What is prayer? Is prayer effective?


In Him we have set our firm hope, that he will deliver us, as you join in working for us by prayer, so that the blessing that comes to us from the prayers of many persons might result in thanksgiving to God by many as they see our deliverance. —2 Corinthians 1

Pastor Coty Pinckney asks:

Does prayer really do anything? Does prayer get results? If you ask me to pray for you – and I don’t do it – are you worse off?

Many people have one of two unbiblical views of prayer:

First, the Star Wars view: Prayer is a force to be channeled. In the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker takes the divine power that is available, “the force,” and channels it to good purposes.Darth Vadar takes that same force and channels it to evil purposes. Both of them twist the available divine power to suit their own ends.

While few Christians would say that we can accomplish evil purposes through tapping into the power of prayer, many still think of prayer as our setting an agenda, our deciding on a plan,our laying out a program and then tapping into God’s power to accomplish it. This is still the Star Wars view of prayer.

The second view is, in part, a reaction to the first. These folks say, “Prayer doesn’t change God! God has already determined what He is going to do, and prayer will not change that. God is in control. He is sovereign. Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes us. So there’s no need to pray for anything other than a change in myself.”

The second sounds like it is honoring God. This view recognizes God as sovereign, almighty, and wise. That being the case, who are we to channel His power for our uses?

But both of these views are unbiblical.  Both are wrong.

What is prayer? Is prayer effective?

The correct answers to these questions can only come from the Bible. We can speculate all day based on our experiences. We can talk about how we prayed in the past and there were results, or there weren’t. But there is no authority in those experiences. We can’t experiment with God: “I’ll try praying this time and see if anything changes. If it does, I’ll know prayer works; if it doesn’t, I’ll know not to bother with it in the future.” God is not like two chemicals, such as gunpowder and oxygen, which whenever mixed with sufficient heat will explode.

No. The way to get knowledge about prayer – the way to get any true knowledge about God – is through His Word, the Bible. What does the Bible say?

The entire sermon is very insightful, and I recommend it highly.  Click here if you would like to read the whole sermon.  Here is part of the conclusion:

The Sovereign God Works Through Prayer For His Glory

Consider [2 Corinthians] 1:10b to 11 once again:

In Him we have set our firm hope, that he will deliver us, as you join in working for us by prayer, so that the blessing that comes to us from the prayers of many persons might result in thanksgiving to God by many as they see our deliverance.

What is the result of prayer? Prayer results “in thanksgiving to God by many as they see our deliverance.” Note the order of events here:

  • Paul is in trouble.
  • The Corinthians pray.
  • Paul is delivered – this is the “blessing that comes to [him] from the prayers of many.”

Then what? Is that the end? Prayer produced Paul’s deliverance, and that’s it?

No! The whole purpose of prayer – the whole purpose of everything that God does – is to show what God is like. The whole purpose of creation is to display God’s character. And God answers prayer to show what He is like to three groups: those who pray, those who are prayed for, and those who hear about it.

So here Paul says that prayer results in thanksgiving to God. This, rather than Paul’s deliverance, is the most important result of the prayers of the Corinthians.

Note this very carefully. Paul is not primarily asking for deliverance from peril. Isn’t that where we normally focus? On deliverance? But that’s not Paul’s focus. Paul’s focus is the glory of God.

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