Does Prayer Make Any Difference?
Posted by Ravi Zacharias, on July 8, 2010Topic: BlogTopic: FaithTopic: Jesus ChristTopic: Just Thinking MagazineTopic: MeaningTopic: New Testament StudiesTopic: Old Testament StudiesTopic: Practical TheologyTopic: PrayerTopic: Theology and PhilosophyTopic: Worship and Spirituality
Topic: Attributes of God
Prayer is far more complex than some make it out to be. There is much more involved than merely asking for something and receiving it. For every person who feels that prayer has not “worked” for them and has therefore abandoned God, there is someone else for whom prayer remains a vital part of her life, sustaining her even when her prayers have gone unanswered, because her belief and trust is not only in the power of prayer but in the character and wisdom of God. Taken from Has Christianity Failed You? by RAVI ZACHARIAS. Copyright © 2010 by Ravi Zacharias. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com
There is an immense difference between a worldview that is not able to answer every question to complete satisfaction and one whose answers are consistently contradictory. There is an even greater difference between answers that contain paradoxes and those that are systemically irreconcilable. Once again, the Christian faith stands out as unique in this test, both as a system of thought and in the answers it gives. Christianity does not promise that you will have every question fully answered to your satisfaction before you die, but the answers it gives are consistently consistent. There may be paradoxes within Christian teaching and belief, but they are not irreconcilable. To those who feel that Christianity has failed them because of prayers that went unanswered, it is important to realize what I am saying here. I sat with a man in my car, talking about a series of heartbreaks he had experienced. “There were just a few things I had wanted in life,” he said. “None of them have turned out the way I had prayed. I wanted my parents to live until I was at least able to stand on my own and they could watch my children grow up. It didn’t happen. I wanted my marriage to succeed, and it didn’t. I wanted my children to grow up grateful for what God had given them. That didn’t happen. I wanted my business to prosper, and it didn’t. Not only have my prayers amounted to nothing; the exact opposite has happened. Don’t even ask me if you can pray for me. I am left with no trust of any kind in such things.” I felt two emotions rising up within me as I listened. The first was one of genuine sorrow. He felt that he had tried, that he had done his part, but that God hadn’t lived up to his end of the deal. The second emotion was one of helplessness, as I wondered where to begin trying to help him. These are the sharp edges of faith in a transcendent, all-powerful, personal God. Most of us have a tendency to react with anger or withdrawal when we feel God has let us down by not giving us things we felt were legitimate to ask him for. We may feel guilty that our expectations toward God were too great. We may feel that God has not answered our prayers because of something lacking in ourselves. We may compare ourselves with others whose every wish seems to be granted by God, and wonder why he hasn’t come through for us in the way he does for others. And sometimes we allow this disappointment in God to fester and eat away at our faith in him until the years go by and we find ourselves bereft of belief. G. K. Chesterton surmised that when belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from him — but, in heaven’s name, to what? To the skeptic or the one who has been disappointed in his faith, the obvious answer to Chesterton’s question may be to give up believing that there’s somebody out there, take charge of your own life, and live it out to the best of your own ability. But Chesterton also wrote, “The real trouble with the world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite.” (1) He is right. Only so much about life can be understood by reason; so much falls far short of any reasonable explanation. Prayer then becomes the irrepressible cry of the heart at the times we most need it. For every person who feels that prayer has not “worked” for them and has therefore abandoned God, there is someone else for whom prayer remains a vital part of her life, sustaining her even when her prayers have gone unanswered, because her belief and trust is not only in the power of prayer but in the character and wisdom of God. God is the focus of such prayer, and that is what sustains such people and preserves their faith. Prayer is far more complex than some make it out to be. There is much more involved than merely asking for something and receiving it. In this, as in other contexts, we too often succumb to believing that something is what it never was, even when we know it cannot be as simple as we would like to think it is. The Irish poet Frances Browne framed a poem about a band of pilgrims sharing about their losses in life. One pilgrim spoke of a treasure lost on the high seas, another of a fortune, ravaged and plundered. A third spoke of a lost love, and a fourth of having buried a little child. But when their tales were done, there spake among them one, A stranger, seeming from all sorrow free: “Sad losses ye have met, but mine is heavier yet, For a believing heart hath gone from me.” “Alas!” these pilgrims said, “for the living and the dead, For fortune’s cruelty, for love’s sure cross, For the wrecks of land and sea! but, however it came to thee, Thine, stranger, is life’s last and heaviest loss! For the believing heart has gone from thee.” (2) I remember my mother, lying in bed, her life hanging in the balance after a stroke at the age of fifty-seven. A group of elders from the church came and prayed for her. Afterward, one of them told us that the Lord had told him that my mother would get well. My younger brother, especially, who was twenty-two at the time and a medical student, was greatly buoyed and encouraged by this assurance of God’s promise to heal her. However, only a few days later, her condition deteriorated, and she passed away. Of course we were grief-stricken and bewildered. But even more devastating was the response of some in the group — that she had died because someone in the family had lacked sufficient faith for her healing. We were already reeling from our loss, and now we each found ourselves, like the disciples, examining his or her own heart, asking God, “Is it possible that I am responsible for her death, or was this always in your plan and purpose?” You are not alone in your experience of prayer. One hears stories of unanswered prayer all the time. Adding insult to injury is hearing someone else’s story, someone whose prayers seem to be always answered or even someone who never thought of praying and yet their loved one has recovered. Read the following thoughts of a prominent Christian author, which I have compiled from his various writings. I have changed some of the wording but retained his ideas. I have prayed long and hard for God to save my mother’s life, but my prayers have gone unanswered. I wish so much that God would rescue me from this dreadful school, and I have prayed to no end. I am still here. I finish praying and then struggle with my conscience, wondering if I had concentrated through it at all. Prayer for me meant pain, defeat, and much lost sleep. It is this terrible burden of duty in prayer that has taken its toll. Every evening was so cloaked in gloom because I dreaded bedtime and the nightly struggle for supreme concentration. His struggle over his problem with unanswered prayer caused him to turn away from his Christian faith at the age of thirteen, and it was not until some twenty years later that he knelt and prayed, “perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” (3) Yes, these are the experiences and words of C. S. Lewis. Lewis stated clearly that it was his disillusionment with prayer that made him walk away from his Christian belief when he was only a young lad. Yet fifteen or so years after his conversion, Lewis said he found himself in “philosophically a rather embarrassing position” of praying and trusting this same God for the safety of his brother, Warren, who was in Shanghai during a Japanese attack. (4) If we are being honest, which of us has not sensed this frustration, dejection, and confusion over prayer? Scholars of great philosophical prowess have asked what sort of God this is who needs to be pleaded with, cajoled, and begged. Once again, they show their total ignorance of how people in the East relate to God and have no difficulty accepting the distinction and inequality between God and man. Some Western celebrity thinkers, on the other hand, not only don’t accede to this difference; they suggest that, if anything, man’s ethic is higher than God’s. But leaving the philosophers, scholars, and celebrities out of the discussion for the moment and returning to the subject of our own experiences with prayer, we all fully understand Lewis’s frustration and readily identify with him. It is not always as easy for us to identify with the profound prayers of some who seem to know God so well, and we listen with rapt attention, wondering at just how foreign it seems, as if it originates from another planet. Years ago, I read about a notable Indian Christian by the name of Bakht Singh, truly a remarkable person. Born into a Sikh family in Punjab, he regularly attended Gurdwaras (Sikh temples). When he was presented with a Bible at school, he promptly tore it to shreds. Years later, he went to Kings College in London, and while an engineering student in Canada, in 1929 — the same year C. S. Lewis became a Christian — Bakht Singh surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. He became one of the most notable Christians in India’s history and was highly respected and revered, dying in 2000 at the age of ninety-seven. Stories abound of the power he wielded in prayer. On one occasion on a long walk across India, a stranger is said to have stopped him and challenged him to pray for relief from drought for the area he was passing through. Bakht Singh asked the man if he would believe in Christ, should his prayer be answered. The man hesitated and then consented. As Singh was about to get on his knees to pray, his traveling companion supposedly cautioned him, “Don’t you think we should wait to pray for rain until we are within range of our stop for the night — we still have some way to go, and we don’t have any umbrellas.” Fact or fable, I have never bothered to determine. There is precedent in Scripture, however, when Elijah prayed for rain during a time of severe drought and had to run for cover himself (1 Kings 18). The Bible is replete with such answers to prayer, and it is a fact that George Mueller of Bristol, England, was just such a man of prayer in the 1800s. Often he would have not enough food to feed the orphans and street kids in his charge, but would offer thanks for the food anyway, before it even arrived. Numerous eyewitnesses and biographers have testified to his prayers of faith. Saint John Chrysostom wrote this about the power of prayer: Prayer is an all-efficient panoply, a treasure undiminished, a mine which is never exhausted, a sky unobscured by the clouds, a heaven unruffled by the storm. It is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings. . . . The potency of prayer hath subdued the strength of fire, it hath bridled the rage of lions, hushed anarchy to rest; extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, assuaged diseases, repelled frauds, rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt. 5 Who can read that and not be tempted to exclaim, “Is that mere rhetoric?” No, not so. Each of the instances referred to by Chrysostom is drawn right out of the Scriptures. The Bible talks about the privilege of prayer and cautions against insincere prayer. Whether we’re talking about the Welsh Revival or that in the Hebrides or the Second Evangelical Awakening in America, all had one thing in common — concerted prayer over a protracted period of time. Often as a student I would read stories of those revivals and their foundations of prayer, and I would think, That’s what I want to build my life on — the solid footing of prayer. My library is full of books on prayer. One would think that with each passing year the discipline of prayer would get easier, but in fact it doesn’t. Whether early in the morning or late at night, it is always a challenge. But as God has proved himself, I have had several different experiences in which I sensed God’s very clear answer within my spirit. There is no doubt in my heart that prayer makes a difference in anyone’s life.
Is Anyone Listening? Does Anyone Care?
There is no getting around the fact that the answers to prayer that Bakht Singh and George Mueller regularly experienced don’t fit the common experience. My daughter Naomi has experienced some tough situations, but, by God’s grace, has kept her feet steady. She travels the globe, working on behalf of the neediest of the world. Whether in the rescue or rehabilitation of women enslaved by the sex-trafficking industry or help for children affected by AIDS — either through the loss of their parents or their own diagnosis of HIV positive — she is in the thick of situations where the need and pain are overwhelming. She often says that perhaps God intended her place to be among the broken people of the world, and in her own personal life she has endured much pain, disappointment, and betrayal. Every now and then I hear her say, “I wish God would answer some of my prayers in a way that would let me know he is even just listening.” She currently makes her home in a quiet neighborhood on the West Coast of the United States. Recently, after a visit with us in Atlanta, she returned home to be greeted by her energetic Golden Retriever, India, who insists that Naomi first make up for all the lost time with her before anything else is done. Her landlady also came running to welcome Naomi home. So she set her suitcase on the ground just outside her door and got down on the floor, greeting the dog with all the preoccupation of the one-way conversation that a person with an affectionate dog regularly engages in, and also responding to her landlady’s conversation. Finally she turned back to grab her suitcase. Only ten minutes had elapsed from setting it down outside the door and returning to retrieve it, and when she opened the door it was not there. She began to wonder if she had left it in her car, although she was sure she remembered unloading it. But her landlady confirmed that the suitcase had been at the door, which is how she had known that Naomi was back. She searched the periphery of the house in case it had been moved, but there was no sign of either the suitcase or its contents. I was ten thousand miles away when she called home, quite upset. Some of her favorite things were in the suitcase, as well as a few new things she had bought while she was away. She reported the loss to the police, and after two days when it still hadn’t been located, they didn’t give her much hope that she would ever see it, or anything in it, again. I wrote to her, encouraging her not to lose hope. This was a small thing for God, and we continued to earnestly pray that he would restore it to her. Her prayer was, “I know it isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. It’s just a suitcase. But there are things in it that are important to me. I’ve experienced so much of the pain of life and seem to have known so few answers to my prayers — couldn’t you bring my suitcase back? It would mean so much to me to know that you are there and that you are listening.” The fourth morning after its disappearance, she got up and checked outside the door as she had for the last three mornings — only to find nothing. She spent the morning working, frequently asking the Lord for the return of her suitcase. At noon she again checked outside the door, finding nothing. In the early afternoon she went out to run an errand, and when she came back there was still no suitcase in front of her door. A few minutes later, she went to the door, and sitting in the exact spot where she had left it three days earlier was her suitcase! She couldn’t believe her eyes. In great excitement she opened it up and found everything there. Not a single thing had been taken. Now mystified but filled with gratitude to the Lord, she called me. “Dad! Dad, you won’t believe this! My suitcase is back, and nothing has been taken! ” Later that day, she wrote to me and said, “You know, it’s a small thing, but I needed that little small thing from God right now. I needed that little gesture just to know that he cares when I’m a little down.” Someone once humorously quipped that if you really want your spouse to hang on to every word you say — to listen with rapt attention and remember every word — just talk in your sleep. Someone else told a story about a bishop who knelt before the altar and began praying, “Dear Lord….” And a voice came from heaven asking, “What is it?” They had to pick the bishop off the floor, as he had fainted. The reason these stories strike us as funny is that it is so important to us that someone care enough about us and love us enough to listen to what we say, to care about what we think. And when we pray, when we pour out our hearts and make ourselves vulnerable before God, we sometimes cannot help but wonder — even a little bit — if there really is anyone listening.
Little Things That Make a Big Difference
Prayer has wings. It can lift you beyond the dark clouds of the human struggle so that you are able to soar above. At the same time, prayer is a reminder that we are not God. Do you remember those lines by Robert Browning? Go on, you shall no more move my gravity than, when I see boys ride a-cockhorse I find it in my heart to embarrass them By hinting that their stick’s a mock horse, And they really carry what they say carries them. (6) I have absolutely no doubt that if you are a praying Christian, your faith in God is what is carrying you, through both the good times and the hard times. However, if you are not a praying person, you are carrying your faith — you are trying to make your faith work for you apart from your source of power — and trying to carry the infinite is very exhausting. The question of unanswered prayer is a haunting one. What if prayer doesn’t make the difference it’s supposed to make? In this chapter it is not my intention to deny the great disappointments of unanswered prayer or even to attempt to provide answers to why our prayers are not answered. Rather, I want us to take a good, hard look at what God intends prayer to be.
The Mysterious Impact of Prayer
The Bible has a lot to say about prayer, either directly or by inference, with respect to the effect of prayer both on a situation and in the life of the person praying. Nearly fifty quite lengthy prayers are recorded in the Scriptures, along with numerous short ones. If we want to understand prayer, it is critical to understand how the Bible views prayer. In all of its expressions, whether halting and short or flowing in beautiful, well-structured phrases, prayer is simply a conversation with God. If we turn prayer into a monologue or use it as a way to showcase our gift with words or as a venue for informing or instructing others who may be listening, we defeat the very purpose of prayer. The Bible makes it clear that prayer is intended as the line of connection from the heart of the praying person directly to the heart of God. Jesus himself practiced a lifestyle of prayer and urged his disciples to imitate him by making it part of their daily existence. His prayers represented prayer at its best and most sincere. I marvel at the impact of praying with a hurting person. I have prayed many times with someone who has claimed to be a skeptic and is living in a manner that supports that claim, only to finish my prayer and open my eyes to see tears in his eyes. Although prayer remains a mystery to all of us but especially to one who lives apart from God, I have observed again and again that even the hardened heart retains a longing for the possibility of communicating with God. For example, on a trip to Hungary, I spent an evening with a few colleagues as we discussed spiritual and philosophical issues and tried to answer the questions of our six Hungarian hosts. They included, among others, a member of the parliament, a theoretical physicist, and a successful businessman. None of them were followers of Jesus Christ. They were in the truest sense atheistic — with no belief in God or recognition of any need for God. After hours of interaction, the evening came to an end. Before we separated, I asked if they would mind if I concluded our time together with prayer. They were a bit taken aback, but in a rather bemused manner they agreed that I should pray. I prayed briefly for their nation, their families, and their own lives. I prayed that God would show himself to them in some meaningful way and thanked him for the opportunity to meet them in their homeland and spend the evening with them. When I said Amen and lifted my eyes, I saw tears in the eyes of each of our hosts. There was a hushed silence. Everyone seemed peculiarly reluctant to disturb the sense of God’s sudden, unexpected presence. We bid them good night. The next morning, I stood to address an audience miles away from the dinner of the previous night and recognized some of the very people with whom we had spent the previous long evening. I was surprised, not only because of the distance they had traveled to be there, but also because this was a closed event, open only to registered delegates. But there they were. When the session finished and the hall cleared, the businessman approached me and said, “Something happened last night.” He went on to say that after the prayer the previous evening he had been so moved that he hadn’t gone back to his hotel room. Instead he had walked most of the night until he had come to the place of accepting that Jesus Christ was who he claimed to be — the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And he had given his life into the keeping of that Savior. Prayer can accomplish amazing things, reaching into hearts in a way that all the correct answers to questions that are honestly asked sometimes cannot do. Conversely, more certainly than anything else, sustained prayer that seems to bring nothing in response can result in a sense of futility with life and an erosion of faith. Like the myth of Sisyphus, who repeatedly rolled a huge rock up a mountain only to watch it roll down again, unanswered prayer may well be where most of those who have lost their faith began that journey into unbelief.
Jesus on Prayer
No one is a better instructor on prayer than Jesus himself. By simply observing the specific occasions in which the Scriptures tell us that Jesus spent time in prayer, it should be evident how very important prayer is: at his baptism (Luke 3:21); on the occasion of his transfiguration (Luke 9:29); at the selection of his twelve disciples (Luke 6:12); at the Last Supper with his disciples during the Passover Feast (John 17:1 – 26); before his arrest in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36 – 46); and at his cruel execution on the cross (prayers that are recorded by all four gospel writers). Reading these prayers and coming to terms with how Jesus prayed and why he prayed as he did provide all we need for a fascinating study. The most definitive passage on prayer is what is often called the Lord’s Prayer or, as some scholars like to call it, the Disciples’ Prayer. (More than once I have heard an audience asked to recite the Ten Commandments by memory, and few can do so. But most people who have attended church even for a short period of time or are over the age of fifty have learned the Lord’s Prayer either in church or in school). A mere sixty-five words, it is uttered thousands of times a day. In this simple prayer, we see what prayer, however expanded, should be. The highly significant first words carry the weight of all of prayer: “Our Father in heaven.” This is a uniquely Christian utterance. I have never heard a Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, or anyone of any other faith ever begin prayer with those words. The conversion story of a wealthy socialite woman in Pakistan, Bilquis Sheikh, is appropriately titled I Dared to Call Him Father. In these two words alone — “Our Father” — we recognize, at least implicitly, two truths: the nearness of God as our heavenly Father, and the sovereignty of God as the one who controls everything. As soon as you cry out in prayer, “Heavenly Father,” you are recognizing his sovereign rule over your life. The great prayers of the Old Testament — even from Abraham, the friend of God, or from David, a man after God’s own heart — do not begin this way. To address God in this way is distinctive. It was Jesus’ way of introducing to his disciples that God was their heavenly Father. Can you imagine how new this must have been to the disciples — even shocking — to hear God addressed this way? In the Jewish faith, of which Christianity is the fulfillment, God was so revered, so distant, so holy — so “other” — that his name could not even be spoken. That attitude is still true among Jews today. To hear God addressed in such a familiar and intimate manner must have made an immediate impression on them of what Jesus was teaching about their relationship with God. The prayer recorded by Matthew (6:9 – 13) is also recorded by Luke (11:2 – 4). Jesus gives the context in verses 5 – 10. Then [Jesus] said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ “Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” The New Testament events took place in the Middle East, and in the East it is an absolute must to place food in front of a guest, without exception. You simply do not welcome anyone into your home without offering them food and drink. My first reaction when reading this story was to think that I knew exactly how the host felt: What on earth is this friend thinking, arriving unexpectedly at midnight [it had to be unexpected, or the food would have been ready], and hungry at that? But it happens all the time. I had an uncle who, when an earthquake hit our city, moved his whole family of seven into our home for three months. Already a family of seven living in a small two-bedroom home, we had to feed and provide a place for them for all those months. Even then, I marveled at it. I remember asking my mother how my uncle felt he was safer living with us when his own home was a mere half mile away. Why was it necessary because of one earthquake for their family to move in with us for three months? There we were, fourteen of us in a four-room house — two bedrooms, a small kitchen, and a living room. Indeed, they actually did arrive at midnight, and all of a sudden we all had to vacate our beds and give them to the “guests.” We were not happy. But there was absolutely no possibility, not even a thought on the part of my parents, of turning them away. Courtesy demanded that we open our home to them and share all that we had. This is precisely the context of Jesus’ story. It is one of those “how much more” passages. If through sheer pressure of culture a person yields to the needs of a friend because of his friend’s persistence, “how much more will your heavenly Father do for you?” The man’s neighbor was asleep; God doesn’t sleep. The neighbor had locked his door against any intrusion; God is always available to us. The neighbor didn’t know his friend; God knows every heart and every need. He knows the numbers of hairs on our heads. He knows the days each of us have been given for life on this earth. He sees every sparrow that falls. He knows our need before we even ask him to meet it. Jesus then applied the lesson by saying, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11 – 12). Then he gives the key to the whole passage that begins with his model prayer: “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (verse 13). On the heels of the Lord’s Prayer and as his conclusion to it, Jesus tells us that God will give the Holy Spirit, his indwelling presence, to those who ask for it. That is the whole point of the prayer. It is not spoken in the form of a question — it ends with an exclamation point. God will give the gift of the indwelling presence of the holy God to any who ask for it — this is an absolute certainty! You can count on it! We hear so little of this today. In its efforts to make God relevant to modern men and women, the emergent church seldom emphasizes to its audiences that the ultimate result of prayer is that Jesus intends to make his home within the life of the supplicant. We have turned prayer into a means to our ends and seldom wait on God’s response long enough to think about what he wants for us in that very moment. By reducing the evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to one particular gift, we have robbed people of the Holy Presence that prompts us in prayer, prays for us when we don’t have the words to pray for ourselves, and comforts us in our times of need. The paramount need in the church today and in the individual Christian is the indwelling presence of God. In an incredible twist, this indwelling presence of God, the Holy Spirit, makes God both the enabler of our prayers and the provider of answers to those prayers. This is precisely how a wise parent raises his or her child — teaching the child to train his or her hungers and longings so that in turn, the parent is able to provide for those hungers and longings. More than anything else, this is what prayer is about — training one’s hungers and longings to correspond with God’s will for us — and it is what the Christian faith is all about. Paul reminds us of this numerous times. Jesus talks of the prompting from within and the provision that comes from without, which is the work of the Holy Spirit within us and the provision of God from without. A neighbor once came to our door, asking me to pray for a particular family need. I smiled at her and said, “I’m glad to pray for you, but you know, you have equal access to God and can come to him yourself at any time.” I thought I had captured a nice, culturally relevant term for her. But she paused for a moment and said, “I know that, but you seem to have an 800 number for him; for me it’s a long-distance call.” I suppose if that had happened today, I could have replied by suggesting that she get a roaming package on her phone. Humor aside, I think the reason we sometimes have the false sense that God is so far away is because that is where we have put him. We have kept him at a distance, and then when we are in need and call on him in prayer, we wonder where he is. He is exactly where we left him. Calvin Miller makes a powerful point: The sermon and the Spirit always work in combination to pronounce liberation. Sometimes the Spirit and sermon do supply direct answers to human need, but most often they answer indirectly. Most problems are not solved by listening to sermons. The sermon, no matter how sincere, cannot solve these unsolvable problems. So if the sermon is not a problem solver, where shall we go for solutions? Together with the Spirit, the sermon exists to point out that having answers is not essential to living. What is essential is the sense of God’s presence during dark seasons of questioning…. Our need for specific answers is dissolved in the greater issue of the lordship of Christ over all questions — those that have answers and those that don’t. (7) This is one of the most defining differences between an apologist who is merely interested in arguments and an apologist who knows God in a clear and personal walk with him. To the skeptic, to say that prayer is more about the lordship of Christ than it is about getting answers may seem at first blush to be evasive, but it is not. It is in keeping with the worldview that God’s presence is a felt presence and must be pursued with diligence — and it is precisely what “ask, seek, and knock” means. In his book The Integrity of Worship, Paul Waitman Hoon makes a powerful observation about how God works on us as individuals through prayer, molding us into what he wants us to be, teaching us to think as he wants us to think: How often have we craved light on our life in the world, only to be summoned to ponder our destiny in eternity. How often have we been preoccupied with the church local and instead found our vision turned to the church triumphant and universal. And how often have we asked that worship bless our souls with peace, only to hear the lesson for the day calling us to a holy warfare. How often have we desired strength to overcome the world, only to learn that we are to be stoned and sawn asunder in the world. How often have we sought comfort to our sorrows and instead found the sorrows of the world added to our own. Such reversals may be strange to men. But only such contradiction answers to realities both relevant and irrelevant that are at the heart of the church’s worship. (8)
Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
(1) G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (SanFrancisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 87.
(2) Frances Browne, “Losses” in The Cambridge Book of Poetry and Song, edited by Charlotte Fiske Bates (New York:Thomas Y. Crowell Publishers, 1910), 56.
(3) C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: HarcourtBrace Jovanovich, 1984), 228-229.
(4) As quoted by Kathryn Ann Lindskoog in C.S. Lewis: Mere Christian, 3rd ed. (Wheaton: HaroldShaw Publishers, 1987), 118.
(5) Quoted in Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries (Minneapolis:Bethany Fellowship, 1959), 156.
(6) Robert Browning, “Christmas-Eve” in Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day(London: Chapman & Hall, 1850), 66.
(7) Calvin Miller, Spirit, Word, and Story (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 56, 57.
(8) Paul Waitman Hoon, The Integrity of Worship (Nashville:Abingdon Press, 1971), 164.