Does prayer make any difference?
Does God hear my prayers?
Does prayer change God, or me?
In what ways does prayer make a difference?
Ahh, now we’re getting to the juicy stuff. So far we’ve explored the nature of Faith and the Father in prayer, and that exploration had to precede our guided tour of the Fruit of our prayer. Why? Well, dear friends, if our image of God is messed up and if our faith is built on beliefs, then guess what? It’s pretty likely that the fruit we’re anticipating will be covered in bruises, flies and mold. Nast. BUT if we stand in the covenantal nature of faith and the goodness of the Father’s character, then… then we are far more prepared for that perfectly ripe, delicious pineapple. No, strawberry. No, persimmon. No, kiwi. Nah, mango. Yeah. Mango. Oh, hell, we’ll be ready for the entire fruit basket.
In order to see the fruit of our prayers, we need to first know what we’re looking for.
If, for example, you offer up your supplication one day and expect an immediate response the next, then you may not see the difference you’re anticipating. Sorry, Vecura Salt, Daddy doesn’t always give you an Oompa Loompa right away.
If you treat prayer like a dumping ground for all your frustrations, woes, demands, requests, then chances are, Eeyore, that no tail is going to satisfy
If you think prayer is a one-and-done kind of thing, then you’ll never see the beauty of perseverance. Hit up the Canaanite woman, she’d be a really good mentor for you.
If you think God owes you something, then we need to revisit our conversation on faith and the father ’cause your mindset is slightly off kilter.
Confession time. I am Vecura Salt. I am Eeyore. I’m terribly impatient and ghastly entitled. I can’t even pretend I’m not. It’s gross, but it’s real. More often than not I enter the throne room of prayer demanding my Oompa Loompa or whining about my lost tail. Maybe we all do. Maybe we’re all Vecuras and Eeyores from time to time, treating prayer like our own personal slot machine full of goodies. We drop a penny of effort, pull the handle of a single prayer, and expect a royal dividend to come spewing out into our laps while we sing along with Janis Joplin, “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me, a Mercedes Benz?” [Pull handle] “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me, a color TV?” [Pull handle] “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me, a night on the town?” [Pull handle] And when we don’t get that Mercedes Benz or Color TV, we cry, complain or give up all together.
So what, then, are the ways that prayer makes a difference? How do we know what to look for? If prayer isn’t a slot machine, what is it?
Let’s start with this: Relationship. Yeah. That’s exactly the place to start growing some fruit. For just as Faith is based on a covenantal relationship and God the Father is our faithful covenant keeper, so too the Fruit of our prayer is about growing in covenant relationship with the Triune God. I suppose we could say that Relationship is the sum of this whole Prayer: WTF? series. And don’t you think that is simply marvelous? I mean we strive and strain to construct stones of religiosity. We’re exhausted, utterly burned out on religion. And all the while the Father is whispering sweet invitations like this:
Come to me. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
In a nutshell, we’re offered a life of enjoyment in his covenantal love, no stones attached. All of our efforts are quieted by the gentle embrace of the Father. As we engage in prayer we are ultimately engaging in relationship with the Father, Son, Spirit; joining the dance of perfect love that is expressed within the trinity. And this dance has no rigid formula. It’s not a structured Cha-Cha Slide of hops, stomps, right foot, left foot, hands on your knees, hands on your knees (Although I admit, I’m a sucker for the Cha-Cha Slide, the Electric Slide, and any other slide that gathers the entire wedding crowd on the dance floor, all moving together in one, quasi-synchronized communal flash mob. But, per usual, I digress.). The dance of prayer as relationship with the triune God is different and requires only one move – to love and be loved.
Have you ever sat in the presence of God and simply let yourself be loved? It’s actually an incredibly difficult thing to do. I can’t help but wonder if the challenge is largely due to our own anxious duplicity. The moment you get quiet in prayer thoughts of uncertainty run as wildly as elementry kids at recess. “Could I be loved just as I am? Is God’s love big enough for me? I’m too messy, broken, addicted, stubborn, selfish… must clean up first. I’ll just give God my clean face.” More often than not we approach God with how we ought to be rather than how we actually are. “The Japanese have two words that hint at the divided self. There is the tatemae, the part of myself I let people see on the outside, and the hon ne, what takes place on the inside where no one can see. Perhaps we need a third word for the sector places we never make known. And that third place is what God invites us to lay open in prayer.” *
We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us… We must trust God with what God already knows. *
If we long to see the fruit of prayer, we begin my scattering seeds of honesty, vulnerability and trust. Trust in the loving character of God the father, God the Son, God the Spirit. You need not clean up first. Come, just as you are. Trust that this triune God can – and does! – receive all of who we are with great pride, compassion and joy. Dear friend, God delights in you. God is not angry with you, judgmental toward you, disappointed in you. God is all-together in love with you, entirely ravished by you. Yes! You ravish the heart of God. Let these truths draw you out on the dance floor.
Begin cultivating the soil for fruit to grow by letting yourself Love. Be loved. Be Still. It really is that simple (or difficult. But whatever).
*** Much of these thoughts on prayer come from Philip Yancey’s work, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? Read it. Hurry. Do not delay.