When I think about prayer, the first thing that comes to mind is NOT the power of prayer.
And if you were to observe my prayer life, that much would be evident. The simple fact is, the amount I pray doesn’t reflect the power of prayer. When scripture talks about prayer, it speaks in explosive, world-altering terms.
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
This verse that paints a breathtaking, you-gotta-be-kidding-me, picture regarding the power of prayer. It draws a direct line between the weather-altering prayer of Elijah and my prayers. It’s absolutely unbelievable. God wants me to look at Elijah’s mega-drought-inducing prayer and to think, That same kind of powerful praying is available to me.
As the great theologian, Owen Wilson would say, “Woooowwww.”
Taking The Power of Prayer For Granted
The simple fact is, I take prayer for granted. I mean, it’s “just” prayer. I was taught to pray at a young age and my family always said prayers before dinner and bedtime. My dad would pray before we went on long trips and pray for us when we got sick.
I follow the same rhythms today. I pray when I read my Bible and have my kids pray before we start eating. I have a “standard” bedtime prayer that I say over my children. There aren’t any miracles happening (so far) after these prayers. It all seems pretty pedestrian.
If you were present for any of these prayers (which would be super weird – why are you in my house?), it would be obvious that I’m not thinking about the power of prayer in the moment.
Why is this?
One reason may be that because Christ has opened the way into the Holy Places, I can pray freely at any time of day. I can pray in the car, as I’m working, and while I’m watching my kids. Being able to pray so freely is an incredible, wonderful blessing.
I think, however, that the freeness with which I can pray causes me to take prayer for granted. I don’t treat prayer as particularly powerful or sacred. I don’t reckon with the fact that prayer is a real, live exchange between me and the living, consuming fire God.
If I’m going to start savoring the sacred power of prayer, I need to start remembering a few things when I pray.
The Power of Prayer: God Hears
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. (Psalm 4:3)
O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. (Psalm 5:3)
When I pray, the Lord himself, Yahweh, the King of Kings, the commander of the armies of Heaven, hears me! The God who crushed the Egyptian army and humiliated the prophets of Baal hears when I call to him. The God who cracked the Red Sea, who singlehandedly dismantled the Babylonians, who conquered the Midianites with 300 men and a coward of a general, is attuned to my prayers.
The power of prayer doesn’t come from the words I say but from the God who hears.
I’m not babbling empty words into a void. I’m not simply talking to myself. This is not the power of positive speaking.
When I call, God hears.
I can’t overstate how astonishing this is. God truly and really hears when I pray. Why would I not take advantage of this more often? Why do I so often strive in my own strength when the omnipotent One is waiting for me to pray to him?
The Power of Prayer: God Acts
And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and wdo not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” Matthew 21:21-22
Not only does God hear my prayers, he actually responds to them. The more I think about this, the more I have trouble comprehending it.
I ask and God acts.
My words of supplication move the heart of the King of the Universe. He keeps the planets in orbit. He keeps atoms from accidentally splitting and creating a nuclear holocaust. He ordains rains and flames and the rise and fall of presidents and dictators.
And this same God acts on my behalf when I pray. This, indeed, is the staggering power of prayer.
When I pray, God does real, amazing, incredible things. He changes circumstances. He softens hearts. He saves parents and children. He gives peace that passes understanding. He intervenes with financial provision. He brings reconciliation. Prayer brings the Almighty God into the mundane details of my life.
Prayer is no vain ritual. Prayer is inviting the living God to intervene on my behalf.
The Power of Prayer: God Strengthens
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:17-18)
Not only does God hear me when I pray, but he also strengthens me. In the midst of affliction, when I barely have the strength to call out to God, he hears me and strengthens me. He imparts real spiritual, emotional, and even physical strength to me.
Prayer connects me to the infinite strength of God. This is the glorious power of prayer. Though I am pathetically weak, prayer plugs me into the One who makes supernovas look like nightlights. Prayer is a divine invitation to experience the life-altering power of God.
Again, why would I neglect this? I’m reminded of the hymn that says:
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer
The Power of Prayer: God Blesses
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)
God is eager to bless me. Just as I am eager to give good gifts to my kids, God is eager to give good gifts to me. When I pray, God unleashes blessings into my life.
I realize that sounds terribly Joel Osteen-ish, but it’s not. It’s God’s word. God will give me good things when I pray to him. He will bless me and pour out his incredible riches into my life.
Over and over in scripture, we see God responding to prayer with blessing. When I neglect prayer, I am missing out on unique grace God wants to give me.
Moving Past Prayer Lists
I think that, at times, prayer lists tend to make me forget about the power of prayer.
Don’t get me wrong – prayer lists are useful tools. They help me remember to pray for things I would normally forget. Every so often, usually after reading an inspiring book on prayer, I get on a prayer list kick. I resolve to be more diligent and faithful in prayer. To be like Paul, who was always remembering people in his prayers.
Despite my affection for prayer lists, I tend to drift away from them. If I had to put my finger on why, I would say I tend to abandon prayer lists most frequently because my prayer lists are often boring and unimaginative. They are stale, like old, bland crackers. They read like recipes.
The reality is: my prayer lists are limited by my imagination.
They’re filled with small, limited, mundane requests.
In other words, my prayer lists don’t reflect the power of prayer.
If you looked at my prayer list, you wouldn’t be like, “Woah! Hold me back! You must think you’re John the Baptist or something, cause you got some crazy things you’re asking for here.” I don’t usually have any big, audacious, faith-stretching requests on my prayer lists.
Why is this the case? Why are my prayer lists so boring? Because I fail to take into account scriptures like Ephesians 3:20, which speak about the glorious power of prayer:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…
This verse blows my boring prayer lists to bits. I don’t put much thought or passion into my prayer lists. They function like spiritual grocery lists: a checklist of various things I need. But this verse says that God is able to do far more abundantly than I can ask, or even think.
If I sat down and really thought about it, I could come up with some pretty big, important things to ask God. Things that I wouldn’t normally ask for because they are so…well, big. Things that are a definite stretch for my faith.
I pray for the salvation of my children. If I’m being really bold and imaginative, I’ll pray that God would dramatically and powerfully get hold of each of my children. Ephesians 3:20 tells me that God can do incredible, powerful, life-shaking things for my children that I couldn’t even imagine! Do I believe this?
I pray for God’s provision for my family. If I’m being really bold and imaginative, I’ll pray that God would provide enough for us to give a chunk of money away to someone in need. Ephesians 3:20 tells me that God can provide for my family in breathtaking, surprising, “Holy smokes, God is in this place,” kinds of ways. Do I believe this?
I pray that God would deepen my love for him. If I’m being really bold and imaginative, I’ll pray that God would increase my love for His word, increase my love for my fellow Christians, and let me experience the reality of his presence every day. Ephesians 3:20 tells me that God can meet me and change me and work me over in ways I never could have dreamed!
Given the power of prayer, my prayer lists should be inspired, bold, and imaginative. And I should approach my prayer with eager expectancy. I should expect God to blow away my expectations! I should expect God to give more than I ask.
I should expect God to surprise me.