How high do your prayers go?
Someone has said that prayer is the most powerful thing there is; but that’s not a true statement. God is the most powerful thing there is, and prayer, if it has power, does so only because prayer is an opportunity to seek God’s favor in our lives. If God is not listening, prayer is just a person talking to themselves and thus is no more powerful than the desire and words of the person doing the praying.
Perhaps there are people out there who think their well-wishes and positive thoughts have power in and of themselves. Certainly, there are people who when they ask for prayers, routinely ask for “prayers and positive thoughts,” but one hopes that most people know better than to think that the power of prayer is in their own thoughts and words. As Jesus noted, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matthew 6:27)” Do we really believe such power is within us?
God tells us to have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:2), and certainly that includes the idol of self-worship. No matter what new-age gurus would try to convince us believe, we are not God, we can’t actually control much of anything in this world, and our own thoughts and meditations don’t have great power to change anything other than our own selves. Positive thinking won’t change a hair of your head, stop the storm, or heal the sick. God can do these things, and more, but man cannot save himself apart from God.
This is not to denigrate prayer. Prayer is a great gift from God. Prayer is an opportunity to praise and worship God, entreat God and ask for God’s care. And when God in His providence responds – that is indeed something powerful, for God is powerful. As the Scriptures attest: “the effective prayer of a righteous man has great power (James 5:16b).” But the power does not come from the one praying, it comes from the One listening.
Some people assume that all prayer is equally effective because God is going to listen to everyone equally, but God Himself has said that such is not the case. The Bible carefully distinguishes the prayer of the righteous from that of the unrighteous. The general rule taught in the scriptures is stated thusly: “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him (John 9:31; ESV).”
There were many in the days of Isaiah who believed in the power of prayer, but God would have none of it. “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen (Isaiah 1:15; ESV).” The problem was not with God’s ability. Rather, later God explained, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2; ESV)”
Their lives were of such a nature as to turn God away from wanting to help them, much less listen to them.
It was even worse in the days of Jeremiah the prophet. Though many in Jeremiah’s day believed in the power of prayer, God was so fed up with the sins of the Israelites that He actively commanded Jeremiah not to waste his time praying on behalf of the nation. He said to Jeremiah, “As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you (Jeremiah 7:16; ESV).” Prayer is not going to do any good if God is not going to listen for again the power is not in the prayer itself, but in the One answering the prayer.
Here is a thought: prayer is communication, and effective communication is a two way street requiring both parties to be listening to the other. If we want God to be listening to us, we might ask ourselves how well are we listening to God? Are we listening so that we are actually doing the things He has told us to do? If we want prayer to be effective, it is necessary to place our faith, not in prayer itself, but in the One who is listening. And the faith God is looking for is a faith that hears His word and obeys His word (cf. Romans 10:17; James 2:14-17). When a person is listening to God in their life, and following His word, they can have confidence when they pray that God is listening to them. But if a person is refusing to listen to God, they need to ask themselves why they think God is listening to them. As the saying goes, it’s very possible that their prayers aren’t getting much higher than the ceiling.
So again, the question: How high do your prayers go?
If you want to learn more about God’s word, including how to make your prayers effective, the church of Christ invites you to study with us, and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. If you have any questions, including subjects you might like to see addressed, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.