, selfish or unselfish, according to his will and in his own way.

The other flaw in assuming that God does not answer prayers, then, is in assuming that we know the mind of God. When we assume that our prayers at least appearing to go unanswered means that God is deaf to us, we assume that we know and understand the complete, universal, eternal "big picture." We cannot, of course, know this. God is omnipresent and omniscient. We are not.

We can and should fervently pray for what we believe we need or others need (don't forget the necessity to pray for others). However, when God answers us, it is in his own way on his own eternal time schedule, not our schedule or even in a way we can always understand. Have you ever prayed for something, not received it exactly as you asked for it, only to find out later that you are better off having not received it in terms of the bigger picture of your life? God knows more than we do. God answered your prayers according to what you needed. Keep this in mind next time you think God doesn't hear you.