NOT long ago I was watching an instructional video in which the speaker told his audience that if they were in trouble, they shouldn't ``just'' pray--they should do something! As he continued his talk, it became evident that while he respected people's right to be religious, he didn't really think of prayer as making a difference.
There's no question that fast action can sometimes save the day. But there's a big difference between what Christ Jesus referred to as ``vain repetitions'' and the kind of prayer he practiced--prayer that healed leprosy, epilepsy, fevers, withered limbs, and a host of other troubles.
In his Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus spoke specifically about the value and effectiveness of prayer, saying: ``When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him'' (6:7, 8).
Then, why and how should we pray? The Master went on to give what is now known as the Lord's Prayer, one that is repeated in some form in perhaps every Christian church around the world. It is a prayer of affirmation--of God's nature, of His care for us, of His protection, and of His dominion over all creation. Its overall premise is that God is good and that He loves us.
It could be said that we need our prayers more than God does. He already knows that He loves us. But the affirmations we make in prayers such as the Lord's Prayer remind us of this. At the same time, however, true prayer doesn't simply involve the repetition of words, however sacred and enlightening.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, devotes an entire chapter in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures to prayer, and she speaks specifically of the responsibilities that are inherent in prayer. She writes, ``What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds.'' And she goes on to say in the next paragraph: ``The habitual struggle to be always good is unceasing prayer. Its motives are made manifest in the blessings they bring,--blessings which, even if not acknowledged in audible words, attest our worthiness to be partakers of Love'' (p. 4).
Can such prayer help us when we are in trouble? Well, here's an example of how it helped me. I had been doing field research in a country far from my own. Since I was alone and had little time to accomplish all that needed to be done, I had been praying steadily to perceive God's guidance and to be more patient and loving toward my research, which was not always easy to perform. Even though I had excellent maps, the directions given by people were confusing and the car I was driving was not the type I was accustomed to.
In the midst of a particularly frustrating day, at a time when everything I tried seemed to be failing, I turned a corner on a road and suddenly found myself going up a narrow, allegedly two-lane road that crossed a mountain pass. At that moment I saw an enormous truck coming down the road, directly in my path.
To me, at that moment, this was the kind of emergency the speaker in the instructional video had been talking about. Was I afraid? Yes! I was nearly immobilized by the sight of the truck coming toward me and the narrowness of the road. There seemed to be no escape. But there was a verse from the Bible that I had been thinking about most of that day--even as my efforts to do my fieldwork had been unsuccessful. The verse, from the book of James, was, ``The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much'' (5:16). With all my heart, I prayed, affirming that Biblical fact as the actual reality of my life right then. Needless to say, all of this took place more quickly than I can tell about it, and at the exact moment when I affirmed the reality of God's presence and love, two things happened. The first was that I was freed from the immobilizing fear. The second was that I saw a place on the other side of the road--the only place, as I later learned--where I could pull off to the side. I reached this little haven only seconds before the truck came roaring down the road past the spot where I had been.
The Bible gives many instances of individuals who were in trouble and whose eyes were opened to solutions when they turned to God. This ex-perience on the mountain pass proved to me that what the Bible tells us is true. ``The effectual fervent prayer'' that turns us wholeheartedly to God does avail much!
After this manner therefore
which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us this day
our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory, for ever.