Prayer is interaction – communication – with God, and for most of our lives the results of prayer are not spectacular. Though we may have experienced miracles of intercession, of healing and of provision, these are not the spiritual fare on which we dine daily. It is less common that we enjoy “mountain top” experiences of prayer; more often than not it is in the daily mundane events that our lives are joined with God. Most of us but rarely dwell with God in the hallowed atmosphere of a sacred building; rather it is at the coalface of our existence where our days commence and finish, where we are found to be tired, dusty, challenged and vulnerable, that we develop our relationship with God. Rarely do we realize the steady, ongoing growth of intimacy produced by the constancy of this our interaction with God. Prayer is the switching on, or the opening of circuits, of power between our Creator and ourselves.
And, just as electromagnetic forces, sound waves and electricity of themselves produce no audible sound, so oftentimes in prayer God’s words come as a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19: 11-12), rather than the voice of God as depicted at Sinai. When we address the subject of the power of prayer it is obvious that, as we regard prayer as an active force, we are dealing with the dynamics of prayer. Dynamics are concerned with forces which produce motion – as opposed to inertia or a static state. Dynamics encompass personality, strength, ambition, energy and new ideas. The topic of the dynamics of prayer is so large that it really has no boundaries.
Scripture speaks of prayer being the medium through which miracles can be set in motion, or can spring forth, fully accomplished: Elijah (1 Kings 17: 20-21), and Elisha (2 Kings 4: 33) prayed successfully for the restoration of life to two young men, and Jesus (John 11: 41-42) gave thanks for his ongoing communication with God just before he restored Lazarus to life.
Other notable prayers from Scripture are:
- Hannah’s prayer (1 Samuel 1: 9,27) for a son, and then her thanksgiving for this son;
- Abraham’s prayer (Genesis 18: 23) for the people of Sodom;
- Solomon’s prayer (1 Kings 8: 22-52) at the dedication of the Temple;
- Hezekiah’s prayer (2 Kings 19: 15-20) for deliverance from the invasion of Shennacherib;
- Ezra’s prayer (Ezra 9: 6-15) for forgiveness for the sins of the people;
- Daniel’s prayer (Daniel 9: 4-19) for the captive Jews in Babylon;
- Paul’s prayer (Ephesians 3 :16-21) for the Christians at Ephesus
- Jesus’ prayer (John 17) for all disciples, present and future.
We also have many contemporary witnesses who have written books on the topic of the power of prayer:
- Katherine Kuhlman tells of miracles of healing;
- Peter Marshall speaks of God’s guidance and direction in his call to minister in the USA;
- Billy Graham reports of salvation for millions achieved during his world-wide campaigns; and
- David Wilkerson witnesses to lives turned around by prayer;
There are many who will attest that the banks of fog which shrouded the seas, allowing thousands of Allied troops to be evacuated from Dunkirk under enemy fire during the Second World War, were the result of prayer which circled the globe.
Faith makes the difference in prayer, changing prayer from a custom of conformity into an expression of spiritual intimacy. Prayer wraps around us like a soft blanket, providing comfort and assurance during the fiercest of life’s storms. Prayer provides the strength when we would otherwise be beaten by circumstances. Prayer supplies us with non-judgmental love and forgiveness when we, or those we love and serve, have been hurt. Prayer gives us the courage to challenge injustices and prejudices whether these be entrenched in legislation or in attitudes. Prayer shakes our lives and conceptions (misconceptions) just as surely as the bones were shaken in the valley of Ezekiel’s vision, so that God may remove the scales from our eyes and the plugs from our ears, and we may experience vibrant lives as God’s children.
When our spiritual, physical or emotional pain seems almost too excruciating to bear, prayer will enable us to endure, to discover an inner serenity and then to teach us how our own experiences can be used to help others. In the silence of prayer we hear the voice of God, and our lives are changed. We are transformed from those who have known loneliness to those who know they will never ever be alone again; from those who have acted or reacted from fear to those who act and react only from love; from those who find life can at best be endured to those who welcome each new day with joy. Prayer is the staff on which we lean when the path ahead grows steeper and more strewn with obstacles. Prayer is the power that compels us to seek help rather than pursuing a permanent escape from life’s ills. Prayer is the force that unblocks channels of healing, grace and blessing and allows us to experience fully the love of God.
Prayer provides the greatest intimacy we will ever know, for with God we can be completely open and completely honest, admitting our insufficiencies and asking for God’s sufficiencies. In the security of this intimacy we are able to expose our deepest regrets, our sharpest torments, our fears and recurring nightmares, and in the naming and critical examination of these we discover a catharsis has occurred and we are freed of the burdens we have carried over-long. To God we are able to bring our hopes, ambitions and unexpressed dreams and expect a gift of discernment, and perhaps another of courage to bring these to fruition. In God, once depicted as remote and perhaps judgmental, we discover a loving Parent, even an intimate Lover. From God’s mouth come truths with which no other would dare confront us, yet in our intimate closeness such words are encased in love, for God knows each of our frailties and chooses not to wound our fragile beings.
God, in human form as Jesus, observed the disciplined prayer life required by the Jewish law, extending this to embrace a period of prayer and fasting in the tradition of the nation’s prophets. In living and in dying God as Jesus reached out with his words and his spirit to God his Parent. So it is that we are able to reach out in the processes of our living and our dying to God our Parent from whom we draw the energy of life which continues to fill our hearts with joy and sustains us through our darkest nights. The power of prayer is available to us at all times; it is our willingness to connect to the energy of God through every circumstance of our lives which falters at times, not God’s grace. God is present at the coalface. In the dusty streets, amid the bushfires, avalanches and earthquakes which shake our lives, God is there in prayer.
Rev. Vera I. Bourne of Lismore, N.S.W., Australia, served as Outreach Clergy at Christs Community Church.