Does prayer work? Does it really make a difference?
Prayers’ efficacy seems a relevant topic, especially on this National Day of Prayer – and also because so many people report it’s a regular part of their lives.
According to a recent Marist Poll, 86% of Americans have prayed for a family member, while 53% report praying every day.
Public prayer has long been a hotly debated topic. The Supreme Court banned government sponsored prayer back in 1962. In 1992, by a 5-4 vote, the High Court ruled that even non-denominational school sponsored prayers at graduations were unconstitutional. By the end of June, we expect the Supreme Court to rule on whether voluntary silent prayer is permitted on school football fields.
But setting aside the legality of prayers, let’s get back to the original question:
Does it work?
If by “work” we mean the Lord hears our petitions and cares deeply about our concerns and acts on our behalf, the unequivocal answer is “Yes!” But prayer is not the equivalent of the old trope of finding a genie in a bottle. God wants to hear from us, but His ways are not always our whims.
Yet, with its Judeo-Christian roots, there are numerous examples of God answering America’s prayers. In fact, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to suggest that prayer has changed the country, and by extension, shaped and changed the world, too. Here are just three examples:
1.The Prayers of George Washington: We’ve all seen the famous painting of George Washington kneeling in the snow beside his horse at Valley Forge. Critics often suggest there is no evidence of that particular incident, but the character and habits of the nation’s most famous general and our first commander-in-chief would suggest otherwise.
A woman who worked with the troops at Valley Forge during the American Revolution once wrote the following:
One morning, at daybreak, an officer came to the general’s quarters with dispatches. As such communications usually passed through my hands, I took the papers from the messenger and directed my steps towards the general’s room. Walking along the passage which led to his door, I heard a voice within. I paused, and distinctly recognized the voice of the general. Listening for a moment, when all was silent around, I found that he was earnestly engaged in prayer. I knew this to be his habit, and therefore retired, with the papers in my hand, till such time as I supposed he had finished the exercise, when I returned, knocked at his door, and was admitted.
During that brutal season at Valley Forge, the American Army was on the brink of collapse. Had they succumbed, the war would have been over, and there would have been no independence from Great Britain. We know from his journals and letters that Washington regularly and passionately prayed for the effort.
2.Reinhold Niebuhr and the Serenity Prayer: As Professor of Practical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York Cityand the son of a German pastor, Niebuhr’s teaching positively influenced countless students and public figures during the rise and scourge of Adolph Hitler, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
But it was during his early days at the seminary that he wrote the now famous “Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.
When Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith, two former alcoholics, founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935, they adopted Niebuhr’s prayer and made it part of the program. In the 87 years since the organization’s founding, tens of millions of people have become sober, with many crediting his prayer with transforming their lives.
3.President Franklin Roosevelt’s D-Day Prayer: As Allied forces scaled the cliffs of Normandy, France, and faced the fierce gunfire of the German forces on June 6, 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt took to the airwaves to lead the world in prayer. It’s hard to imagine an American president doing that today. Here is a portion of it, along with a link to a recording of the prayer in its entirety:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas — whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them–help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.
The Allies were successful, of course, and the brave and heroic assault turned the tide of the global conflict, leading to a total Allied victory a year later.
As Christians, we must not neglect the privilege of prayer. It works. It makes a difference. The Lord is keenly interested in our burdens and in our cares – because He loves and wants a relationship with each one of us.
So, pray early and pray often – and watch with eagerness and anticipation what the Lord will do.
Photo from Shutterstock.