People say the darndest things — sometimes to preachers. This begins a blog series on some of those things that have been said to me over the years. Here’s one:
“I tried prayer, but it didn’t work.”
Sitting squarely in the middle of this declaration is the belief that prayer is something purely utilitarian. I put in an order with God and it should come to me like a product on a late-night infomercial. And, yes, it is true that there are biblical words for prayer that carry the definition of a request, with the expectation of an answer.
But the most common New Testament word for prayer conveys the idea of “moving toward.” Thus, before anything else, true prayer is directional: turning to God for the purpose of adoration and fellowship.
God is not Santa Claus. God is God, and if we think He is obligated to grant us all our desires, we are going to be frequently disappointed. Admittedly, there are times when I strive to understand why a good-intentioned prayer wasn’t answered the way I wanted it to be. And it’s okay to question (a lot of prophets and saints have), though we will not get complete answers in our earthly lives.
However, to abandon God at these difficult times is precisely the wrong thing to do. Who else but Jesus Christ, the Man of Sorrows, understands our deepest pains and frustrations? Who else but the Creator knows our inmost being? Who else but the Holy Spirit can groan for us when we are too weak to utter words (Romans 8:26-27)?
Note that the popular ACTS model of prayer places supplications at the end. This is the way it should be. For when everything else is stripped away, prayer is not asking for stuff. It’s talking to God and listening to God, even when we have nothing to ask for, all for the purpose of growing closer to Him.