The Power of Prayer
Waging spiritual warfare according to Paul
There’s an all too unfortunate cycle to social media when a tragedy occurs. It is a morose call and response we’ve come to expect when bad things happen to an individual, community, or watching world.
Typically, it starts with some update about a terrible event. What follows are replies from well-intentioned friends or observers assuring the bereaved they are in their thoughts and prayers. Growing more common are those of a more secular persuasion who promise positive energy or “vibes.” Scroll through these online conversations and you’re likely to see all of the above in various combinations.
Of course, the power of a prayer depends on whom it is prayed to. As the popular story of Elijah and the priests of Baal in 1 Kings 18 reminds us, true prayers are ones directed to the one, true God. Though one substance, he exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. True prayer to the true God reflects his true trinitarian being, so prayers are “to be made in the name of the Son, by the help of his Spirit” (WCF XXI.3).
In that sense, what does prayer have in common with thoughts, energy, or vibes? Nothing, of course. The former is an active petition to the holy and sovereign Triune God. The latter are platitudes lacking any real force or effect.
That even many Christians consider all four to be of the same kind speaks to a regrettable depreciation of the power of prayer. But in Ephesians 6, we see that prayer is anything but powerless,
“...and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel...” (vv. 17-19)
It is only because we have forgotten the true power of prayer that we find Paul’s strategy for waging spiritual war so unimpressive. Would it not be better, and more glorious for us, if Paul charged Christians to fight, conquer, and triumph through force and might? Considering the perniciousness of our enemy, is prayer really the most effective course of action?
For Paul, the answer is a resounding, Yes!
In fact, the question reveals our own confusion about the person and work of God and of ourselves. Christians are servants of the living God (1 Cor. 7:22; Heb. 10:31). He remains active and on the move in our world (Acts 1:1). He is not somehow confined to heaven, unable or unwilling to intervene in the lives of his people or creation. The Lord does not depend on us to fight his battles for him. By his will, we are sometimes blessed to be tools in the hands of the Redeemer. But we ought never forget who is actually doing the redeeming. Not us, but our God, who is mighty to save!
The power of prayer lies not in the one doing the praying. If it were, it would be much like those feeble attempts to send positive energy and good vibes. Prayer has power because of the one to whom we pray; because of who God is and the love he has for his people.
Robert Hasler is Director of Communications and co-host of The Will & Rob Show.