Does God hear the prayers of His people? Does it do any good to pray? Years ago there was an article in Newsweek that examined the subject. More than half (55%) of Americans say they pray every day, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, while 21% say they pray weekly or monthly and only 23% say they seldom or never pray. Even among those who are religiously unaffiliated, 20% say they pray daily. There is no doubt that some of those prayers were materialistic and self-centered in nature. It’s been said that there are no atheists in foxholes, and the same could probably be said of cancer treatment centers and unemployment lines.
Is it true that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective?” (James 5:16) Was Jesus talking to me when He said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”? (Matthew 7:7)
The words “pray” or “prayer” is mentioned over 300 times in the Bible, so if you believe in the Bible you have to believe something about prayer. Years ago I found a statement that expresses my feelings on prayer. It says, “I don’t believe in prayer…I depend on it.” I guess you could say that I have staked my life on prayer. Let me share a personal experience to illustrate.
The country was Bolivia, the village was called Providencia. The aircraft I was piloting was a Piper Aztec, a very sturdy 6 place, twin engine aircraft. This incident took place before we had a STOL (short take-off/landing) modification done to the aircraft. The flight to Providencia from the neighboring village of San Simon was only about 10 minutes long. It had not rained in San Simon where we had spent the night so I did not realize that it had rained on the 600 meter long airstrip in Providencia. The runway was barely long enough for a safe landing and take-off. I prayed before we departed San Simon, we meaning myself, two of our local pastors David Flores and Guido Masaí and Guido’s wife and small child. My prayer was to keep us safe and bless the flight, that it turn out just as God wanted. We touched down in the normal spot and I put on the brakes as usual. The airplane seemed to speed up instead of slow down. It was a lot like stepping on the brakes in your car when you are on an icy road. The 600 meters was normally long enough… except when the grass was wet. There was no time for a long prayer, just enough for “Lord Help!”
I’m here today, and I retired from missionary aviation without destroying an aircraft, so it obviously had a good outcome. But does prayer always work that way? While there are no guarantees, it seems that the majority of Americans believe in prayer. In an article in the Huffington Post in April 2016, the headline reads that “Nearly 90 percent of Americans Have Prayed for Healing.”
Duke University School of Medicine has a Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health. In a monthly email they report studies and surveys that have been done regarding the relationship of religion/spirituality and health by various schools such as Columbia University, New York State Psychiatric Institute, University of Michigan, University of San Diego, University of Toronto, Loma Linda University School of Nursing, Harvard’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Texas Tech University Health Sciences, and others. The ones I just mentioned published studies on Religion, Spirituality and Health in last month’s report. There have been others from well-known sources from all over the world. The overwhelming majority agree that there is a positive connection between our religion/spirituality and our health/well-being. So, with all else being equal, yes, we do have better health when and if we pray. The studies also agree that neither prayer nor religion/spirituality is a magic “get out of jail free” card for those who are suffering. “Fox-hole” prayers don’t make as much difference as do daily prayers that have religious practices associated with it.
In the case of my landing at Providencia, the young soccer players of Providencia had removed all the grass from an area at the end of the runway to play soccer. A soccer field on the runway was one of my pet peeves; they get terribly muddy, dusty and eroded. That one was my salvation that day. My point in sharing this incident is simply that if God had asked, “Why should I?” in response to my “Lord Help” prayer, there was not enough time to explain why.
I have also prayed for things just as sincerely and honestly to hear “No” as well as to never hear anything. When I was 15 years old I prayed for a motorcycle. My parents were not completely against it, but didn’t do anything to help me get one. It never came.
Years later, I was able to buy not one but several (at least 4) different motorcycles. I tried each one of those motorcycles out, and then turned them over to the person who used them for everything from a Motorcycle Taxi service, to a family vehicle, to missionary transportation.
It’s almost as if God refuses to perform on cue to impress us or anyone around us. I think God is watching our attitude, or rather, maybe God is watching for a particular attitude in us. I could also say that he wants a relationship with us. I like to help children when they ask, but my children and grandchildren have a particular way of asking…I have a hard time saying “no.”
In the book of Daniel, chapter 3:17-18, we have the narrative of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar had set up a large statue of himself and demanded that everyone bow to that it. The narrative says that when given the opportunity to bow to his idol or burn in his furnace, they responded, “The God we serve is able to save us, and he will rescue us from your hand.” The idea I get from those verses is that their decision was made and that they were in a win-win situation…alive or dead they would serve God.
There is an amazing change that takes place when we have the attitude that says I will trust in the God that I have a personal relationship with no matter what happens.