Prayer, at its core, seems rather simple. Christian prayer, to many, is simply talking to God. To others, it is seeking God. Still for others it is a reverent, silent time of adoration. Whatever the form and whatever the tradition, prayer is simply us as mortals conversing with the immortal, divine Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Prayer, however, quickly becomes complex when we look into how it actually works and why the results are not always what we expect. Is there a specific formula we have to use? Why do some prayers get answered while others don’t?
These and many other questions come to mind when we seriously consider the mechanics of prayer. While I don’t have all the answers, I want to share some variables that we must consider when looking at prayer.
Most of what I’m going to share below comes from Greg Boyd in his book “Is God to Blame?”. I may not agree with all that he has to say, but I think his insight into prayer and all of it’s complexities is well worth the read. You can read chapter 6 of his book for a full explanation of prayer and variables.
It’s important to remember that each variable is just that, a variable. Please avoid the desire to take any one variable out of context.
Variables of Prayer
- While many use this as a way to simplify prayer and make all outcomes God’s will, we should be careful to say that God’s will is always done perfectly. If so, we would have to make some conclusions that we both don’t want to make and indict God as unloving. We have to look no further than the Lord’s Prayer to see this truth, for Jesus commands us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come and for His will to be done. Why pray this if it is always done?
- On the other spectrum, we should not discount His will. He is sovereign over the entire universe and beyond!
- This point has to be considered not only in the person praying but also in the person being prayed for. There were times when Jesus could not do many miracles because of the lack of faith in the people. There were other times that people were not healed and set free from demonic oppression because a lack of faith in those who were praying.
Persistence of Prayer
- Several times in the Gospels, we see Jesus teaching the disciples and the crowds that prayer must be persistent. He admonishes us to not give up. He famously tells us to ask, search, and knock. At times prayer is laborious, yet Jesus knows that we are prone to quit all to easily just as the disciples closest to Him could not keep watch and pray on the night of His betrayal.
Number of People Praying
- We are all probably familiar with “where two or more are gathered” or “a cord of 3…” but we should not discount this. Jesus promises to be in our midst in group prayer! This, coming from the Son of Man who cannot lie!
- At the same time, we cannot discount the absolute necessity of a personal prayer life, for me Him just a legitimately in those moments as well.
- Free will means that we have a choice. We can choose God or choose to oppose God. But this free will is not confined to humans. As far I can tell, Angels are given the same free will. How else could Lucifer disobey God and bring a considerable group of Angels with himself into rebellion?
- This has massive impact on prayer when we realize that Angels and Demons are in warfare all around us. Daniel in the Old Testament experienced this first hand. His prayer and fasting seemed to no avail until he was visited by an Angel and it was revealed to him that spiritual warfare had hindered God’s answer. I don’t proclaim to understand this, but it does seem plain, biblical truth.
Presence of Sin
- We don’t have to be perfect to pray, but sin in our lives hinders our prayers. Whether it’s unforgiveness or adultery, sin separates us from God and is sure to lead to unanswered prayers. James makes it quite clear that powerful and effective prayer comes from a righteous man.
I hope this quick look into the complexity of prayer has been helpful for you. Prayer is simple yet vastly complex. We may never truly understand the inner workings of prayer but we can trust God that He wouldn’t call us to prayer only to leave us frustrated in a complicated process.
What areas of complexity do you see in prayer? Feel free to leave a comment below to start a conversation.
Also published on Medium.