sermon summation: pondering prayer (1)

 

If you’re a Christian and have been for any appreciable length of time, you’ve surely been the recipient of a comment such as one of the following:

  • “We need more folks pounding on the doors of heaven!”
  • “To be effective, we need as many people praying about this as we can get.”
  • “If God listens to the one, just think how he listens to the many.”
  • “Our goal is to have X number of people praying that such and such happens.”
  • “Please forward this prayer request to everyone in your address book.”

When I hear or see those sort of statements I cringe. I always come away thinking: “Are you thinking at all about what you’re saying?”

And why is that? Because when someone says something like that, knowingly or unwittingly, they’re implying that numbers mean a great deal to God. They’re acting as if God’s character and mind is very different from what is consistently portrayed in Scripture. And they’re conveying the belief that human desire and will has a far higher value in the ultimate scheme of things than it actually does.

  • As if God himself is a “democracy” and the “casting of our votes” ultimately determines his mind.
  • As if we can divine “the magic tipping point number” so as to get what we want to see to happen and thereby change the mind of the Divine.
  • As if God is some sort of pollster or politician who is swayed to do on the basis of how many people are screaming in his ear.

Nonsense.

Yes, it’s for sure that the number of people praying about something can have a tremendous effect between humans (in terms of their enthusiasm, determination, etc.), but that’s an altogether different matter. What I’m saying here is that the power that is found in prayer in terms of its effect with God has nothing whatsoever to do with the number of people praying.

Now what would lead me to believe so?

In a single word: Scripture.

“The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” (James 5.16b-18)

And though the number of Scriptures could be multiplied to prove the point, here it is: one person is plenty.

And all the more importantly is the fact that all prayer offered today, be it from the one or the many, funnels through the One who intercedes for us all: Jesus Christ.

“… he holds the office of priest permanently because he continues to serve forever. This is why he can completely save those who are approaching God through him, because he always lives to speak with God for them. It’s appropriate for us to have this kind of high priest: holy, innocent, incorrupt, separate from sinners, and raised high above the heavens.” (Hebrews 7.24-26)

The fact that a million sinners are all praying the same thing (and we all are “sinners”) doesn’t make prayer powerful to God. What does gives power to our prayers is not a what, but a who, namely the One who is “holy, innocent, incorrupt, separate from sinners” who “always lives to speak with God for” us. It’s not about the number of us here below, but about the name of him on high.

Have we forgotten that we commonly pray our prayers “in Jesus’ name,” often even saying so (though not necessarily) aloud. And what do we mean by saying such? When we pray “in Jesus’ name,” we’re affirming that it’s this One, Jesus, who makes the difference in all we’ve prayed. Only through him are our prayers conveyed and only by him can what we say come near the One who lives in unapproachable light.

Prayer. It’s about the One, not the many.

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