A very long time ago, I did something that was extraordinarily hard for me: I signed up to do an hour of prayer each week over requests collected by the church I was attending.
I’m sure plenty of you are thinking, “that’s hard?” Hang on for a minute and let me continue.
Each week I drove to the church for my assigned hour, which was at night. The idea conceived by the church leadership was to have someone praying 24 hours a day, seven days a week for all the requests.
The “prayer room” was actually an outside trailer with a coded door to let people in. All these years later, I can still see the structure and even remember what it smelled like inside.
I actually did fine in the beginning.
However, over time I began to feel overwhelmed by the consistent stream of anguish written down on those little cards. Cancer, financial problems, spousal betrayal, more cancer, wayward kids, chronic pain, etc.
Add to this the fact that I’ve always struggled, in numerous ways, with prayer. As a Christian, I know we’re commanded to pray in a manner that is faithful and persistent and so, even though prayer like this was difficult for me, I continued to bust a move on my knees for that one hour each week.
Finally, though, with little to no way to follow up on the requests (many were anonymous) I wondered over time if I was making a difference in any of the cases presented to me. Even though I knew the many Scripture verses saying God always hears our prayers and that silence doesn’t equate to absence, shamefully I have to confess that I ended up throwing in the towel about six months in and yielding my hour to someone else.
Some straight talk on prayer
I’m sure you’ll agree that a story like mine is never heard from the pulpit when the topic is prayer. But I’ll bet the farm that there’s a number of you who can relate to my battle with prayer, albeit not out loud.
Here’s the thing: prayer can be hard and confusing at times. For example, there’s a reason when you go to godisimaginary.com, the first exercise they give you to prove God doesn’t exist is, “try praying.”
Moreover, when you read through C. S. Lewis's essay, The Efficacy of Prayer (the best writing on the subject I’ve found) you won’t get any of the typical flowery talk on the topic, but instead, you read things like this:
“I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic … Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.”
A strong cup of coffee, eh?
If what Lewis says is true, are we to grit our teeth through the seemingly non-responses or denials to our petitionary prayers, or is there a better and biblical way forward?
When prayer becomes easy
I lost my first wife very young to a rare form of thyroid cancer. Of course, I and everyone we knew prayed for her recovery, but in the end, she succumbed to the disease.
My times of prayer both before and after resembled the story in 2 Sam 12 which chronicles David’s loss of his infant son. As you would expect, it was a very awful time.
So, you can imagine my agony when I remarried and only a couple of years later, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was then confronted with a choice as to how I was going to pray for her given what happened to my first wife.
What I landed on revolutionized my prayer life and made prayer something that is now both biblical and easy for me. It’s best explained by giving you a concrete example of it in action.
My wife survived her first bout with the disease and now has to go through a procedure every 3-6 months to remove pre-cancerous lesions from her body. I have two options open to me where my prayers for her are concerned:
Option A: Cry to God in a depressed state asking why this is happening to her, bemoaning the fact that we have a constant sword of Damocles hanging over our head, and petition for a complete cure, which the doctors say doesn’t exist.
Option B: Thank God constantly that He’s provided a process by which she can consistently be restored to good health in a painless and quick way.
Some of you may scold me and say, “O ye of little faith to not pray Option A every hour”. Hey, if you’d like to intercede for her in that way, please go ahead (her name is Laura).
But for me, Option B has been my path. It’s in keeping with thanking and glorifying God for everything, acknowledges His sovereignty, and is remarkably refreshing and easy. Why?
Because it accepts the answer He’s already graciously given us for our situation and avoids the frustration of beating on a door that, miracle aside, is destined to stay closed.
A prayer life of thanking God for everything nonstop is easy, uplifting, and allows me to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). It might be small things like thanking Him for protecting me from physical harm during a gym workout or praising Him that an injury I did encounter isn’t worse than what it is.
This approach follows what Lewis says about prayer and is a perfect way to conclude my thoughts on the subject: “The very question ‘Does prayer work?’ puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. ‘Work’: as if it were magic, or a machine — something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us.”
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.