What is the power of prayer?
I suppose there are many answers to this question. Here's one (or several strung together) for starters.
I believe that the power of prayer is first felt inside of us. It's a sense of God's assent, somewhat like someone answering our phone call when the phone has been ringing for a long time and we're wondering if maybe we should just hang up and try again another time. Then a voice answers and simply says, "I'm here. I'm listening to you." Communication has been established!
God has assented to our calling. God has assented to be in relationship with us. God has assented to us—to you, to me, to who we are and who we hope to be. But why? you might ask. And why now? Because that is God's deepest desire and what God has been hoping for all along. I believe that we experience the power of God when we sense God's assent to our seeking and even realize that God has been reaching out for us all along.
The power of prayer is the power that comes to us when we realize that God can be our point of reference in the midst of all the confusions of our daily lives, the steadfastness of God rather than the incomplete, fragile inconstancies of ourselves. It's the power that comes when we're able to be centered, anchored in a belief and rooted in a Truth, which is stronger and deeper than the day-to-day truths we struggle with.
I think this may have been what the apostle Paul had experienced when he wrote to the people of Ephesus about God's desire for us "that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of people, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles." (Ephesians 4:14) In prayer our hearts and minds can be focused on the eternal truths of God and not the changing, fickle truths of human knowledge and human nature.
The power of prayer is the constant renewal of perspective. Prayer opens our eyes. It extends our horizons. It sheds light into the darkness of our fears and our sorrows, our hopes and joys, our shame and our pride. It gives us new ways of seeing life and relationships, of understanding work and the cost of growing.
The power of prayer is real and palpable. You can feel it and know it and depend on it. It comes to us as a gift, but we need to do our part as well. God calls us to pray and through our prayer, God empowers us and gives us strength.
—The Rev. Margaret B. Gunness
I don't believe that our prayer changes God's mind or improves God's disposition. God will do what God will do. Our basic prayer is: God, be God. Be the God you have shown yourself to be.
Would God be something else if we didn't pray? No. Would God hate if we didn't beg God to love? No. Would God ignore a cancer or marriage unless we remembered to pray and did so fervently? No. It is God's nature to love, to show mercy, to forgive, and to redeem. Our prayers don't modify God's nature.
What, then, do our prayers do? At one level, they are like a child's cry for a parent's help. They just burst forth. We see a need, and we cry to God. We feel a pain, and we cry to God. Our prayers don't cause events to change, rather they recognize God's presence.
Our prayers also align us with God, assuming they are prayers that are true to God's nature, and not prayers that seek wealth or revenge. What does alignment with God accomplish? You never can tell. It certainly would put us in a mind to help another. It would ease the other's burden. It would amend our lives and, thus, amend the lives of others, in ways we might never see.
The positive, radical and transforming impact of one person's choosing to love another cannot be fully known, but it is sufficient reason to pray.
The power of prayer is awesome and immeasurable. It brings God close to us so we can listen. He suggests—we ask—we thank—we listen. It is a challenging, blissful round robin.
To me, the power of prayer depends on the sort of prayer that you are praying. Oftentimes people become disappointed and disillusioned when they pray to God to grant a specific outcome or desire and their "prayer" is not answered. Many people think a miracle has happened when just such a prayer results in God's bringing about the desired outcome.
I once prayed that a close friend who was sick be made well. His subsequent death seemed to me not only a failure on God's part to grant my prayer, but an affront to my sense of right results and even justice. In reflecting on this event over the last several years, I've come to realize that a miracle occurs as we learn to perceive the purpose of prayer as something different, something that changes us and gives meaning to our understanding of the words "thy will be done"; that is, we understand an outcome as part of living fully and the total package of the human experience, both the joyous and the tragic, instead of perceiving it as upsetting our apple cart. This is not to say that tragedy is not tragic, but tragedy is not something caused by God for the purpose of making us suffer or to deny our wish. While we may not want our friends to die young, death happens to us all, and it is not God's failure on our behalf when it does.
Living fully is so hard to do. In order to achieve it, we have to accept many conditions, outcomes and events that we wouldn't have chosen and don't agree with, and even embrace them as a part of life - our lives - because they are a part of life (and death). Learning to pray with that more mature understanding helps me experience God as not so much a parental figure with the power to give me what I want, but as a potent and ever- present source of connectedness and strength that helps me to understand those events life inevitably throws my way.
Prayer is the most personal, intimate aspect of my relationship with God. Sometimes prayer is my time to prepare for the challenges of life...like the words of a coach to a player before going into the game. Often prayer time is when I can hear God speaking to me. It is when I seem to be able to make sense of how God is leading me through his presence in my life, like a child asking "why?" and finally beginning to understand. Prayer time helps me connect the dots. It is an opportunity to sit with a great teacher to review the homework of my life...to be better prepared for the next chapter.
Prayer is also a time of obedience, for Jesus instructs us to pray. Prayer is my opportunity to lift up the needs of others to the Father, especially those for whom life is so complex that prayer is difficult. Several years ago I began keeping a prayer journal—a list of the things I want to share with God during our prayer time. The power of prayer took on a new dimension when I realized how many prayers had been answered! God's presence in my life became very real.
The power of prayer: To heal physical and spiritual hurts, to bring insight, to place one's burdens in God's hands, trust them to God's keeping, to be comforted, to give joyful thanks.