When Prayer “Doesn’t Work”

Of all the things that the twelve disciples could have asked Jesus to teach them, one things sticks out to me the most. They asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. This must have been because they saw prayer as key to His ministry and life. Maybe it was because His prayers always seemed to get answered. Or did they?

The New Testament records one prayer that Jesus made that did not get answered, at least not in the way that the human side of Him wanted. Jesus prayed that God would take away the cross. Ultimately, Jesus relented and qualified His request by asking that God’s will be done.

Prayer can be sticky topic for people. Sometimes God appears to answer our prayers as we hope. Other times, He answers with a “No” or “Not yet.” Sometimes the opposite of what we desired happens. And there doesn’t seem to be any easy answers as to why some things work out the way that they do.

This hodge podge of results can make people doubt the effectiveness of prayer. It gets at the truth we may not want to hear. Although we can make our request known to God, He is not in any way obligated to give us what we want. Just as a parent has to say no sometimes, so does God.

Most of the prayers that I hear, including some of those that I speak, show how selfish our focus really is. We want what we want. And we want it now. When Jesus showed the model prayer for a disciple, it started out with a focus on God’s glory and will. By contrast, many times we take our plans to God and ask Him to pour holy water on them. God is not our puppet or ATM machine.

While God does love us and is involved even when His presence seems to be hidden, He sometimes does things that defy explanation because He sees the big picture. We only tend to look at things from our vantage point and place in time. God looks down through time to see the deeper issues. He does what is best for God and His Kingdom. This may seem selfish at first. But since God is love in its purest form, His will is always going to be much better than that of a single man or even group of men.

Prayer is more about us changing to see things from God’s point of view than it is about us telling God what we want. Prayer is powerful and effective, especially when we pray with the mind and heart of Christ.

View this 30 minute program on prayer by RBC Ministries. It feature Philip Yancey, a noted Christian author and editor at large for Christianity Today magazine. I found Yancey’s comments to be very eye opening.



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