If I had several extra millions of dollars, I’d commission an updated Christian version of the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. In it, an angel would lead a person through the past, present and future, showing this person the changes that were the result of his or her prayers. It would be an awesome movie that would stir us to passionately engage in the changing power of prayer.
God is good like that, but we can take Him for granted.
Even seemingly big crisis can be downgraded when something “happens” to happen to improve the situation. Just recently a friend called with a hard situation that seemed impossible. We prayed on the phone through her tears. Then we played phone tag all week. When we finally did talk, she had to be reminded about the event I wanted an update about. While I had prayed all week, and God had worked (Hallelujah!), she moved on to other things. Our original conversation had taken me on a compassionate rollercoaster ride. The same situation was now a non-event to her. God had clearly worked, but she missed it as He took away her angst. I imagine we all do this to some degree.
A lot of good prayer can be sacrificed to talk about what needs to be prayed for.
I just visited an older man that I knew from my childhood. I was very sad after our meeting. Hardly a thing had changed in the many, many years since we had last visited over coffee. He seemed stuck in time, except he had less hair and more health issues now, and his environment was in dusty decay. I remember that he was in a tough spot back then. He never left that place of lack and emptiness. As I tossed and turned, trying to sleep that night, I grieved the things that never happened for him. I became overwhelmed with the lack of support and spiritual encouragement that he had in his life. I had regrets. I had neglected him in my prayers.
Of course I could have ticked off the ways that he contributed to the fruitlessness of his life. It’s often our first response to blame people for their plights. The Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me. His voice was gentle; “You never prayed for him.” The realization was profound. I prayed for many things, most of them self-effecting. But not him. Regret overwhelmed me. What could have been? I know now, much more than back then, that my prayers could have been key in freeing him from his life’s troubles.
“Mom, you have not because you ask not. It’s in the Bible, you know.”
How would today have been different if we hadn’t asked for many of the things that we ask for daily, as a matter of course? Safety, provision, guidance and peace are taken for granted, unless they are threatened. Look at Jesus’ model prayer for us, and see how much it covers;
“This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’”
If Jesus prayed for the basics, and Paul urged prayer for every occasion, if our motives are good, then can we pray useless prayers?
I suspect that we may single-handedly fight battle after battle as we go throughout days, not realizing that we never asked for the help and rescue of our Commander. He’s always available, ready and willing to answer our requests to Him.
Months ago I left a pediatric specialist with my son. I pressed the elevator buttons for the lobby and turned to see tears in his eyes. “Mom. I heard what he said. My head hurt a lot, so I couldn’t understand all he said, but I know it wasn’t good.” The doctor had discussed surgery and more doctors. His prognosis was indeterminate, lacking hope or answers.
I was upset, myself. The elevator doors opened and we stepping into the lobby. I knew there wasn’t a thing we could do. We had tried everything and were at the end of internet searches and behavior modification attempts. This esteemed man’s lifetime of professional experience and a wall full of diplomas offered us nothing more than a revolving door, another stack of test and office visit invoices, and a vague typed report of findings that showed that they really didn’t find out much.
It was one of those moments of true despair. I had just been assigned random things to do, none of them easy, putting all responsibility squarely on my shoulders, again. I knew none of them would fix my son’s pervasive issues. He had given up. It was clear from his inability to hold his head up.
I knew that there really wasn’t anything I could do, and my son knew, too. The lobby emptied. I drew him to me and we prayed; “God!!! Help, help, help us! Only You can do this. Heal him. Help him. Give me wisdom. Guide us. We give every single thing to you. Please help us. You said to cry out, and You will help. We believe you will. We wait on you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”
God had to do it, or it wouldn’t be done.
That was well over a year ago, and things turned around shortly after that prayer. We are still immersed in the complex medical system, but the miraculous improvements have also been outside of that system. I watched my son swim and ride his bike up and down dirt roads this week. God is answering our earnest prayers. Praise Him! As I watched my son play, God reminded me of that desperate lobby prayer when it was so dark that we gave up. It was the beginning of His amazing work. Only God could do it, and He is doing it.
There are times when we fail to pray, and there are times when we do. As the boundless power of prayer becomes more and more real in my life, I do it more and more. I wish my prayers could turn back time and give the lonely older man a better life. But I’m determined to look through my regret to see the younger people in my life that seem to be passionately headed down wrong roads. My first thought, straight from hell, is that my prayers are too weak, and too few, to make a difference. But then the Holy Spirit knocks those thoughts away. They can, and they will make a difference.
From simple provision to miraculous changes in circumstances, answers never come when we never ask.
Each of us has un-prayed prayers. Many of them are intercessory prayers where we have opportunities to ask God to work in other people’s lives. The Holy Spirit will highlight needs all around us. Effective prayer is intentional. It’s a big jump from “I should pray about that,” or “I will pray about that” to actually praying about that. Pray only a sentence, if that’s all you have time for, but pray. Pray each time God reminds you too. Those prayers are drops that will fill a bucket, than a tub, than a pool. They will change things.
What needs to change around you? Pray. Pray and then watch things improve. If things begin to look worse, pray harder. It’s a good sign that there is spiritual opposition to what you are asking. Find a friend and pray together. This is Kingdom work, which is of eternal importance. Have no regrets because you didn’t pray, and didn’t receive. One day Jesus will review your whole life, and it won’t be a movie. It will be real. Then you will see how your prayers have, or haven’t, made a difference. May your eternal reward be great!