One of the more frequent questions that gets asked of spiritual leaders is “can you pray for…?” Reading that sentence, I’m pretty certain you recognize the truth in that statement. It may be the most common question asked of us.
Recently, I paused to contemplate why this request comes up so frequently. The simplest answer is probably correct in this case – and that answer is that people (not just Christians) believe that prayer works. People believe there is power in prayer. What is it, though, that people believe prayer accomplishes? That’s where the lines start to get a little fuzzier.
I am certain some people who ask for prayer from spiritual leaders believe that their prayers are more likely to be effective than the average person’s because “they are closer to God.” I’ve heard that line more times than I can count. While I hope most leaders feel an especial closeness to God, I don’t believe that in any measurable way they are closer to God than anyone else. I believe in particular that the Holy Spirit resides in all who believe, in fact the Spirit is a wild and free and can move among all of creation. In this sense, no one person is closer to God’s Spirit than another in my mind.
I am certain some people who ask for prayer from spiritual leaders simply believe in the power of positive thought going out into the universe and not coming back empty. I’ve heard that before as well. Some of those who believe this say, “as a pastor, you kind of have to be one of the most positive people on the planet.” I can assure you after having known more ministers / priests / pastors than most people do in a lifetime, on the whole, spiritual leaders are no more positive than the general population. In fact, if it were measured, I would guess as a group, they may be more pessimistic than the average “non-pastor.” It’s a nice thought anyway.
I am certain some (perhaps most) people ask ministers to pray because they believe they simply have more experience praying. On this point, my hope is that this would be correct. However, I have known many who have confessed to me that they “hardly ever pray unless asked” and I have known many lay persons who tell me “I find myself praying all the time.” So, while the averages may suggest the asker is correct, there’s no guarantee the one being asked falls into that category.
So again, why ask your spiritual leader to pray, or why pray at all? The answer hasn’t changed – it’s because we believe prayer works. So, if it doesn’t work because of the above reasons, how DOES prayer work? And DOES it make a difference who doing the praying?
I’ll answer the second question first – never hesitate to ask a spiritual leader to pray for you. We should be doing that already and you’re giving us specific requests helps guide our prayers for you. I’m not sure it makes the petitions more or less likely to be heard, but I do know it helps those of us praying. And perhaps because of what I’m about to say in answer to the first question, it does make a difference to have more people praying.
So how DOES prayer work? I believe pray works in three ways: 1) It changes the person praying; 2) It changes the situation 3) It changes the one being prayed over. I have listed these in the order in what I believe is the order of likelihood of things happening.
- Prayer often (perhaps almost always even) changes the one praying. It changes that person’s heart on the subject, that person’s awareness of God’s work in the world, and that person’s relationship to God and others. Prayer works!
- Prayer sometimes changes the situation. These changes don’t always, or even usually, manifest as miracles and physical healings if that’s what is being asked for in them. Situations can change in many ways – there can be more peace, more understanding, more caregivers can come alongside, doctor’s bedside manner can change, conversations can be less draining/taxing, etc. A prayer over a meal can change a situation by creating an atmosphere of love, peace, and sense of God’s presence at the table. The calories will still count, however. Situations can and do change in many ways. Often prayer helps that process happen. Prayer works!
- Prayer can change the one being prayed over. If a prayer is for healing, sometimes that person is healed. If a prayer is for a person’s deliverance from drugs/alcohol/depression, sometimes that happens. Sometimes the person being prayed for comes to Christ. Sometimes we receive, instantly, more patience, or miraculously a financial gift to get us through a situation. Sometimes prayer changes the one being prayed for – whether that’s us or someone else. Prayer works!
I invite you to join with Pastor Phil to learn more about different ways of praying. You can find two videos by click #1 here and #2 here. Join us in praying over our families, over our church, and over our community.
The following articles address various aspects of prayer that you may find helpful.
Your Unique Ability to Talk to God
Unlocking Contemplative Meditation
How to Pray Continually while Living Life
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