Prayer Changes Things

“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
(James 5:16)

In all the time I’ve served as a Pastor, I have never heard or experienced such a rejection of prayer as what we hear today in our culture.  With every natural disaster or act of terror and violence (and there have been many), when people offer their prayers, the hurting world more and more lashes out with mocking and derision.

There is a part of me that understands the frustration might come when one hears this.   If I were hurting and someone were to say to me, “You’re in my thoughts and prayers,” but then they don’t pray, or their life is such that everything they say and do contradicts a life of prayer, then I would know that they are just spouting empty words to make themselves feel better and quickly get out of the conversation.  How many times have we heard, or worse, told someone ourselves, “I’ll be praying for you,” but then never a prayer is uttered, and no further thoughts are expressed?  We have, by our own prayerlessness and lack of sincerity, given a poor example to the world of the power of prayer.

But what is most astonishing is the boldness of some today in their outright denial of the effectiveness of prayer.  Most notably, in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, FL, in which 17 students and teachers were gunned down, when our President offered his prayers and condolences for those who were mourning, the “rock-star” astrophysicist and agnostic, Neil deGrasse Tyson, replied, “Evidence collected over many years, obtained from many locations, indicates that the power of prayer is insufficient to stop bullets from killing school children.”

For starters, as a scientist, when Tyson says he has collected evidence, I wonder what that evidence might be. Is it the fact that bad things continue to happen even when people are praying?  That does not necessarily disprove the power of prayer. It may just mean that we don’t know how the prayer has been, or will be answered.

Of course, one shouldn’t expect someone who denies the knowledge of a real and personal God to uphold the power of prayer as a means of communing with that God and knowing the transforming power of God’s grace.  As intellectual as Tyson is, he is blinded by the veil of sin in this world (2 Cor. 3:14),  but ever the ultracrepidarian, he boasts of that of which he cannot know.

Still, as Christians, those who know and love God, and have been commanded to pray, this current cultural resistance to prayer should serve as a reminder to continue praying, but to pray with confidence in the one who hears our prayers.

Prayer does change things

Contrary to Tyson’s bold declaration, prayer does change things, and there is an abundance of evidence. R.C. Sproul, in his book, Does Prayer Change Things? noted the following evidences in Scripture:

  • By prayer, Esau’s heart was changed toward Jacob, so that they met in a friendly, rather than hostile, manner (Gen 32).
  • By the prayer of Moses, God brought the plagues upon Egypt and then removed them again (Ex 7-11).
  • By prayer, Joshua made the sun stand still (Josh 10).
  • By prayer, Elijah held back the rains for three and a half years. Then by prayer, he caused it to rain again (1 Kings 17-18).

I could go on, but there are also the prayers that have been answered in our own lives.  How often have we prayed and found that God has delivered?  Was this evidence taken in to consideration?  How many times has prayer stayed the hand of an angry father, or a desperate man contemplating crime?  Those stories we may never hear, but they are still answered prayers.  Prayer does change things!

More importantly, prayer changes us.  When we pray, the purpose of our prayer is not so much to see the world around us change, but that God might change the way we see the world around us.  Prayer teaches us to look not to wisdom and influence of man for our peace and security, but to trust in the Lord alone.  Prayer reorients our perspective; we may not know why this is happening, or what it all means, but we can know the Sovereign Lord who reigns over all things, and know that He is good, and He is able to work in all things for the good of those who love him.  We may not know the how, we may not understand the why, but we come to know the One who is at the center of all things, who hold all things together, and who has shown His great love for us in Christ our Lord.

So let us recommit ourselves to prayer.  In the face of overwhelming grief and tragedy, may we pray that God would give us the grace to comfort those who mourn, and to weep with them in their sorrow.  And when we say we will pray, let us pray.  Don’t put it off until you get home, pray right then and there.

And let us pray that God would give us wisdom to heal, not the symptoms, but the cause of the sickness in our culture.  No new legislation, no amount of community organizing, will curb the violence and division in our world today. Those are merely the painful symptoms of a systemic problem. The underlying cause is a radical brokenness within our souls that come from sinful rebellion and rejection of God. The only cure, the only hope that we have is the salvation that has been secured for us in Jesus Christ. May we, through prayer, have the wisdom and boldness to share the Gospel freely, and may God heal our land.

SDG

Yet I Will Rejoice

candle-in-dark

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, 
nor fruit be on the vines, 
the produce of the olive fail, 
and the fields yield no food, 
the flock be cut off from the fold, 
and there be no herd in the stalls, 
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 
God, the Lord, is my strength, 
he makes my feet like the deer’s; 
he makes me tread on my high places.”
(Habakkuk 3:17-19)

For the second week in a row now I write in response to tragedy.

Last week, our little town of Lennox, SD was rocked by the news of a murder/suicide, in which a young mother shot her husband, child, then took her own life.  There remains a heavy burden in our town, like a thick fog that refuses to dissipate even under the noon-day sun.  We have grieved and mourned.  We have gathered as a community to express our sorrow and our hope, but the waves of this tsunami continue to crash in upon us, and will for some time.

Early Monday morning we awoke to the news of the shooting in Las Vegas.  As I write, 59 are dead, and over 400 are wounded.  Already the politicians and talking heads are drawing lines in the sand about who’s to blame, talking about what to do, but never really helping anyone. Stories keep coming in about the terror, the heroism, and the pain of the lives lost. We cry out, as we read in Scripture, “How long, O Lord?!?”

I turned again this week to the book of the prophet Habakkuk.  Habakkuk is a very different book than the other OT prophets.  He never speaks to the people the word of the Lord.  Instead, his book is made up of his questions to God.  Judah had become an absolute mess, morally, spiritually, and politically.  But God’s response was even more troubling. God was bringing the Babylonians to punish Judah for their idolatry.  Perplexed by God’s will, Habakkuk cried out, “How long, O Lord?”  That question, while filled with despair, is also a question of faith.  The prophet saw destruction all around, and he knew that God had promised to be with his people and deliver them.  How could that promise come true when everything around was falling apart?

Through the dialogue of Habakkuk’s book, the prophet learns that God is still in control, that God sits in judgment over all nations and people, and that through it all, “the righteous shall live by faith” (Hab 2:4).

This is why the passage given above is so powerful.  At the end of his book, Habakkuk proclaims his faith in the sovereign God.  His listing of disasters, from the failing figs, olives, and fields, and the loss of the herds, reveals just how bad things were.  No food on the shelves, no harvest coming in.  Those things that you sort of take for granted; they’re all gone.

Maybe we’d write it differently today.  We might say, “Though the batteries won’t charge, and the wifi is down, the cupboards are empty and the credit cards maxed out, though violence takes us and scatters us to the wind…”

How did Habakkuk respond to such loss?  How can we?

Habakkuk says, “Yet I will rejoice!”  You can almost see him there, gritting his teeth, eyes full of tears, hands shaking as he writes.  “Yet I will rejoice!”  He does not rejoice in this disaster, as some blackhearted fiend.  He does not rejoice in retribution.  He rejoices in the Lord.  He knows that God, the Lord, is his salvation and strength.  He knows that those who trust in the Lord “will be like Mount Zion… which cannot be moved, but abides forever” (Psalm 125:1).

Like the prophet, we are taught by God’s Word to rejoice.  Paul teaches the church in Philippi, “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice” (Phil 4:4).  With trust in the Lord comes joy, not in the circumstances, but in the presence of the Lord himself.  He is with you, not just in times of peace, but in the midst of sorrow and loss as well.

We are to say with Habakkuk, “Yet I will rejoice!”  Rejoicing is sometimes done with tear stained cheeks.  Joy is most needed when we are broken, and joy can fill, and mend, the broken heart.

When all else has failed and left you, when the fragile illusion of peace and security have been shattered, hold fast to your faith in the God of salvation, the God who has delivered and ransomed you in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Our God is in the heavens, and He has established His king in Zion, and his name is Jesus.

Hold fast to your faith; not because it is fleeting, but so that your joy won’t be.  The troubles and sorrows of this world crash upon us like the billows of the sea, but Christ stands firm and will not be moved.  Faith in Him is our anchor in the storm.  Cling to the One who has saved your soul, for he will never let you go.

And knowing that He holds you in the palm of his hand, you will find joy!

SDG