This thought keeps coming back around, this week, in articles and Scripture, and around-the-table discussions….and when an idea comes at you from all sides, it is wise to pay attention. So we sit up and take note of this concept that of all the things we do, prayer is the most effective, however small it may seem.
It’s a little hard to grasp, that mere words, poured out and often not even spoken aloud would have the power to change the way things are. It makes more sense to do something tangible, that we can measure and others can see– share what we have, to fill up what is lacking somewhere else. It makes us feel better about life if we can count the money for refugee relief, pile up the shoeboxes for children, build a ramp, or buy a gift. It counts for something, piles up as evidence for good, but underneath I wonder if it isn’t more about this urgent need in all of us to regain some sense of control. In a world of overwhelming evils, doing something visibly good makes me feel that I have some influence over the situation. And I like the thought that we are equipped to combat the darkness, that if we work together and harness all our good intentions we could make a sizable difference. But when it comes right down to it, we are fighting a losing battle if all we are using is our hands and feet.
The Church-planter Paul quotes the prophets and they are all speaking the plain truth that our best efforts are not good enough in any way that matters. We just don’t have what it takes to make a long-term difference: “No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” (Romans 3:11-12) And maybe it takes something as big as loss or illness to make us realize what we can’t control; there’s something about getting to the end of your own abilities that inspires you to reach for More.
But right there, over and over again, Paul is urging the early Christ-followers to reach out in love and do the most powerful thing in the universe that they can do: “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” (Ephesians 6:18) Because when we take our concerns for the people we love, and shape them into prayers, we are surrendering our desires for them into the hands of Someone who loves them even more and has the power to do the things we cannot. We might be able to wrap up a toy for a child, but the God who came to earth to rescue that child can rearrange circumstances that will help him to grow strong. We can raise money for clean water, but the Creator who shaped the earth can raise up someone to spread the gospel of Living Water in that place. We can clean houses and cook meals, but the Healer who bore our pain in His own body can give strength and hope to the sick. It is a miracle and a privilege, how He allows our concern for others to take on lasting influence and form when we offer them up to Him. It is scary to admit how little we can control, but we have a real God who can make real life-change happen for good when we put needs into words.
So by all means, let us do what is before us in the tangible Everyday to help others, and may we do it gladly in Christ’s name; but may we also be quick to pour out our heart’s desires for their good in our prayers, and wait in anticipation to see what our Father in Heaven will do for them.
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.Ephesians 3:20-21
There is no factor in prayer more effectual than love. If we are intensely interested in an object or an individual, our petitions become like living forces. Not only do they convey their wants to God, but in some sense they convey God’s help back to us.AB Simpson