The Mystery Of Prayer
By Dave Butts
Christians everywhere know that prayer is important and powerful. We also know that we ought to pray more than we do. Beyond that, things start to get a bit murky for us regarding prayer. Questions arise concerning the purpose of prayer, the limits of prayer, and the huge issue of unanswered prayer. There is a tendency to somehow hold back on giving ourselves to prayer because we seem to be unable to answer all the questions in our minds concerning this great spiritual discipline.
I would assert that we must go ahead and pray, because we’ll never completely understand all the aspects of prayer. It is intrinsically tied up in who God is, and because we’ll never completely comprehend the vastness of the Creator of the universe, we’ll also never answer every question concerning prayer. Prayer is a mystery…a way by which God has chosen for us to communicate with Him. Though there are principles of prayer that we can understand and grow in, prayer is still caught up in the immensity of who God is and will always, in some way, be beyond our complete understanding.
Let’s focus on just one aspect of this mystery. When we pray, we look to see the results of or the answers to our prayer. If we pray for healing, did that healing come? Did this family stay together? Did my friend’s financial situation turn around? Seeing or hearing of tangibly measurable results basically sums up our understanding of prayer.
We all should understand though, that prayer cannot be diluted to a formula by which we ask God for something and then expect to receive exactly what we ask, as though there is a great vending machine in the sky that will give us what we want. The promises of receiving from God in prayer are certainly prominent in Scripture, but results in our own lives seem to mock those promises.
Perhaps to understand this mystery we should try to look at this situation from heaven’s perspective. One of my favorite passages concerning prayer is found in Psalm 18. I believe that this psalm helps us understand what happens when we pray from a side that we rarely think of. What really happens in heaven when a prayer ascends to God from one of His children? Is it possible to simply look at an asked-for response from God, or is there something larger going on?
In Psalm 18, David comes before the Lord pleading for deliverance from his enemies. It was a time in David’s life when he was running from King Saul. His life was in chaos. The promises of God that he would become king of Israel seemed to be improbable at best. Danger and betrayal lurked around every corner. David’s cry was to the only One who could deliver him from this dire situation. Read this prayer and then the amazing response from heaven:
"I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies. The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From His temple He heard my voice; my cry came before Him, into His ears. The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because He was angry. Smoke rose from His nostrils; consuming fire came from His mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under His feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; He soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness His covering, His canopy around Him – the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of His presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot His arrows and scattered the enemies, great bolts of lightning and routed them. The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at Your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast He drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me" (Psalm 18:1-19).
This is a wonderful passage of Scripture and gives us an amazing picture of prayer unveiled for us as God’s power released to accomplish His purpose. We see the hidden aspects of answered prayer. Look carefully at the text of Psalm 18. David prayed for help. Then, in verse six we read that the Lord heard David’s cry. Verses 7-19 show us how God answered that plea for help. It is an awesome response from God:
The earth trembled and quaked.
God parted the heavens and came down.
Clouds advanced with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
The Lord thundered from heaven.
Valleys of the sea were exposed.
If you have studied the Scriptures which deal with the life of David, you will find no such activity as that described above. Never do we see such monumental geographic and supernatural activity in response to his prayers. Yet we know that the Bible is accurately describing the situation.
Could it be that in Psalm 18 we are given a glimpse into heaven’s side of answered prayer? David’s cry for help ascended to the Father’s throne and in response, God spiritually moved heaven and earth to come to David’s aid. Supernatural protection is provided, even when it is not recognized as such by men on earth. Scripture shows us the amazing power of prayer from heaven’s perspective.
Consider then, what may be happening as you pray. You may not see with your eyes the visible manifestation of God’s response, but that does not mean that His power is not at work. David prayed for deliverance and spent seven years on the run from Saul. But during that time, God’s supernatural protective power was at work behind the scenes. It may be so with you as well.
The mystery of prayer does not require that we understand or see with our eyes what God is doing in response to our prayers. Our confidence is not in our prayers but in the God who hears and answers prayer. Here is what we know: when those who belong to God through faith in Jesus Christ begin to pray, God begins to move in His way and in His timing for His own purposes and glory.