Scientific studies concerning the results of prayer are mixed. Some studies seem to show that it helps while others seem to indicate that it could actually have the opposite effect. Most of these studies have been done concerning the healing of sick patients. The purpose of one study I saw was to determine if prayer could be used as an effective treatment to speed the recovery time from surgery. The result was that the people who knew they were being prayed for had somewhat longer recovery times. So maybe prayer doesn’t work. That’s what that study seems to tell us. But to be honest, I’m not really surprised, given the conditions of the study. It has the appearance of putting God in a test tube to see if we can bottle him and put him to good use.
So many times, what people are looking for is for there to be some kind of power in the action itself. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what prayer is. People want prayer to be a type of magic that they can control. They want to pray for a million dollars and get it. They want to pray for healing and get it. Their whole concept of prayer rests on whether they receive what they asked for or not. But prayer, in the simplest terms, is talking to God. The fact that we have the ability to talk to God at all should amaze us. Who are we to talk to God? But we have better access to God than we do to a famous Hollywood movie star.
Imagine if we went to the home of a very wealthy man, sat down with him and said, “I would like for you to give me a million dollars.” You can be sure he isn’t going to just write us a check. Even if he is our parent, he isn’t going to do that. “What are you going to use it for?” he would ask us. If we tell him that it’s because we’re lazy and want to quit our job, there’s no way he would give it to us. But if we told him about a building we want to build to give children a place to go after school, our chances of getting that million dollars from him is much higher.
Now, transfer that same concept to our heavenly Father. He already knows why we ask for the things we ask for. When we ask for the wrong reason, he is under no obligation to give us what we ask for. Also, the things he does give us may come in a different form than we thought they would be or they might come on a different timetable. God is the higher authority in this relationship; he can do what he wants.
But God does want to give us things and when the things we ask for will be used in a way that pleases him, he will give us those things. We don’t need a scientific study to prove that God answers prayer. If you want to know if God answers prayer, why don’t you just ask him? As an example of God answering prayer, let me tell you about what happened to me the other day. While I’m not a great pianist by any means, I play the piano. As I was playing the piano the other day, was thinking about how I would like to play for congregational singing at our church. I won’t say I want to do it all the time, but it’s something of a stretch goal related to my playing ability. In my thirteen years at our church, I’ve had one opportunity to play the piano for congregational singing and I passed it up, saying my skill level wasn’t high enough. That was some time ago. But as I was playing the piano at home I worded a simple little prayer asking God to let me play for the congregational singing at church. That was on Sunday. On Wednesday, all of our better pianists were out. Our regular pianist was with her daughter-in-law who had just had a baby. Our pastor’s wife was vacationing. The regular alternate was out somewhere—I don’t know where. Our church secretary plays some and she was there, but she was off doing something else at the time for us to start. I was sitting all the way at the back and someone mentioned my name. The guy leading the singing that night looked back at me and said, “Yeah, he is here. Would you mind playing?”
As you look at that chain of events, there’s not a miracle in any of it. It wouldn’t be farfetched to say that it might have happened that way anyway. Answer to prayer or not? The situation isn’t unique, considering that key people are sometimes out at the same time for various reasons. The one thing that made this situation different was that someone mentioned my name. We were on the verge of singing acappella and yet I ended up playing. It was something that hadn’t happened in thirteen years. There is no escaping the fact that I prayed and what I asked for came into being.
While it may seem to beg the question, we know that God answers prayer because he answers prayer. We don’t need a scientific study to prove something that we have witnessed happening. If you want proof that God answers prayer, pray for something that is within the will of God and observe that he answers prayer.