“When I pray, coincidences happen,” said Archbishop William Temple; “when I don’t, they don’t.” p. 106
“Be slow to pray,” cautions Eugene Peterson. “Praying puts us at risk of getting involved with God’s conditions…. Praying most often doesn’t get us what we want but what God wants, something quite at variance with what we conceive to be in our best interests. And when we realize what is going on, it is often too late to go back.” p.109
“Does prayer have any real impact on the outer world or is it merely a private conversation with God? I ask that as a serious not rhetorical question.
Even for the faithful, prayers about current events – the war on terrorosm, nuclear proliferation, environmental catastrophe – may seem futile. Richard Mouw tells a story about a tourist who observes a devout Jewish man praying at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem. The Jew rocks back and forth with close eyes, beating his breast, sometimes raising his hands. When he finishes, the tourist asks, “What do you pray for?”
The Jew responds, “I pray for righteousness, I pray for the health of my family. I pray for peace in the world, especially in Jerusalem.”
“Are these prayers effective? the tourist asks.
“It’s like talking to a wall.” p. 116
“What would happen if we followed literally Jesus’ command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? How would it affect the reputation of Christians in the United Stated if we became known not for our access to the White House but for our access to heaven on behalf of those who strenuously, even violently, disagree with us.
In a scene recorded in the Book of Revelation (chapter 8) the apostle John foresees a direct linkage between the visible and invisible worlds. At a climactic moment in history, heaven is quiet. Seven angels stand with seven trumpets, waiting, for about the space of half an hour. Silence reigns, as if all heaven is listening on tiptoe. And then an angel collects the prayers of God’s people on earth – all the accumulated prayers of outrage, praise, lament, abandonment, despair, petition – mixes them with incense, and presents them before the throne of God. The silence finally breaks when the fragrant prayers are hurled down to earth: “and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightening, and an earthquake.”
“The message is clear,” comments Walter Wink about that scene, “history belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being.” The pray-ers are essential agents in the final victory over evil, suffering, and death.” p. 130
So I was talking with some guys Tuesday morning about this idea of do our prayers make any kind of difference and the answer was a resounding yes, but…. we may never know what kind of a difference we are making – especially when it comes to some of the big issues like catastrophes and war and terrorism and crimes against humanity. There’s just no way to measure the effect the prayers of believers have. Or is there? So I had this idea. What if…
What if we created a “Do Not Pray” campaign and we were able to get every believer everywhere around the world on board. And what if we designated the week of September 1-8 as Global Do Not Pray week. Do you think the world would notice if Christians were not praying? Do you think there would be a difference in the world if we stopped imploring God to keep evil from overcoming the world; if we stopped praying protection around those we love; if we stopped asking God to provide for the hurting and the helpless and the hopeless; if we stopped beseeching God to save lost sinners and to care for the hungry and to send His Spirit in power upon the churches and upon the pastors around the world.
I think the world would notice. I think the world would beg believers to cry out to God on their behalf. I think the world would see what happens in a global way when God stops answering the prayers of His people.
But I’m too afraid not to pray. As much as I would love for the world to take notice I understand that the risk may be too great because we who believe know that our prayers are making a difference.
Or at least I hope that we know. And I hope that 1) we are praying as if our prayers are making a substantial difference and 2) we know that God is at work in ways that we may not be able to measure because we are a praying people.
I’m just sayin’!