In a lot of ways, the Christian tradition has neutered the power of prayer. We have done our best to turn it into a trite exercise, a half-baked commitment, an obligatory doldrum.
There is a strong reason for this. As human technology and society has developed, progressed, and expanded, we have become more and more intoxicated with our own achievements. We love action. We love power, in big and small ways. In short, we like to take control and get things done.
This can’t be overstated. When we talk to someone about their problems, our instinct has evolved into trying to “fix” the problem. When something happens, our rugged individualism tells us to look out for number one. Our movies suggest that we are the ultimate hero and the unquestioningly good guy. We cast ourselves as solver of problems, finder of lost things, destroyer of obstacles.
So where does prayer fit in? We usually resort to prayer only when we are desperate for help. We need a nudge to get us on track. We appeal to God to remove an obstacle. And then, right in his face, when the obstacle is removed, it is not his doing but our bold prayers that did it. And if the obstacle isn’t moved, it is our fault for not praying well enough – which is just the inverted way of taking credit when it goes well.
There is often an attitude around prayer that suggests it is a weak, a last resort. Something we only do whenever all the other things are not working. Or as a dismissive and empty gesture – like when we say “I’ll be praying for you” but don’t ever do it or when we lament “all I can do is pray” as if it is an imputent gesture as close to worthless as we dare to dip.
The long and the short of it is this: prayer does not feel practical to us. And we are an ever-practical people.
The real tragedy here is that prayer is just about the most practical thing we can do as a Christian. Prayer is a submission to God, an admonition of trusting Him, and an appeal for Him to be the solution where we cannot (which is honestly just about everywhere).
The Cosmic Power of prayer is in the way it impacts our perspective – C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I pray not because it changes God but because it changes me”. Too often, we view prayer as a way to try to bring God into our lives rather than a way to try to bring our life into Him. A subtle but massive difference.
When we pray, truly pray, it is about acknowledging reality – God is God and I am not. It is a mystical practicality, one we cannot see or fully understand. A practicality that is dependent on trust.
And that is a difficult thing to wrap our heads around. We want instant gratification. We want to SEE the solution. We want data and evidence. We want proof.
And prayer is not proof. It is trust. It is love and the kind of peace that passes understanding and transcends circumstances. Which, ironically, is what we really want. It is what we truly desire. But we just get so caught up in the details of today’s turmoil. We get so lost in the weeds. The most practical thing prayer offers is to rise above circumstances. But doing so necessarily requires a certain amount of letting go of those circumstances. Not forgetting or ignoring them, but letting go.
Christians need to do more to redeem the practice of prayer. To treat it the way the Bible does, the way Jesus does. As essential, practical, and immensely powerful. We need to turn from the all-I-can-do-is-pray lament to a perspective that I-can-pray-and-that-matters! Because it does. It matters immensely. It is about the most important thing you can do.