Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

On the prayer track

WHILE IT’S COMMON to talk of the “school of prayer,” I’ve decided that it’s an unfortunate metaphor. One that can lead us to think that some day we’ll graduate. Or, equally mistakenly, that we’ll never make the grade. Neither is true.

Though I know more about prayer than I did when I started this Christian life thing many years ago, I am aware that there is so much more to discover and experience.

While I like to learn from others, I get a little nervous about those teachers who are overly confident that they have cracked “the prayer code,” as though it can be reduced to a formula. Many times, it seems to me, they have made the mistake of turning a principle into a prescription.

So, I tend to think of prayer as less like being in a classroom and more like being on a railroad construction site. Each new thing I learn is another length of track taking me further along the way. Some are pieces are straight and some are twisty; they may seem at odds compared side by side, but laid end to end they connect to take me where I need to go. And I don’t have to wait to have the whole line ahead laid out all the way to the end before advancing.

Among the sections I have put down so far:

* There’s a right place to pray, but you won’t find it on a map.

* There’s a reason some prayers “work” better than others.

* There’s an element of risk in real prayer.

The latest section to go down relates to concerted prayer. I’ve taken part in church-wide, national, and even global prayer efforts, but I’ve always had a bit of a question about them in the back of my mind.

Like, does it really make a difference, or is it all just a lot of noise and activity that doesn’t change things but just makes us all feel better—kind of like a sports stadium wave or a Facebook petition? Why the gang thing? After all, James 5:16 tell us that “the prayer of a righteous person”—not a bunch of them—“has great power,” no?

Then, reading through 2 Corinthians the other day, I came across Paul’s appeal for prayer over the struggles he and his co-workers were having. “You also must help us by prayer,” he wrote (1:11 version?), “so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (my emphasis). Clearly, for Paul, the concerted effort could make a difference.

But, of course, that leaves other questions. Like, if at least sometimes it takes the prayers of many to make a difference, is that fair? Surely God’s not disinterested in righting some wrong, or failing to intervene in someone’s life unless enough people show interest? Surely it’s not that He needs all that extra help to turn the handle? And what about those unknown people or unseen situations that have no one to go to God about them; do they just get overlooked?

Thankfully, not knowing the answers doesn’t have to keep me from moving forward. They may lay further down the track.

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