April 3 – Prayer Doesn’t Work

Social distancing regulations will forestall anything but a virtual mob doing me harm for uttering such a heresy.  But I will say it again.  Prayer doesn’t work.

The week ends with many of us exhausted from prayer, spent by prayer.  We startle awake in the morning – and in the middle of the night – called to prayer for our friends, our good and faithful friends.  “Heal, O Lord. Comfort, O Lord.”

One of the morning psalms for today is 22. The words of the first two verses are familiar:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.

To be sure, the words are messianic and borrowed by Jesus as the words he needed as he suffered there for us.  But the words were not written just so Jesus would have them that awful day on Calvary.  They are David’s words spoken from his anguished heart.  Given by the Holy Spirit, they are my words and your words this long week.

David knew that prayer doesn’t work.  He did not expect it to work.  Prayer does not work as if it is a tool at our disposal, a weapon in our arsenal. It is not given to fix broken things or allow us to gain advantage against an enemy.

Prayer is not a tool or a weapon. It is a gift given by our loving Father. It is a gracious gift of intimacy and joy.  It is a gift by which we come to the one who loves us most to accuse him of forsaking of us and being far away, refusing to answer our anguished cries. Confidently we come before him with every sorrow, every pain – and every joy. He loves us even when we despair of his love.

David continues:

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!

And then:

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.

David did not pray to God in hopes that his prayer would work.  He prayed because he knew God – his love and his mercy, his justice and his grace, his wisdom and his holiness. He trusted God, not his own prayers.

Prayer does not work as if it were a skill to be mastered or a tool at our disposal. But God works. His ways are mighty and mysterious.  And he invites us to pray because he loves us. Our prayers are pleasing to him, a sweet fragrance, we are told. He inclines his ear to us out of sheer love and mercy, not because we have learned to pray well enough.

The week has not yet ended. We are spent with prayer, exhausted by it. But how deep the Father’s love for us.

Pray without ceasing.