The power of prayer.

The power of prayer is God.

If that sounds kinda self-evident to you, great! You’d be surprised how many people don’t get this. I’ve heard from way too many Christians who treat prayer as if the act of prayer itself—the effort we put into saying rosaries, or reciting certain “powerful” rote prayers, or regularly blocking off an hour for prayer time, taking the proper posture, repeating the right incantations, and praying as nonstop as possible; and of course the faith necessary to trust that God grants prayer requests—“activates” prayer’s power. Like we just found the cosmic cheat code, to borrow a video game term. Pray just right, and receive points or rewards from the heavens.

But their teachings aren’t so much about the One who dispenses the rewards.

Well, they might go on about how these prayer practices please God, and that’s why he rewards us with stuff. Pray just right, and it’s like God’s a happy dog and you gave him just the best tummy rub, and we know his tail is wagging like crazy by all the blessings he showers down upon us. It’s so Pavlovian.

There’s not a lot of difference between this mindset, and “the Secret,” as pagans have recently repackaged the mind-science idea that we can create things with our words, same as God. Basically you proclaim your desires to the universe, regularly and earnestly, and believe with all your might you will someday have them. Lo and behold, they materialize. You’ve willed them into being. Your mind is just that powerful. Whether we call it “the Secret” or “the law of attraction” or “magic,” the only difference between them and their Christianist variant of naming and claiming, is we imagine God is part of this process.

But too often “the power of prayer” doesn’t acknowledge God as the power. Preachers keep talking about it as if we’re the catalyst, we’re the source, we’re the real power. We get God to move, ’cause of our faith and works. And we deserve these results, ’cause we earned the good karma and get to cash it in.

Slap all the Christian labels on it you please, it’s not Christianity. Power doesn’t come from human ritual, and never has. We should know by now if God isn’t the center and the point, our practices are dead religion not living religion. Dead faith instead of living faith. Meaningless instead of meaningful.

Prayer is only powerful ’cause God.

Prayer is powerful because we make contact with the Almighty. Real contact; he hears us and responds to us. We’re not just emailing an account he’s forgotten he has; we’re not just getting back form letters which read, “Thank you for writing; if you want to know more, get my book.” God answers prayer, and all his answers are mighty.

Even when he responds, “No, child; you don't know what you're asking.” Mt 20.22 We may hate that answer, but it’s nonetheless a great thing. Imagine the disasters that’d follow if these name-it-claim-it folks were right, and God has to answer our every self-serving whim with “yes” because we followed the right formula. Or imagine if a mindless universe granted every wish because we wished so hard, and clapped just when Peter Pan told us to. We need someone far wiser than us to second-guess our every prayer request, ’cause often we ask for some profoundly stupid things. Thank God it’s God himself who screens our requests. Who better?

Prayer is powerful because whether God answers yes or no, it’s the right decision. Even when it’s not the right decision… and I’ll explain that statement in a bit. Every answered prayer is an act of God, a miracle, and a God-decision which is only gonna achieve good in the universe, in both the short term and eternity. It’s powerful because the greatest, wisest mind is behind it… and you should know by now I don’t mean the petitioner.

But if we petitioners aren’t even trying to make contact with the Almighty—if we’re even trying to ignore him, or work around him by petitioning “the universe” instead of its Creator—our “prayers,” or spoken wishes, or good vibes, or whatever you wanna call ’em, do nothing. Mean nothing. Accomplish nothing.

Yeah, sometimes we appear to get what we prayed for. If I pray for someone I don’t like, and ask God to kill them… you do realize everybody dies, right? Some day that person’s gonna actually die. And if I’ve been praying all my life for God to kill them, and this happens to be the week a bus falls on top of them, I’m gonna think God totally answered my prayer. But that’s pure coincidence, accident, and dumb luck. Such things happen in this universe, y’know. God lets ’em. He answered my prayer with “No, child; learn to forgive,” same as usual, but like most people, I paid more attention to luck than God, and led myself astray.

Other times, our selfish desires happen to line up with something God’s independently working on. If I want my business to be successful because I wanna be rich, but God wants my business to be successful because I’ll hire ex-convicts whereas other businesses won’t, and he wants them to prosper and not turn back to crime, I’m gonna think he’s answering my prayers the way I want; turns out he’s answering them the way he wants. And I may get frustrated because regardless of my success, I’m still not getting rich. But of course I’m not; God’s not causing my success for me. I’m a side effect. Nothing more.

Okay, you remember I mentioned how sometimes God’s “yes” is the wrong decision: God grants us free will. He grants us options. He knows what the best possible choice is, but he often leaves that to us, because we learn best by having to live through the consequences of our actions. Sometimes we gotta make bad choices, so we’ll learn to make better ones. These bad choices won’t necessarily be sins, but they won’t be optimal—and they’re not gonna make a single dent in God’s plans. (That’s how sovereign he is: He doesn’t have to predetermine everything in the universe in order to make it do as he wants. Abraham can make a son named Ishmael because he doesn’t have the patience to wait for Isaac to be born—and God will do his thing through Isaac anyway, and generously bless Ishmael too.) So while God might say, “Here are your options; now use the brain I gave you,” and while we may realize later we really should’ve done differently… we’ve still got God’s approval and support and power. He’s generous like that.

The power of surrender.

When we pray, we make requests. We’re asking God if he could please do these things for us. We’re submitting our wishes to God—for his approval.

But y’notice the way many people talk about prayer, there’s nothing in there whatsoever about submission and God’s approval. They presume they already have it, ’cause they dared to boldly approach the throne of grace. He 4.16 They presume God’s approval is automatic, and his every answer is yes and amen, 2Co 1.20 because Jesus promised us we can have whatever we ask in his name. They have it completely ass-backwards: We make our prayer declarations, and God submits to us.

Wrong wrong wrong. Who’s the Lord in this relationship again? Right; God. Don’t confuse his grace and generosity and servant’s heart, with his being under our thumbs. It’s absolutely the other way round, and the only reason people don’t always remember this is because God’s such a kind Lord, who does far more for us than we for him. Don’t take his grace for granted!

And part of his grace is how he screens our prayer requests. He rejects requests that’ll harm and destroy us and others. I’ve heard many a superstitious Christian warn, “Be really careful what you pray, ’cause God will answer it exactly as you phrase it, and you might’ve phrased it wrong!” It’s as if a prayer is a programming code and God’s a programming language… and he’s too stupid to detect errors, or he’s playing dumb ’cause it amuses him. “Oh so you didn’t literally mean you wanted to grow, and now you’re 400 pounds instead of wiser. Well how was I supposed to know what you meant? Tee-hee.” God is not Loki (and I mean the Norse trickster god, not the Marvel supervillain); he doesn’t make mistakes for ironic fun.

God’s only interested in our good, our development and growth, and what’ll make us best ready to enter his kingdom. Getting everything we ever ask for, as if we’re spoiled trust fund kids, won’t achieve that. (Jesus says as much in his Prodigal Son Story.) Having our loving Father consider our requests, say yes to the ones which really will do us good, and say no to the ones which won’t, is a key part of the power of prayer. We may not like it… but we should! He’s a failsafe. One who regularly keeps us from spectacularly failing.