All Christians Need to Embrace the Power of Prayer

When the disciples walked the earth with Jesus, they had the privilege of being able to ask him any question they wanted. (We have that same privilege as well.) But of all the things that they asked Jesus, one of the things that sticks out above the others is when they asked him to teach them to pray.

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1).

What is it about prayer, or what is the power of prayer, that would cause the disciples to want to learn how to do it correctly? A basic definition of the power prayer is when you invite heaven’s resources to intervene in your earthly situation. Since heaven’s resources are unlimited, then you are inviting the omnipotent God into the equation and asking him to fix or do something about your circumstance. When you grasp that, then you are getting hold of what the power of prayer is.

What Does the Bible Say about the Power of Prayer?
There are numerous scriptures throughout the Bible that encourage us to pray and highlight the true power that is in prayer. Here are just two.

“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven”

(Psalm 107:28-30).

“’Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:28-30).

From these two verses and so many others, you can see that one of the powers in prayer is when God’s people ask for his help in their current situation.

Why Is Prayer So Powerful?
There is an old expression that says, “God helps those who help themselves.” Many people think this is in the Bible, but it is not. Not only is this not in the Bible, but this is also not really true. If you hold onto this type of thinking you will nullify prayer’s power.

When you think about what the real power of prayer is, it is not coming from a person who believes they can help themselves, but from a person who knows they can’t.

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus told this parable, and when you understand it you will understand what the power of prayer is.

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted’” (Luke 18:9-14).

There is a stark difference between these two men praying. One came with full confidence, knowing he had done everything right and his praying was just the icing on the cake of his self-righteousness. The other one could barely lift his eyes toward heaven, yet he is the one that experienced the power in prayer. There were two simple but important reasons why:

  1. Reality

If there is a key to experiencing power in prayer, it is making sure you pray from a place of reality. What I mean by this is that you don’t hide the truth of your situation and how you feel about it.

One reason we never have real times of breakthrough in prayer is because we often approach God like the Pharisee, either falsely believing we have it all together or thinking we must get it together before we approach God, because “God helps those who help themselves.” The truth is you need to come to God just the way you are, bring the situation just the way it is and be open, real, and honest before God. This is what God wants from you and when you do this, you position yourself to experience the real power in prayer.

  1. Humility

I mentioned earlier that statement about God helping those who help themselves. The truth is the opposite. God helps those who realize they can’t help themselves – those who cry out to him for his help. When you invite heaven’s resources into your situation, that means you are acknowledging that what you have is not enough.

If you are repenting of sin, you are admitting you don’t have enough righteousness on your own.

If you are praying for opportunities, you are admitting you can’t create them on your own.

If you are praying for wisdom, you are admitting you don’t have all the answers.

It does not matter what you are praying for, when you humble yourself and recognize that without God’s help this is not going to happen, then you have positioned yourself to know and experience what the power of prayer really is.

Does Prayer Physically Aid Us?

As great as the spiritual benefits are from prayer, there have been studies that show there are physical ones as well. Admittedly this is not my area of expertise, but here is information from a 2009 study:

“A 2009 study by Koenig and colleagues found that six weekly in-person Christian prayer sessions with patients at a primary care office lowered their depression and anxiety symptoms and increased their optimism.”

Because God understands fully all the benefits of prayer, it is no surprise that he would encourage us to do it. It is why verses like this make more sense.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

As these patients continued in prayer, their anxieties and worries were lowered. This happens because in prayer, they transferred their anxieties from themselves to God and allowed him to carry them.

In prayer God is not just concerned about your need, he is concerned about you as well. Part of the reason God desires you to pray is because he knows it is good for your health. The things you let go of and give to God are not only good for your spirit, but they are also good for your body and mind too. This is a power of prayer that we most certainly overlook.

Is There Anything Prayer Cannot Do?

As powerful as prayer is, there is one thing that prayer, faith, or anything else can’t do. Prayer cannot supersede or override the will of God. You can pray as much as you want, for as long as you want, and with as much faith as you can muster, but it will not change what God has willed to do. For this reason, one of the most powerful weapons in prayer is agreement with God’s will. Not only are we encouraged to pray God’s will be done (think the Lord’s prayer) we are also assured that when we pray according to God’s will, he will do what we are praying for.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15).

When we consider this verse, we get an even better understanding of the power of prayer. The real power of prayer is when your will and desires come into alignment with God’s will and desires. When this happens, there is nothing that God will not do in answer to prayer because your prayers are already aligned with what he wants to do in the first place.

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Does Prayer Ever Fail Us?

We all struggle with prayer. This is the case for the most seasoned of Christians and those newest in the faith. We wrestle with unanswered prayer; we struggle to find the appropriate language for our petitions; we may even occasionally feel a lack of spiritual vitality as we pray. For every Christian there are times where the act of praying seems harder than it should be.

Despite our struggles, God promises to hear our prayers. Not only does God promise to hear, but God promises to respond. Jesus affirms this. His parable of the persistent widow is told specifically to encourage the disciples to “pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). The availability of God’s presence, met in prayer, is foundational to our understanding of God.

And yet, we have all found ourselves in times of discouragement resulting from unanswered prayer. If I pray for a friend’s healing, and that healing does not occur, did my prayer fail? Did I not pray enough, or in the right way? Was there a phrase, a psalm, or a spiritual discipline I should have used which would have unlocked God’s righteous power upon my friend?

Prayers left unanswered seem to condemn us. During these times, we often harbor an unsettling question; “Does prayer really work?” Or, put another way, “Did prayer fail us, or did we fail prayer?” Neither option appears encouraging to our faith.

Is there a third option? Is there a way to faithfully believe that our prayers are powerful and effective, while at the same time giving voice to our frustrating prayer experiences? Can we believe that our prayers can cause miracles to occur, and still recognize that we may not see them take place? In short, if we want to believe that prayer never fails, what do we need to know about prayer to affirm this?

Prayer Is about God’s Will, Not Our Own
Prayer is not about you or me. Prayer is about the power and presence of God. This means that our experience of prayer might not be exactly what we wish it to be. Prayer is more about God’s will and plan than our own.

When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, he instructs them to pray “Our Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us this day our daily bread” (Luke 11:2). This is the way Jesus himself prayed to the Father. Thus, it is a model upon which we build our own life of prayer. “The Lord’s Prayer” continues to govern the prayer-life of Christians to this day.

Because we are so familiar with these words, we often overlook the structure of the prayer itself. Jesus did not offer the disciples a simple poem to recite. Christ’s instruction highlights an important spiritual movement within prayer itself.

The first petition of the prayer is to pray that God establish God’s kingdom and will on earth, and in our lives. This sets the tone for everything else that follow. Essentially, we open ourselves to God’s will before we issue our petitions and requests. Prayer, at its heart is about aligning ourselves with God’s work in the world.

This is the prayer that Jesus himself modelled. When alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, just prior to his betrayal and crucifixion, Jesus prays that his upcoming death pass him by. Jesus offers a prayer about his own life, and his future experience of the cross.

Yet as he does so, Jesus grounds this prayer in the ultimate desire for God’s will to be fulfilled. “My Father,” he prays “if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). For Jesus, prayer was never about getting what he wanted, it was about living out the will of the Father.

If we wish to pray like Jesus, we can never make prayer about establishing our own kingdom. James writes “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives that you may spend on what you get on your own pleasures” (James 4:2-3). It takes a certain amount of holy stubbornness to keep our vision on God’s will and kingdom.

Prayer Is about a Relationship, Not a Response
Our heartfelt desire for God to establish the kingdom frees us to pray for specific things in our lives. We long for the kingdom to be revealed in us, and through us. Such a longing not only informs what we pray for, it also gives us boldness in prayer. We can pray for healing.

We can pray for change of circumstances. We can pray for divine intervention. In doing so we are praying that God’s kingdom is revealed in these places. Such things are open and available to us precisely because God invites us to join in the work of the kingdom. This is part of the relational covenant we enjoy with God.

This relationship we have with the Lord, however, does not promise us that God will always respond in the way we would like. Occasionally, the will of God confronts us, and challenges us. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God’s ways are beyond our ways, God’s thoughts beyond our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8).

Like a parent who cannot say “Yes” to every whim or wish of their child, God often moves in ways unexpected. This means, even our most holy and righteous requests need to be presented in humility.

Like Job crying out God, sometimes the Lord does not always provide answers to our questions; like Jesus responding to the death of Lazarus, sometimes Christ’s response appears delayed. These are experiences we all walk through.

Yet none of these experiences mean that our prayers have failed. What these experiences point us to is that God is active beyond the limit of our finite understanding, perception, or desire.

The true grace in prayer is not that we always get what we want. The true grace, extended to us by our heavenly Father, is that there is nothing that cannot be voiced. There is no request, lament, petition, or prayer that God will not receive in love. Ultimately, prayer is never about the response we receive; it is always about the relationship we enjoy with our savior.

There Is No Secret
The fact of the matter is there are no secrets loop-holes for prayer. Yes, God dwells close in prayer; yes, we can hear God’s voice; yes, God answers prayer. These are promises rooted in scripture. While these are a reality for us, they do not dictate a prayer-experience of perpetual positivity.

Could it be that our struggles in prayer challenge us to move past a myopic, self-pleasing understanding of prayer? After all, a prayer-life that is safe and comfortable rarely transforms our lives.

Struggles with prayer encourage us to push past a desire to chase after easy answers and comfortable feelings. True prayer is not dependent on an emotional experience. Believing that praying rightly somehow equates to warm and fuzzy emotions, or a divine “yes” to every request, is misguided. This is to set our vision on ourselves, instead of the presence and will of God.

Prayer is a journey; it is not a skill we master. Prayer, for the follower of Jesus is a way of being, an internal movement of heart and spirit through which we respond to the Lord’s presence in us, and in the world.

We need to recapture the radical notion that struggles in prayer may, in fact, be an invitation to journey deeper into the kingdom. Prayer is not simply something that we add onto our lives, it is the very ground out of which our life grows. To be frustrated with prayer is to be formed by it.

Christian prayer involves wrestling. It involves lament. It involves argumentation. It involves persistence. We see this in the lives of the faithful men and women of scripture. We should not, therefore, be discouraged or disheartened when it occurs for us.

Prayer places us before the Lord, who, at times, confronts, and challenges us. Prayer never fails because prayer, at its foundation, is about reaching out to Jesus. And because Jesus never fails, so too can we be confident in our prayers.

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Is It Biblical to Say “the Lord Gives, and the Lord Takes Away”?

You might have sung the verse in church or heard it at a funeral, perhaps as a way to explain the inexplicable: The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.

But what does this phrase actually mean? Is it biblical, and does it accurately describe the nature of God?

While the term “the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away” is biblical in that it does appear in the Bible, uttered by Job in a seemingly worshipful, accepting manner after his family and possessions are destroyed, it’s important to understand that it does not necessarily reflect the truth of who God is in relation to his love for humanity.

What Does It Mean, “the Lord Gives and the Lord Takes Away?”?
We find the phrase in Job 1:21, after Job—a man described as blameless and upright, who loved God, shunned evil and was the greatest among all the people of the East (vv. 1-2)—lost his 10 children, thousands of livestock, and countless servants in a single day. This came some time after God and Satan were said to have argued over Job’s character. God described Job as God-fearing, but the devil said Job was only so fearful and righteous because all had gone well for him. God then granted the devil power over all Job had, though He said the devil could not hurt the man himself (v. 12).

When the cursed day arrived and Job did indeed lose everything, he was devastated. He tore his robe, shaved his head, and worshipped God, crying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

Essentially, Job is acknowledging that despite what happened, God is sovereign. He rules over all and has all under control, and this appears to bring Job comfort. He does not blame God for any of this.

Is the Phrase “the Lord Gives and the Lord Takes Away” Biblical?
On one hand, the verse is biblical, meaning these words are indeed contained in the Bible. It is a statement uttered by a righteous man of God in the face of calamity. He’s lost it all, and he clings to the powerful nature of the Almighty God, who created us in the first place and gave us all the blessings we possess. It is a way Job is attempting to worship God, praising God’s stable and triumphant rulership when all else is lost.

And indeed, on the surface, there is truth in this. Genesis 1:1 tells us God “created the heavens and the earth” and went on to create all things in them—people, animals, planets, seas, stars, and more. Revelation 22:13 proclaims God as “Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

Elsewhere, we are reminded of God’s sovereignty. Colossians 1:16-17 tells us that in God, “All things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Ephesians 1:11 says much the same, noting, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”

But taking a look at the entire book of Job gives us more context and understanding of the verse, which should not be read and interpreted on its own.

While at first Job praises this sovereign God who gives and takes away, later more destruction occurs. He is plagued with painful sores, and his wife and friends begin to falsely accuse him of bringing these sorrows upon himself—perhaps his sin prompted God’s retribution.

Soon, Job sinks into a depressive state. His view of God as one who would arbitrarily give and take away translates into despair. He sees it as an abuse of power, this God who destroys at will, seemingly for the fun of it. He moves away from God, and begins to see God as an enemy unworthy, perhaps, of his adoration.

As he finally utters in Job 30:20-22, “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me. You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm.”

But ultimately, Job repents of this perspective. He understands he cannot define God as cruel or arbitrary. He cannot even say, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away” (Job 3:21).

As he reflects in Job 42:3-6, “You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’”

Is Everything That Happens to Us because of God’s Will?
God does indeed have a plan for the world. He has a purpose and a will. And on one hand, God Almighty, who is all-knowing and all-encompassing, is indeed sovereign over everything. But not everything that happens is God’s will. For instance, God does not want us to sin, yet we do. In the case of Job, God was clearly delighted with Job, but while He didn’t cause the calamity to happen, He did allow the devil to do as he wished in the man’s life.

We cannot understand the ways of God, as Job ultimately concludes. But we do know God orchestrates all according to His ultimate purpose, no matter what.

As Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Why Does God Take Away?
It’s important to know that God’s plan is not for humans to live separated from Him by sin forever. He gave us temporary bodies on purpose, knowing that if we chose the true path—His Son, Jesus—we would be blessed with eternal life in heaven, where tears, sadness, and pain do not exist. Bad things do happen, but God uses them for His good purpose. And we can take comfort that when these bad things do happen, this world is not the end. Heaven is our ultimate destination. And the bad things we experience on earth enable us to be prepared for ministry in a deeper, more compassionate way.

We might not understand God’s reasons or even begin to understand a kernel of His plan, but we can trust that He loves us. We can trust that He makes a better way for us—a life removed from the sinful world and all its death and destruction.

A Prayer to Faithfully Trust God’s Plan
If you are in a place where bad things are happening to you or around you and you cannot fathom why a good and loving God can seem to give and take away, can seem to bless and curse in the same breath, here is a prayer that might help:

Father God, help us remember the words of Your servant Job, who understood after all his painful experiences that Your ways are beyond comprehension. I am but a human being, sinful and without full understanding. Some things are simply, as Job said, too wonderful for me to know. Help me, Lord, to trust that You are almighty. You created the world, and You have a plan that is being fulfilled. I might not be able to see it or even define it, but I put my faith in You, resting in the perfect peace that You are in full control. I surrender all to You. In Your holy and precious name I pray, Amen.

God knows all, sees all, and encompasses all. As God said through the prophet Isaiah, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

We can indeed trust God in good times and in bad. We are given this life, and breath in our lungs. Because of God’s great mercy and love, we are also given eternal salvation through His Son, Jesus.

This world and its happenings are not the end.

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