“Prayer doesn’t work.” That’s not what those involved really thought, but that’s pretty much what it amounted to.
I have a ministry that trains Christ’s disciples in evangelistic prayer. It’s called Community Houses of Prayer, CHOP for short. I’ve noticed something odd but consistent among those involved in this prayer outreach ministry.
The heart of the CHOP ministry is prayer. It trains in prayer. It engages in the work of prayer. It involves weekly group prayer and directed daily private prayer. What I’ve noticed that is odd but remarkably consistent is the murmur that the CHOP doesn’t work.
CHOP weaves together four strands: life-sphere witness, personal spiritual renewal, strategic prayer, and spiritual warfare. As part of the first strand, life-sphere witness, participants fill out a map of their spheres of influence. Here they take stock of the various arenas of life where God has placed them as witnesses for Christ, such as neighborhood, work, family and marketplace. Through prayer they identify some in their life-spheres for whom they will pray for the 12 weeks of the CHOP group.
Here’s where the murmur can be heard. “I’ve prayed faithfully for my contacts each day. I’ve followed the way the CHOP Ministry Manual directs me in prayer. But nothing is happening.”
Reading between lines what they are saying is “prayer doesn’t work.” At the very least, they are holding up expectations for prayer in CHOP that are different for prayer outside CHOP.
But the prayer of CHOP is the same prayer God defines and describes for us in His Word.
In an article I wrote for my denomination magazine, I opened with this scenario.
My daughter was pregnant with her third child, past her due date, and feeling very uncomfortable. She had her first child through C-section but her second by regular birth. For a variety of reasons, she desperately wanted to give birth regularly this time around.
So she asked us to pray that she would not have a C-section. We did pray, earnestly, diligently. Two days later she delivered a healthy, beautiful baby boy — by C-section. Praise God! But it begs the question: Did our prayers make the slightest bit of difference in when and how that baby was to be born? Wouldn’t Asher have made his entrance into this world in the manner already ordained by God? Why do we pray?
I go on to answer that question. But if we listen, we can hear the same murmur in that scenario with my daughter as we hear in the CHOP group. It’s a heart murmur that comes from a misunderstanding of the nature of prayer. That misunderstanding is answered by a balanced understanding of prayer given us by God in His Word. God’s answer will not only resolve our skepticism, it will renew us to persevere in prayer with expectation.
What animates prayer is faith. Not that our believing makes prayer work for our desires. Rather, faith rests in God and His purposes. As I point out in that article: “Prayer is an interaction of faith. In the knowledge of the living God, this Spirit-given ability rests, receives, believes, submits, trusts, waits, and defers. Praying in faith carries the conviction of God’s hearing, the expectation of God’s answering, and the confidence that God is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or think. Through faith we believe in God, and we believe God.”
I thank God for the Community Houses of Prayer ministry. I thank Him for the remarkable answers to prayer in the changing of people’s prayer lives and in the influence for Christ and the gospel. But the prayer in which it trains is not a different species of prayer. It is the same prayer God teaches us in His Word and infuses us with great expectation.