What Good Does Prayer Do?
Whenever I am asked about the value of prayer, I often point out the remarks of the Lord’s servant, Job... one of His most devoted followers, whose faith was tested to the limits of his endurance. In Job 21:15, he said, “Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? And what profit do we have if we pray to Him?”
This wasn’t an expression of Job’s doubts in God’s ability to answer prayer. Rather, this was a rhetorical question, responding to the cynicism of those who questioned the value of serving his God. “Who is God? Why should we obey Him? What good will it do us to pray to God?”
Job was a person who believed in the Lord intensely, deeply aware of His great power and faithfulness to hear and respond to those who pray. His declaration was to explain the significance of praying to the almighty God of the universe, whose unlimited power can change everything.
These same assurances are repeated throughout scripture, such as in the many teachings of Jesus. He emphasized repeatedly that prayer can have enormous rewards, and taught that praying in faith could acquire the promises of God. In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
When I was a child, I was always fascinated by the variety of antique photos and items that decorated the walls of grandma’s farmhouse. One item I especially remember was a small decoupage with fancy lettering that hung above her couch. I never understood what it meant until I got old enough to read, then always found comfort whenever I would see it. It displayed only three words, a familiar theme that was repeated over and again in her life and with our family. It said, “Prayer Changes Things.” I eventually came to know this to be a fact, not only because of the words on grandma’s wall, nor merely because I heard the same things from our preacher at church, but from my own personal experience.
My first memory of a prayer that changed something in my life, occurred when I was around seven years old. I came home from playing in the woods with some type of infection. I was scared and crying, as parts of my body had begun to swell and throb, turning a purplish color. Mom quickly examined me, but was baffled when she found no snake bites, ticks, wounds or any explanation for the symptoms.
Calling an ambulance wasn’t an option, as this was long-ago in rural Indiana, where the nearest hospital was a twenty-mile drive. Besides this, dad had the car and was away at work, so she explained that we would have to pray and ask God for His help.
I knew nothing about theology, but I believed in God. I also believed in my mom and her prayers... and desperately didn’t want to go to the doctor or to the hospital. She laid me on the couch, put her hands on me and began to pray in her comforting voice. “Lord Jesus, we ask you to take away this infection, heal Dale’s body, make him well.” And then she looked me and added, “but if you’re not better in the morning, we’ll have to take you to see the doctor.” That added warning made me especially aware of the need for God’s help, and I remember also praying until I fell asleep.
To my amazement, when I awoke the following morning all the swelling and symptoms were gone! No one had to explain anything further to me, I knew what had happened. God answered our prayers! We never knew for sure what had made me ill, but I discovered years later that I had acquired an immunity to poison ivy/oak at some point. My speculation is that God may have healed me of a severe case of poison ivy, from which I emerged with an immunity that remains to this day.
I never forgot that experience, or grandma’s prayer plaque on her wall... and when I grew up and had personal troubles of my own, I remembered how that praying to God can change things with life’s many problems. More than a few times, I’ve applied His promise of Psalms 91:15, where the Lord says “He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.”
God’s intervention in my circumstances and difficulties has been many over the years. However, the greatest change He has brought about through my prayers, has been to me personally... starting when I responded to the message of the Gospel and became a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is usually the first place where prayer’s impact is felt, within the person who does the praying. It seems that the Lord begins answering our prayers “from the inside out,” that is, working in us to bring about His will. In Ephesians 3:20, Paul said that the Lord “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.”
Prayer opens the channel of our heart to God’s presence, who brings comfort, encouragement and strength... and who changes, shapes and molds us as we pray and yield our lives to Him. Ironically, He does much of this subtly as we presume to pray about other things. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve knelt to pray, asking God to change situations, only to find that God changed “my” attitude toward those situations. Or instances when I prayed for God to vindicate me before my adversaries, only to find that He softened my heart toward them and gave me forgiveness instead.
But of course, prayer not only affects us internally, but as Jesus said in Mark 11:23-24, prayer combined with faith can also literally move mountains... or intervene with problems, or change situations that we can do nothing about. He said, “whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”
Even when things seem impossible, nothing is beyond God’s ability to change or completely reverse the most difficult situations. In Luke 1:37, Jesus said “For with God nothing will be impossible.”God specializes in doing impossible, miraculous things, and is only limited by our ability to believe. Again, He said “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23).
As long as you know your request fits into the pattern of God’s will as shown in the Bible, never hesitate to be courageous in your faith. You can be assured that God will hear and answer such prayers. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, 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 the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15).
Jesus wants us to bring our every need, issue or crisis to Him in prayer, and to trust Him to work out His plan for our life. He doesn’t want us to worry or fret, but to rest in Him to be our helper and provider. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (Philippians 4:6 NLT).
Finally, Andrew Murray, the famed 19th century minister who was known for his writings on prayer, wrote this unforgettable nugget about the benefit of praying to God: “Time spent in prayer will yield more than that given to work. Prayer alone gives work its worth and its success. Prayer opens the way for God Himself to do His work in us and through us.”1
1 The ministry of intercession, a plea for more prayer, Andrew Murray, 1898