There is power in prayer when it is properly used, but this power is hammered out of or born from the iron of reality. Prayer is not a marshmallow coating spread over our daily lives so that we may attract various benefits to ourselves. Prayer is not an easy way out of a difficult situation.
The importance of private prayer cannot be overestimated. We are all busy, and our energy and our strengths are sapped by the fast pace of our living. Amidst the rush, we tend to break down, to lose direction and purpose. We will continue to be at loose ends until we accept the fact that prayer is indeed potent. If we want to accomplish, if we want to amount to something, if we want our lives to have meaning … we must pray!
The giants of everyday life are those who have learned to pray. They too have their hardships and sufferings, to be sure, but they know that the fellowship with God in prayer can bring new strength for daily problems. Individuals who pray are convinced that their prayers are heard and answered in some form, though rarely in dramatic events. There are times, however, when prayer truly does appear to change events in miraculous ways.
A welding inspector, trapped and suffocating in an oil tank on a ship, prayed that someone would hear his cries and open the tank cover which had been securely fastened from the outside. Then, in the darkness, this man decided he could not tell God how to act. He simply needed help! He must await the Lord’s reply to his need. Meanwhile, in the tomblike atmosphere, his hands reached out, as though guided by unseen hands, to the proper bolts to turn. At last he was able to loosen the cover and push it back. Above him were the stars … and fresh air!
The late Dr. C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General of the United States, who in Philadelphia in 1974 successfully separated a rare set of Siamese twins, claimed a “complete belief in the sovereignty of God.” One of the world’s leading pediatric surgeons, Dr. Koop, stated “My surgical skills are a gift from God. Thank God for them.” Dr. Koop told grateful families that He believes God is in control of all circumstances and events and that “knowing that someone else is running the show gives me a tremendous amount of comfort.”
Answers to prayer come in a multitude of ways that cannot be anticipated. In most instances there are no thunderbolts from heaven but rather an orderly unfolding whereby things work out. Regardless of the way, regardless of the answer, prayer is heard. We may have doubts. Perhaps God does not respond as quickly as we would prefer; perhaps we are not willing to accept the answer when it does come. Eliza Hickok wrote a poem about these doubts:
I know not by what methods rare, But this I know, God answers prayer. I know not when he sends the word That tells us fervent prayer is heard;
I know it cometh, soon or late, Therefore we need to pray and wait. I know not if the blessings sought Will come in just the guise I thought. I leave my prayer to him alone Whose will is wiser than my own.!
Prayer is communication with God, but we cannot manipulate God through means of prayer. It cannot be simply a request for whatever we desire, however worthy this desire appears to us. To view prayer in such a shallow way is to invite disillusionment and cynicism. The farmer who prays for rain for his corn cannot feel his desires have not been heard if the rain does not fall as he requests. Prayer is an act of trust that the sovereign God our Creator has the power to change things … it is also an act of humility and submission of our will to his.