Does Prayer Work?
“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” —I Timothy 2:1-2
On the First Thursday in May, the National Day of Prayer (NDP) will take place and millions of Americans will unite at more than 50,000 locations from coast to coast to pray.
So, this begs the question; does prayer work? After all, why would millions of people stop what they are doing, gather together and then speak into the air or in the thought recesses of their minds with some expectation that things are really going to change? Is there truly someone listening who can do anything about the current state of affairs in our homes, work places, communities or even our nation? Our leaders have called for National Days of Prayer since 1775, so where is all the change these people have been crying out to God for?
Before we can talk about whether or not prayer makes a difference in our nation, we have to first address prayer for what it is and if it is making a difference in our personal lives. So, let’s jump into one of the greatest theological questions of all time. It was the disciples who inquired first, so you are not alone. While Jesus was praying he was asked, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John (known as John the Baptist) taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). They could have asked him anything. They could have asked, “Lord, teach us how to turn water into wine” or “Lord, teach us to raise the dead”. No, they asked him how to pray and what he did was teach them how to build a personal relationship with God. Then and only then could they be ready to learn how to pray as a group with an understanding of what a solemn assembly was all about.
Jennifer Kennedy Dean states, “Prayer is an interchange of love between the Father and His child. That desire you feel to pray is His love drawing you to delight in Him. You only need to respond.”1 For Christians, prayer (proseuche in Greek) is “communion with God.” It is the medium of divine revelation. Through prayer, we actually experience relationship with God. The quality of our prayer life then determines the quality of our relationship with God.
Prayer is talking with God and listening to Him, and it is enjoying the presence of God. In his book, Prayer on Fire, Fred Hartley describes prayer as, “What we do. It is our initiative to meet God, whether we are asking for favors, singing in celebration, or crying out in distress. Regardless of what shape or size it comes in, prayer is our effort to engage God.”2 Prayer can take many forms, including worship, confession, thanksgiving, praise, petition (asking for what we need and desire), waiting (silent listening and sensing of God), and warfare (command).3 As believers, we can pray in the Spirit—even in language that may be unknown to us but is fully known to God (1 Cor 14:2, 27–28; Romans 8).
Our goal through prayer must be to know God better, to experience the fullness of relationship with Him. Through prayer, we honor Him. We give something back to the Almighty, something He desires greatly. God reveals Himself to us in the “prayer closet”—a quiet place where we cannot be distracted in our time with Him.
God desires relationship, but for many years I was preoccupied with works. Not only that, I was preoccupied with self. When I prayed, it was a preconceived line of thought followed by a list of needs and I was often impatient for results. In my mind, God needed to provide fast results, and if one prayer was not sufficient, I took measures into my own hands. Hey, at least I gave God a chance to perform, and then I did what any good Christian should do, right? But I was still missing the point.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 3:10,
[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death. (amp)
And in Ephesians 1:17, he wrote, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” Paul got it. And he wasn’t alone. Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah, had such a deep relationship with God that one day God just took him to heaven (Gen 5:22–23). Later, Elijah, who lived every day in wholehearted devotion to the Father, was escorted to heaven in a chariot of fire. That must have been an incredible sight.
Throughout time, God has opened Himself up to men and women to initiate friendship. Friends with the Almighty—what a concept! In Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To, DeStefano states,
The fact is that we have a God who loves to communicate. And the reason is that communication is the starting point for any relationship. Everyone has heard it said that God wants to be able to have a relationship with us. There is no truer point in all theology. Indeed, the thrust of God’s communication with mankind over the course of history has always been relational and not conceptual. That’s why he actually prefers it when we come to have faith in him through prayer, instead of through logical arguments alone. God doesn’t just want to satisfy a curiosity we have, He wants to enter into a friendship with us.4
If you knew that ours was the last generation before the coming of Christ, how would you live? When you stand before the throne of God, will you know Him intimately as your friend, or will you be a stranger? Are you going through the routine of your Christian walk without experiencing friendship with Elohim? Through Spirit-led prayer, your eyes will be opened, and you will have an indescribable relationship with God that is rich and fulfilling.
In Experiencing Prayer with Jesus, Dr. Henry Blackaby writes, “How deep is your relationship with the Lord as you pray? Do you pour your heart out to Him with complete confidence and trust in His help, because you’ve come to know and experience His love? It takes time, like any relationship. The more time you spend with Him, the more you’ll come to understand His ways, His heart, and His will as you pray.”5
Prayer is making a difference, transforming the landscape of homes and communities across the globe. A few years ago, Heritage Builders conducted an unofficial study of the American family to determine the factors that increased overall family health. What they discovered was truly incredible. A summary of their findings indicated that families who ate together at least four days a week and prayed at the dinner table showed the highest percentage of honor roll students and church-attending teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19.
A Lifeway Research survey estimates that 70 percent of Christian teens and young adults will walk away from the Church during college.6 But families that prayed together were among the 30 percent whose teenagers were more grounded in their faith.7 In the Lifeway survey, participants indicated that prayer was not just a part of religious practice; rather, it was the concerted effort of parents making sure that prayer was emphasized in daily living, not simply as a response to life’s trials and tribulations. Even secular universities agree that prayer makes a difference in relationships.
You may have heard the saying, “A couple that prays together, stays together.” Although we know this to be true, it is helpful to examine the evidence that best supports this common perception. An article published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology had this to say about prayer:8 “There is some evidence that religiosity is similarly related to several positive relationship outcomes. Specifically, greater involvement in religious activities [including prayer] is related to higher levels of marital satisfaction … and marital stability with three longitudinal studies indicating that religiousness predicts lower risk of divorce and divorce proneness.” The report goes on to cite that “prayer may help couples to more often ‘think of the needs of others, be more loving and forgiving, treat each other with respect, and resolve conflict.’”9 The researchers suggest that the relationship people experience with God through prayer helps them handle their emotions, be more empathetic, become less self-focused, and gain greater skills in reconciliation. They also note that “prayer for the partner might prime partners to think about each other in more loving or compassionate terms and so treat each other with greater respect and sensitivity.”
Praying regularly together also “helped couples prevent conflict in their relationships.” Researchers note that couples who included “God in their marriage through prayer” were more skilled in problem solving and reconciliation. Other couples “reported that prayer alleviated tension and facilitated open communication during conflict.”
With this in mind, imagine what the action of prayer does for a community. If religious leaders are praying for civil leaders, they are honoring that which God has put in place. As Romans 13:1 states, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” Paul also encouraged believers to pray for their leaders: “I urge … that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:1–4).
Let’s please God by actively seeking, through prayer, “peaceful and quiet lives” – for our nation and especially its leaders. Indeed, we must remain in fervent prayer for those who serve as representatives of the people. Mrs. Shirley Dobson has stated, “if Christians would follow through on this, we would change our lives and the course of history.”
Truth be told, a nation can be punished by the actions of its leaders (II Samuel 24) and disciplined with poor administrators because the heart of the people is wicked (II Kings 17). In the same way, a country can be blessed with good leadership because the people honor God (II Chronicles 7:14; Jeremiah 3:6-18; Proverbs 8:14-16) and Proverbs 29:2 reminds us that, “when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked rule, the people groan” (nrsv). Therefore, we can honor the structure of leadership that God has blessed (Exodus 18:21; Deuteronomy 17:14-20), by our humble intercession, even if we do not agree with all the decisions that those in authority are making, which is all the more reason to pray for them.
The action of prayer is healthy for a home and a community. We know that God does hear these prayers, which is where the real power resides and the evidence is undeniable. So, with a resounding “Yes” we can say that prayer does work! It is making a difference in our nation today. From the farm lands to the booming metropolis’ of this great country, prayer is interfering with the plans of the enemy and I could share with you story after story of the change that is often unseen or unreported by the media. From the various reports showing declines in crime, cancer admissions, abortion, and divorce to the restoration of marriages, individuals in prisons, new salvations and more. The challenge we have today is to remain in prayer. The stories of change are powerful, showing that God does hear and heal, but the problem is that we often get complacent, return to our old ways and then wonder why our home life, work life and national life are all in chaos.
The concepts that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights are foundational to our country and have had a profound impact on the United States and the culture at large. We must continue to pray that God protects our nation asking that He would install in office men and women who are committed to serving their constituents with integrity. And we must remain in prayer for our elections, beseeching God to prompt our fellow citizens to become involved in this process. Voting is both a duty and a privilege, and the outcomes of our political races are critical in determining the future course of our nation. 11
The need to pray is as great as the authority of God, who commands us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17 nkjv). Prayer is so vital to all that God wants to do on the earth, and it is so essential to us, that He commands us to do it all the time. But the key to successful prayer is the relationship that develops in and through this interstellar conversation. Sometimes we just need to listen, while other times require focused intercession, even repentance, praise and petition. If you want to know the will of God, it is discovered only through devotion to the Word through prayer. So, let’s pray as we have never prayed before and be united in One Voice.
May God’s hand of wisdom and guidance remain upon each segment of our society, and through His Spirit, may believers be inspired to pray continually. We are assured that the Almighty hears our petitions. As people from coast to coast lift their voices in prayer, repentance, and humility, we simply cannot underestimate how the Lord will respond. Let us come before His throne with these words on our lips and in our hearts, “God Bless America!”11
Let’s pray: Lord, we live in a diverse country with blends of many cultures, faiths, and values. I pray that the power of Your Holy Spirit would move among us and tear down the barriers that divide us. May You breathe upon us and instill in us a desire for unity and agreement through a spirit of mutual respect and brotherly love. Forgive us for any discrimination or cynicism or cruelty or superior attitudes we may have harbored I our hearts. I ask You to help my own heart to be free to bring peace to others, to work together with others who don’t share my perspective, and to make a difference in the world. Help me, Father, to be a force for unity (Psalm 133:1). Lord, teach me to be submissive to Your will rather than be filled with criticism for leaders who do not share my values. I resist the cynical spirit that wants to creep in, and I choose to trust in Your sovereignty over all the situations that trouble me. Help me to remember to show proper respect to all people (I Peter 2:13,17) and to pray for them earnestly, serving as a witness to Your love.
Father, I pray that You will raise up godly and righteous men and women who are strong to stand up and represent Your values and purposes for our nation. May the right people find favor with the citizens and be voted into office, and may those who desire to be in office but lack the integrity be kept out. Give our leaders wisdom to govern and spirits that are willing to work together to do the best for our nation. Guide and bless them that they may enact such laws that please You, to the glory of Your name and the welfare of our people, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
About the Author:
John Bornschein is the former Vice Chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and is currently the Senior Pastor of Calvary Fellowship Fountain Valley church. John and his wife, Brandi, have 5 children and together they have served in ministry for more than 20 years. To learn more, visit www.NationalDayofPrayer.org
1 Jennifer Kennedy Dean, Heart’s Cry: Principles of Prayer (Birmingham: New Hope Publishers, 2007), 18.
2 Fred A. Hartley, III, Prayer on Fire: What Happens When the Holy Spirit Ignites Your Prayers (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006), 16.
3 List compiled by All About God Ministries, http://www.AllAboutGod.com, cited on National Day of Prayer Task Force Web site, http://www.nationaldayofprayer.org.
4 Anthony DeStefano, Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To: Divine Answers to Life’s Most Difficult Problems (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 10-13.
5 Henry Blackaby and Norman Blackaby, Experiencing Prayer with Jesus: The Power of His Presence and Example (Sisters, OR: Multnomah), 28.
6 Lifeway Research survey conducted April–May 2007, cited in Cathy Lynn Grossman, “Young Adults Aren’t Sticking with Church,” USA Today, August 6, 2007.
7 The Barna Group Ltd, “Twentysomethings Struggle to Find Their Place in Christian Churches,” September 24, 2003, http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/127-twentysomethings-struggle-to-find-their-place-in-christian-churches?q=twentysomethings.
8 Frank D. Fincham, et al., “Spiritual Behaviors and Relationship Satisfaction: A Critical Analysis of the Role of Prayer,” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 27, no. 4 (2008): 362–88.