Does Prayer Really Make A Difference?

If we really understood what prayer is, we would not ask that question. We ask it because we know so little about prayer, and so little about the One to whom we pray. Since I am a beginner in this matter myself, I turn to far abler writers. Jacques Ellul, in the Postscript to his Meditation on Inutility, says,

We turn next to prayer, to the relation with the Father which Jesus himself taught... But again the thought arises: Your Father knows what you need…. He knows in advance. What good is it, then, to seek his blessing, his help, the gift of his Spirit? ... And when we haltingly seek to express ourselves in prayer, we have every reason to be discouraged in advance: "You do not know yourselves what you should ask"…. Fortunately, there is one to help. The Holy Spirit intercedes for you before the Father with sighs that cannot be uttered (Romans 8:26ff.). But if this perfect prayer is rendered by other lips than ours, …of what avail is our own awkward formulation of our requests and complaints? … We are thus struck by the vanity of prayer, by its inadequacy and poverty. Prayer? It is God’s command and yet a useless service.

In his Postscript Ellul examines various parts of Christian life, concluding that we want these (vital) things to “make a difference” because to us they are otherwise not worth doing. But is that God’s thinking, or ours? Ellul concludes: “To want to attain results is necessarily not to be a witness to the free gift of God. If we are ready to be unworthy or unprofitable servants (although busy and active at the same time), then our works can truly redound to the glory of him who freely loved us first.” You and I should be less concerned that prayer “works” (in some magical way or by some measurement of our own) and more concerned about obeying the One who tells us to “pray without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17).

We could say that prayer makes no difference (is “useless”), but at the same time it makes a difference in ways we do not expect. I learned this poem about prayer (author unknown) when just a teenager. It is called “The Blessing of Unanswered Prayer.”

I asked for strength that I might achieve; I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy; I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life; I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I had asked for, but everything that I had hoped for.
Despite myself my prayers were answered; I am, among all men, most richly blessed

Join me in the search to know God better, to learn what prayer really is, and to please God in practicing it. I leave you with these words by James Montgomery (1771–1854), from a hymn about prayer which itself ends in a prayer to the One who prayed for us first.
    1. Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, unuttered or expressed,
      The motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast.
    2. Prayer is the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear,
      The upward glancing of an eye when none but God is near.
    3. Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, the Christian’s native air,
      His watchword at the gates of death; he enters heav’n with prayer
    4. O Thou by whom we come to God, the Life, the Truth, the Way!
      The path of prayer Thyself hast trod; Lord, teach us how to pray.

Additional Resources

Relevant Docs: "Coffee"
  When people pray, God answers, He provides. A wonderful story of God's faithfulness expressed through coffee. A video by Manna Media

After suffering a seemingly permanent injury to his vocal cords, Rev. Duane Miller gave up the pastorate of his church. During the next three years, Miller sought the counsel of 63 specialists in an effort to regain his voice. No one could help him. Then, on a Sunday morning, his prayers for healing were answered.  A video by the John10:10 Project

GIVE US THIS DAY: In September 1978, Franciscan priests arrived in Philadelphia to begin a ministry to the homeless. Their only resources were faith and prayer. Three years later, they established the St. Francis Inn – a lighthouse of compassion and hope that still shines in one of America’s poorest neighborhoods.  A video by the John10:10 Project

IN THE FACE OF LOSS: The tragic death of a teenage girl, days before her high school graduation, led to an outpouring of prayer that touched the world. This is the story of Karen Johnson. A video by the John10:10 Project

AS WE FORGIVE:  Vera Schlamm, a holocaust survivor, recounts how, through the power of prayer and the love of God, she was able to forgive the Nazis who imprisoned and tortured her family during WWII. A video by the John10:10 Project

ONE IN 10,000: On his 18th birthday, Tim Hornor suffered a devastating accident that paralyzed him from the neck down. Surgeons estimated his odds of recovery at “one-in-10,000.” As Tim’s family and friends prayed for healing, God answered in a miraculous way. A video by the John10:10 Project


WHAT ARE SOME SECRETS TO EFFECTIVE PRAYER?  A video by the One Minute Apologist

WHY DO PEOPLE END THEIR PRAYERS WITH "AMEN"?  A video by the One Minute Apologist