Some Thoughts on Prayer

by Tank Tankersley

In my Bible class this morning we prayed for the sick.  I’m glad we did.  I’m a believer in prayer.  But there’s so much about it I do not understand.  When the sick get well, we thank God or answering our prayers.  And we should! But when they don’t?  Well, then we pray for other things.  But, in this latter case, did God not answer our prayers?  Or did He simply not give us the answer we wanted?  Have you ever noticed how our prayers change as the subject of our petitions get sicker?

We start praying for things other than healing, no pain, peace of mind and spirit, the strength to cope and such.  And we should so pray.  But is it because we have given up on God?  I refuse to do so.  I pray for healing, if it be God’s will, right to the end.  I feel that to do anything less is throwing in the towel, admitting that not even God can do anything now.  Or, when medical science tells us that “it’s over,” do we take this as an indication that healing is not what God desires?  That “it’s time?”

There will come a time, of course when “it’s time” for all of us.  My father died at 75.  I prayed that God would spare him.  God chose not to.  I do not blame God for not giving me more time with my father.  God always know best.  I’d have been praying for healing at 85, or 95, I suspect.  I pray that God’s will be done,  but I’m thinking “I sure hope my will can be your will.”

It’s so hard to not want what I want.  And how can I know God’s will?  If  God desires that healing come, won’t it come anyway?  Is he waiting for me to ask before He does what He wants to do?  And if it’s His will that healing not come, will He grant me what I want rather than what He wants?

Is God ever neutral?  Does he ever grant our petitions because they’re not contrary to His will and because He can “work things out either way?” does it matter how many Christians pray?  “There are a lot of people praying for you,” I’ve told those in need of prayer.  Would one more matter?  One less?  Does how often we pray matter?  How long?  How ardently?

“And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground ” (Luke 22:44).  That’s how our Lord prayed.  I do not pray like that.  Should we get on our knees?  I feel a need to “get low,” to “abase myself,” for I need to show that I know who God is, and who I am.  Phil Slate once told me of a preacher who, when his private prayer time came, would get into coveralls and stretch out on the floor.  I don’t do that, but I understand it.

Yes, there’s so much I don’t know about prayer.  But some things I do know.  I know that we should pray.  “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not faint” (Luke 18:1).  And I know that we forfeit a lot of  blessing because we do not ask.  “…yet, ye have not , because ye ask not” (James 4:2).  And I know that we need to ask for the right things.  “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lust” (James 4:2).

And I know that, though none of us is good enough to “deserve” to have his prayers answered, how we live affects how our prayers are received.  “… the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).  Have you ever found yourself thinking when praying, “This would be a good time to be a more righteous man?”  And I know that our attitude matters.

“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).  God’s word tells us that it was the penitent publican, not the self-righteous Pharisee, whose prayer served only to exalt himself, who “went down to his house justified” (Luke 18:14).

And I know that prayer is about more than asking for things.  If I prayed every minute of every day for however many days God may grant me, I could not begin to thank Him for all the good things he has given me.  “In everything give thanks : for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Some things I know and so many I don’t.  Well finally there’s one thing I suspect.  I suspect that if we Christians took prayer seriously, if we took God at His word, if we approached Him as we ought, we’d change things.  No, that’s wrong.  He, through us, would change some things.

The war, and the hate, and the pornography, and the abortions, and the drugs, and the broken homes, and the greed, and the abuse of the young and neglect of the aged, and the arrogance of those in power, it’s so over-whelming!  And we can’t do anything about it .

But God can, and would, I suspect, if His people, millions of them, came to Him in earnest, with faith, in humility, not once in a while but all the time, praying as if He were our only hope, which indeed, He is.  Were we to pray that way, I really believe that God would act to make this world that he created, and that we have debased, a very, very different kind of place.

(reprint 8/20/2004)