Seven years ago I was on the phone with Pastor Dennis in the lobby of Sibley Hospital. Up to that point, I had kept it together. I had held Eileen’s hand. I had reassured her that everything was going to be OK. But when I had to say the words on the phone, I lost it. I melted into a ball of grief as I choked out an update. We would never get to meet the little baby we had made. We had prayed, and as far as I could tell, prayer hadn’t worked.
This experience runs in drastic contrast to countless other experiences where we’ve prayed and seen things work out exactly like we’ve asked. Just two years ago, Eileen and I were short about $15,000 on our annual budget. We had itemized our projected expenses, compared it to our projected income and found we were $15,000 short. We prayed together and asked God to make up the difference. Within two weeks, our expenses decreased and our income increased just enough to close the gap. We had no idea those things were going to happen! It seemed a clear answer to prayer.
So, does prayer work? Two nights ago, I downloaded (for only $0.42 only Google Books) a very short read, The Efficacy of Prayer, by C.S. Lewis. He suggests that empirical proof on whether prayer works or not is unobtainable. Basically, we’ll never know, scientifically. It makes sense. I can no more run experiments on whether prayer works by praying and testing than I could run experiments on whether an engagement proposal works by proposing to a bunch of women in different ways. If my goal is to figure out whether it works, then I haven’t really prayed…or proposed. I just ran a test.
What can we know about prayer? After all, God encourages us to ask Him for things consistently throughout Scripture. Let’s focus on the analogy of a marriage proposal. When I asked Eileen to marry me, I wasn’t trying to convince her to do something she didn’t want to do. I had a sense, because of our relationship, that she wanted to be married to me. My proposal was based on a confidence I had gained from what I knew about her and how she felt about me. To say that my proposal “worked” would be a huge simplification of our relationship. Even if she had said “no”, it would have been a big learning experience in our relationship and understanding of one another. But if I knew Eileen wanted to marry me, then why even ask? Why didn’t it just happen? My proposal to Eileen was an important step. It was a communication of agreement. I was saying, “I want this. I think you want this. What do you say, we do it?”
It’s just the same when we pray. We’re not out there trying to convince God to do something He doesn’t want to do. We’re fulfilling a role of agreement. God has given us the role of asking Him for things He wants to do in our lives and in the lives of other people. For some reason, God chooses to do most everything He wants through people. Prayer is just another way for us to be involved. Why do you pray? What’s been your experience?
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” John 15:7