Does prayer work? Does it do anything? Have you ever thought about whether you actually believe prayer is effective? I had a sobering moment a few years ago when I realized that my belief in prayer was very weak. I prayed at meals, prayed with my kids, and prayed over prayer requests sometimes, but I realized that deep down I didn’t have much confidence that my prayers would actually change anything.
I guess the best way to describe my approach to prayer was that it was something a Christian is supposed to do and I was just going through the motions.
Then I got exposed to listening prayer. Over time I came to believe that God actually speaks and has communicated to his people throughout the entire narrative of the Scriptures and continues to do so. Beginning to hear from God was a huge paradigm shift and one that brought so much life to my relationship with God.
This shift in my understanding and experience of prayer led me to actually believe that the Holy Spirit lives inside of me and that there is power that comes with his presence. Understanding this power led me to the recognition of my spiritual authority as a follower of Jesus, a son of the King, and a realization that I have been delegated authority to shift things in the spiritual realm in the name of the Jesus.
My process wasn’t completely linear, but if it’s helpful for you, here is roughly how it came about:
Beginning to hear from God
Belief and understanding that the Holy Spirit indwells me
Beginning to understand and experience the power that comes with the Holy Spirit
Discovering the spiritual authority I have been delegated in the name of Jesus.
All of these paradigm shifts that I've experienced throughout the process outlined above have led me to now pray with a high sense of expectation and anticipation. When I listen, I expect to hear. When I pray, I expect things to change.
Do I always see healing or prayers answered? No. But because of my understanding of the spiritual authority I have and my understanding of the Kingdom, that it is here but not yet fully manifested, I now pray with the expectation that I have a role in bringing the Kingdom more fully on earth as it is in heaven.
The following two teachings from Jesus speak to this idea of praying with expectation. I have been thinking about this passage from John for awhile now and I recently came across this passage in Mark.
“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:23-24
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” John 14:12-14
These are bold statements made by Jesus. The fact that Jesus includes a “Truly” at the beginning of these teachings signifies a level of importance he wanted to communicate.
I read a commentary on the John passage and it said that most commentators have landed on the fact that Jesus was probably referring to the quantity of the works his followers would do because how could people do greater things in terms of quality? That is a solid take, but I also think it’s a little on the safe side.
I believe Jesus was intending for his followers to trust in these promises and to remember these wild statements, so that when it came time to pray and step into the assignment that was in front of them, they would pray with high expectation and anticipation. I think Jesus was hoping that when he was gone, his followers would have a conversation like this:
“Guys, do you remember what Jesus told us? He said we could move mountains, we would do greater things… all we have to do is ask in his name.”
I mean, when it comes to interpreting these statements from Jesus, what are our options here? Here are a few:
He was just exaggerating
Take him at his word
Develop some kind of theological paradigm to excuse it away
I don’t know about you, but I’ve decided to go with #2. With this, I also understand that there is a tension to the “now and not yet” of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is here and available, but it’s not fully here. So even though I might be disappointed sometimes, I will choose to step into the tension. I agree with a saying that my friend Sam says, “When it gets to the end, I would much rather be accused of asking for too much than asking for too little.”
The basic questions I think we all need to wrestle with are:
Do we believe prayer works? Does it change anything?
The best way to know our honest answer to that question is to look at how we live, how we pray, and how much we pray. Whether we realize it or not, we can actually think that we believe strongly in something when our belief is actually very weak. The best way to analyze our beliefs is to look at our actions. It's really a sobering exercise.
After we’ve answered those two questions, I think the next question is:
What role does expectation play in prayer?
As a son of the King and a co-heir of the Kingdom with Jesus, I’m going to continue to try to access as many Kingdom resources as possible. I believe God has created us to partner with him and he is longing for us to step more fully into that partnership. I want to pray with an expectation that the Kingdom is going to come more on earth as it is in heaven when I decide to step in and ask for it.
How about you? Let’s dialogue: (make a comment below, on Facebook, or email me)
Does the crew with whom you follow Jesus believe that prayer changes things? Why or why not?
What role does expectation play in prayer?
Do a prayer audit over the next 7 days:
Every evening, pull out your journal, and record your prayers from that day. What did you pray for? How did you pray? Try to take a gauge on your level of expectation and why you had that level of expectation.
As you go about your week, if somebody shares a need or burden with you, ask them the question, “Can I pray for you?”, and then pray for them right then and there and bless them. Record what you learned in your journal.
At the end of 7 days, journal about what you learned regarding your belief in prayer, the role of expectation, what prayers were answered, and anything you learned about prayer itself.
*** The purpose of this is experiment is twofold: 1) Bring more awareness about your belief in prayer. 2) Have prayer on the front of your mind for one week to see how that feels and what you learn.