What’s the Power of Prayer?
This past year I have drowned, waded, and finally surfaced to fresh air through several spiritual doctrines, religious histories, theories, theologies, and thoughts, both modern and ancient. I have written a book about how prayer should be focused, what it does for our personal characters, why it matters to us and God. In my Workbook (The Complainer’s Workbook), I only scratched one corner of one facet of the glittering diamond of prayer.
There are so many opinions and teachings in the world, today and since man could record them. As the Jewish Sages teach, “there are holy-sparks in each of truth within the wisdom of non-Jews”, but that a person must clarify those sparks within the context and truth of the Torah.
I am not Jewish; I am a devout Christian, and I take that sentiment farther to say, all must be clarified within the context of Jesus Christ.
Prayer is a subject of Jesus Christ. He prayed often, as recorded in the New Testament. He prayed alone. He prayed for people to be healed. He prayed for his disciples to endure the persecution that He said would come to them after He had died, and later after He had risen from the dead.
I think the prayer climate of today’s church has gone stale, not because we don’t want to pray. There are scores of books on prayer, studies on prayer, and websites dedicated to it. Its trendy now to turn Buddhist style meditative prayer into a Christian type of prayer. We so long for quiet space and peace. There is a misunderstanding therein; peace is not found in a soft place or comfortable position. There are not specific requirements for peace. It is a gift from God, to be accessed in the loudest most chaotic of situations. That’s the point of abiding peace - that it is there when we need it most to function wisely and kindly. As a culture, we are far reaching for something we already have been taught, but in the context of our modern lives have missed the full meaning of what the power of prayer is.
The New Testament discusses the former ways of religion and prayer within the magical culture of the people he ministered to. As Paul preached to the pagan nations, he talked about a new way, a name for the God they previously venerated in their worship as “The Unknown God” (which seems similar to the New Age sentiments of the Universe as a sort of vague force or deity today). The people who were just learning the baby steps of the Jesus way were steeped in magic and ritual. Before Jesus, sacrifices (to send one spirit to reach the Creator Spirit) had to be made, spells and charms invoked for peace and prosperity to accompany them.
Our culture gets caught up today in our own brand of spells and charms. The powers of positive thinking, hustling to get out what we put out, good vibes sent out into the universe, are all the secular charms that come to mind. Within the Christian church, members claim blessings with a Jesus formula – “in Jesus name” people try to claim money and health, more comfortable lives. It was this trend that made me question what we needed to pray for, and how.
If God knew my need, why pray for material things?, I wondered. If my priorities should be on the Kingdom Come, what did praying for daily bread as Jesus taught matter? Was it self-centered to pray for material things besides bread? What of the people starving who pray and don’t receive? The prosperity preachers would simply say they don’t have enough faith to receive, which frankly is a most pompous, self-righteous cop-out from working toward social change (that’s a whole other article, or book rather, because I wrote that one).
And what did prayer for others really do, if they could talk to God themselves? I don’t think God asks us to beg. That doesn’t seem to be the character of a loving Father, whom Jesus taught of. At this limited understanding, I didn’t write much more in my Workbook about prayer, besides using it as a means of awareness to meet the needs of other people, and making sure not to treat God as a genie.
But Jesus said ask. Seek. Knock. What did He mean?
It’s a funny thing, that learning about the magical nature of the ancient church and Jewish tradition led me to understand the awesome power of prayer. That knowledge took me out of my own modern context; Have faith. Ok. Got that. Now what? Thinking of what former ways Paul was preaching against, helped me identify them in their modern forms, and to see how Jesus radically supersedes all other ways that were once before.
The tipping point of my understanding was when I read a fb group post about old “hoodoo” cures (as they called them). These were folk cures passed down from the Georgia Mountains where doctors weren’t very accessible. They included blowing in the throat of a child with strep, talking the “fire” out of burns, and speaking off warts. It was all scriptural, the posters stated. Not because the Bible instructs those procedures, but because the accompanying incantation was usually a Bible verse.
That use of folk magic (which it the manipulation of the natural elements for supernatural gain) and of scripture (or abuse rather) brought me back to the words in the New Testament: Colossians 2:8-10:
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
And in Timothy 1:6 … being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths.
I think of how the early Christians would use the name of Christ in “Jesus spells”, and how we do the same as if we can seal our fates with tag, “in Jesus name”, or with general good vibes and intentions for positive energy and good karma.
Paul goes on to say in Corinthians 1: 27
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
These verses tell me that the old ways of striving through ritual, or any other means of force, is subordinate to the simple, straight access we have to God by the seal of the Holy Spirit for those who proclaim Jesus Christ as Messiah Savior.
Think about how that nulls all old ways and hard attempts at our wills being done. Our highest thoughts and intentions, our most passionate work, our most trusted family rituals, all are beneath simply asking the One who is in charge of it all anyway.
It evokes a sigh of relief.
That is the foundation of the peace of Christ. He said ask, because we will be heard. There is not a lot of room for stress and striving in that. Yes, we do strive in prayer, not for results but for peace in the answers, knowing God has heard us and plans for our best outcome (this is my best understanding currently, though I remain teachable). I’m not an all roses person. I know full well that what is best for me may feel uncomfortable, may even mean death - will mean death at some point. All is ok and all is grace.
Back to the point of why even pray? Why is this the way we are told to accomplish anything? It relates back to Eden. Whether literal or symbolic, when God created human kind and placed them in the garden, He told them to tend to it. Work at it, plant it, fill it with plants and more people. In the garden, humanity had an unbroken access to God as they lived and worked. But their prohibited use of a subservient elemental force beneath God Almighty (the power of the Tree of Knowledge) cut off that easy access.
Within prayer, is the invitation to align our wills with God’s. It is sort of grace in partnership, another way that God elevated our lowly status as dust and desire toward working with us to accomplish larger purposes according to His master plan and glory. Prayer shows God where our allegiance and trust lies, it makes our wills known to the angels who can then assist us in ways that are not against our will (free will is a biggie in Christian faith), it yields spiritual fruits of faithfulness, love and concern, patience, and ultimately submission to divine will (which is the most powerful prayer, because again, we turn it over to the One with the power and knowledge).
Yes - we work, yes - we hustle (as humankind did in the Garden in God’s union), we try to say some perfect words to heaven that will “work” for us, but there is a point where that magic ends. The peace and power of prayer comes from superseding all the old short reaches of gain to begin with, and just petition God for what we need, knowing He invites us to, enjoys the union, and is wanting to answer in ways that teach, gift, and enlighten.
1 John 5:14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
Thinking in terms of old magic verses the fulfillment of power and access to God through Jesus gives me a fresh understanding of the power of prayer, and what importance it has for peace, all the needs that seem to affect our peace.
All we have to do is ask in faith that God hears and answers for our good.
Isn’t that amazing grace?