Does prayer work?

What do we mean when we say, “Prayer works”? I’ve heard this phrase a lot as a Christian in a variety of situations. 

Prayer works! I got the job. Prayer works! He is recovering. Prayer works! He is getting sober. Prayer works! The broken relationship is being mended.

These words, though well-intentioned, bother me. Two simple words:

  1. Prayer, “an address (such as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought.” (Merriam-Webster)
  2. Works, “operate or function, especially properly or effectively.” (Merriam-Webster)

Yet, when put together, they create a phrase that is loaded with an underlying assumption.

The purpose of prayer is to fulfill our requests.

But is this really the case? And if so, what does that mean when requests aren’t fulfilled? Does that mean we didn’t pray enough or have enough faith? 

Many would agree that the purpose of prayer is more complicated than that. We are instructed to worship God, repent to God, thank God, and make requests of God in prayer. Each of these prayers is important. But the prayer itself is just a way of connecting with God. It’s our way of communicating with God, a way to draw near to both speak and listen. 

When we say, “Prayer works,” we misrepresent its purpose. Because it’s never really “prayer” that holds the power to fulfill our requests. Instead, it’s God. And if we believe He is good, then prayer becomes a way for us to draw near to Him, to make our requests, and to draw strength and comfort from Him regardless of the outcome. Because prayer is so much more than a magic spell to get what we want. Instead, it allows us to have intimate communion with our Creator. And I for one am thankful for that.

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