To be sure, we know a lot about prayer. We know it’s of faith–addressing a God whom we cannot see and are unable to prove that He’s even there, much less listening to the likes of us–and we know we ought to do more of it and do it better.
But, it occurs to me, it might be helpful to address some of the things we do not know about prayer.
See if you find any of this encouraging.
1. We do not know how to pray as we should.
That’s Romans 8:26. “Likewise, the Spirit also helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
At those times when my prayers seem pitifully small and weak, it helps to remember that even the great apostle–arguably the greatest Christian ever–put into words my own helplessness: “We do not know how to pray as we ought.”
Man, is that ever right!
This does not stop us from praying. It only assures us that our perfectionism–a killer in most endeavors–does not apply here. Prayer cannot be done perfectly in this life. So, we do what we can, pray as well as we’re able, and leave it to the Father to sort it out.
2. We do not know what God is doing in answer to our prayers at any given moment.
Nothing is so much about faith as praying. Not only are we addressing a Deity whom we cannot see or prove, in most cases we never know whether our prayers were even answered or not. And yet, we keep praying. Talk about faith!
You pray for the President of the United States, for a missionary on the other side of the globe, and for your child who heads off to school this morning. In no case will you be there to see if and how your prayers are answered. The president gets a sudden inspiration and makes a wise decision, the missionary is protected from harm while walking through a dangerous neighborhood, and your child figures something out the teacher has been trying to get across. Your prayers were answered. The only problem is….
You never know it.
If you are careless, you will conclude your prayers are accomplishing nothing and you will go on to other endeavors. As a result, the world grows more dangerous and the people you love more vulnerable because you quit praying.
“In due season we shall reap if we do not quit” (Galatians 6:9).
3. We do not know who else is praying.
Elijah is not the only servant of the Lord who felt like the Lone Ranger (I Kings 19:10). Many times we all get that isolated sense that “I’m the only one left.”
It’s not true, thank the Lord.
There is no room in the Kingdom of God for the pessimism that drops our chin to our chest, gives up hope, and leaves the playing field before the final gun. We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37). We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), veterans of the same wars we are presently engaged in; they are watching and cheering us on. Furthermore, when we finally turn in our badges and report to our Heavenly assignment, we will be overwhelmed to discover the size of the regiment to which we belonged (see Revelation 5:11 and 7:9, for starters).
Stand strong, Christian. You are in good company.
4. We do not know how things would be if we had not prayed.
In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey was given a gift, the ability to see what the world would have been like had he never been born.
The rest of us are not given that present. We don’t even get to see how things would have been had we not been faithful in praying.
We have to take it by faith, at least for the present. The day will come, we are assured, when we will “know as we are known.” We see through a glass dimly now, but “then face to face” (I Corinthians 13:12).
We will be so glad we were faithful. Or, so pained that we quit early and left the field.
Jesus asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) Nothing tells the tale on that like our praying.
We pray by faith, disciple of Jesus, or we do not pray at all.
5. We do not know all God did as a result of someone else’s prayers.
As a 19-year-old college sophomore, I made the single most important decision of my life, one that changed everything from that day to this: I joined West End Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. As a result of that one simple act–and it was simple–I was baptized, called into the ministry, and ordained in that church. I met a host of friends who remain in my life to this day, including one in particular, Margaret Ann Henderson, to whom I will have been married a half-century this April 13. Everything in my life since hinges on that one act in September of 1959.
What I wonder is a) did I pray about the decision? and b) who else was praying?
There are no answers. My strong hunch is that joining that outstanding church was not related to my prayers but to the intercession of someone else. Was it my mother praying? Another friend or family member? or did the Lord just sovereignly decide to do this without being asked? Or all of the above?
No way to know. But whoever prayed for me, I am forever in their debt.
No one will pray who must have all his/her answers before they begin.
No one will pray who depends on his/her feelings as indicators of God’s presence and whether He is hearing and answering.
No one will pray who cannot live by faith and wait upon the Lord for answers.
No one will pray who waits until they can do so perfectly.
No one will pray who uses the prayerlessness of others as an excuse for his own rebellion.
We will pray by faith or not pray at all.
Brethren, let us pray.