The Interaction of Prayer and Effort
Many years ago a friend of mine quoted a little saying about prayer which I still remember: “Prayer is work. Prayer does work. Prayer brings work.” I have no idea where he got this catchy little phrase, but since then, I have found it to be profoundly true. Here’s why.
Prayer is work
It isn’t always easy to pray. As you begin, your mind may have a hard time focusing on God. It is difficult to visualize a being who is all-powerful and wise, and yet invisible. Perhaps your body refuses to cooperate due to weariness, hunger, restlessness, or cramped muscles. You may battle with doubt or guilt, perplexity, anger or even apathy.
Prayer is work because you must insist on making time for it in your schedule. Your creativity may be stretched to find a quiet and private place to pray. You may have to do some study of scripture in order to learn how to address God, what types of things you may legitimately pray about and what your motives should be.
Prayer is also work in view of the long-term routines required in prayer. It is one thing to pray now and then; it is quite another to pray consistently over a period of years. Over the long haul, it requires effort to overcome the fatigue and discouragement, which may go with praying year after year. Though prayer may be a joyful and even liberating experience, it clearly involves real work at times.
Prayer does work
I am aware of the skeptical argument which says that prayer is just wishful thinking. Skeptics believe that any perceived results of prayer are merely coincidental or are due to the power of a positive mental attitude. Yet I have personally known many people who would point to definite instances of prayers being answered in ways hard to write off as psychological.
Of course, this should come as no surprise to followers of Christ. Jesus promised in John 15:7 that if we abide in him, we may ask whatever we will and it will be done. I take this to mean that if our lives are closely bound with his, we may ask freely because our will and purpose will also coincide with his. There are numerous other biblical passages which say that God hears the prayers of people who humbly pray according to his will.
Serious Christian experience also demonstrates prayer’s effectiveness. Things happen. People change and circumstances work out which could not have done so on their own. True, God responds in his own way and timing. There may be times in which nothing much seems to be happening. But God does respond. It is not at all uncommon for God to answer in a way which clearly grants even the specifics we have requested.
Prayer brings work
Prayer often spurs the person praying into action. It does this in several ways: First, prayer sets in motion a chain of divinely orchestrated events, which require the petitioner to do something. Let’s say you are praying for a job. In due time a position becomes open, but part of God’s answer is up to you. You must fill out an application and attend the interview. God will not just hand you a job on a silver platter. What God can do is bring about circumstances which are beyond your control. But when those circumstances occur, it is you who must act.
Secondly, there are times in prayer when it is almost as if God interrupts and says, “OK, stop right there. Don’t ask me to do something which you know in your heart that you must do.” Maybe you are praying for a neighbor who has lost her job. She is facing real financial difficulties. It may be a good thing to pray for her, but if you can help her personally, prayer must wait. Before you ask God to intervene, buy her a few bags of groceries; fill her tank with gasoline; give her children Christmas presents. God may be saying, “Yes, I’ll provide for your neighbor—starting with you.”
So work and prayer are indeed inseparable. Communicating with God requires some serious effort. God does respond to prayer and things happen. Sometimes prayer puts us in a position which calls us to take further action ourselves. How true it is: Prayer is work; prayer does work; prayer brings work!