Does Prayer Work?

people_prayingA very good question about prayer was recently posed by a friend on Facebook. The one who raised the question made a very keen observation. She noted that sometimes people have claimed that because many prayers were lifted on their behalf that they received a miracle from God.  In fact, she cited a popular author who claimed that he miraculously survived an event because so many people had prayed for him.

This raises a very perplexing series of questions. Does God need a certain number of prayers to “tip” the scales in a particular direction? Let’s say the author she had cited had received his miracle after 1,016 prayers had been offered on his behalf. Would God have done the same miracle if 1,015 prayers had been made? 1,014?  How about only 103?  What about 3 prayers?  At what point does God grant the request?  Do we sometimes fail to get our miracle because we hadn’t hit the “magic number” of prayers?  Do we need to get our requests out to more prayer chains? Do we need more social media contacts to get prayers answered?

I think the problem in viewing prayer in this way is that it assumes something about God which isn’t true. It seems to suggest that God is reluctant to grant something, but will capitulate if He is peppered with prayer. What makes this wrong is that it paints a picture of a God who can be manipulated by us. Or, that He is somehow impressed with large quantities of prayers, while ignoring those offered by smaller groups.

I don’t believe the Bible portrays that kind of God.  James wrote that the “effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).  The word “man” is singular.  James went on to remind us that one man – Elijah – prayed that it would not rain; and it did not rain for 18 months.  He then prayed again and it rained (James 5:17-18). Actually, the Bible is replete with miracles that came about when only one person was found praying.  Therefore, we can conclude that it is not necessarily the quantity of prayers or people praying that catches the attention of God.

Allow me to share how I view God and prayer.  Your understanding may differ.  As always, your comments and rebuttals are welcome.

In most cases, it appears that God is doing “Plan A.”  However, I suspect that God may also be open to doing “Plan B.”  Neither A or B will frustrate the overall will of God or His plan for our world.  Therefore, He is willing to do A or B.  However, He may not be willing to do B until He is asked in faith by His children.

Think of it this way: a rich father has several children whom he loves deeply.  He would do anything and give anything he could for them.  He even has money set aside for them in case they need it.  However, he has decided not to just automatically dispense the money to them.  Instead, he keeps the money back until they ask him for help.  If they are doing fine and don’t need assistance, then he doesn’t give it to them (Plan A).  If they run into trouble and ask for help, he will gladly give them what he has (Plan B).

I believe the Bible gives us a picture of God that is similar.  In 2 Kings 20, King Hezekiah was told by Isaiah that he would be dying soon (Plan A).  Hezekiah immediately prayed and before Isaiah even left the room, God decided to spare the king’s life (Plan B).  This seems to suggest that either A or B would work into God’s ultimate plan.  Like the wealthy father mentioned above, God granted a miracle because He was willing to do so and because He was asked.

After the prophet Jonah reluctantly reported to Nineveh, he preached a very simple message: God was planning on destroying the city in 40 days (Jonah 3:4).  This apparently was Plan A.  However, much to Jonah’s displeasure, the people of the city repented. As a result, God chose to spare the city – Plan B (Jonah 3:10) .  Again, it seems that both A & B fit into God’s overall plan for His will.

There are times, however, when it seems that God is not willing to do B.  For instance, in 2 Cor. 12, the Apostle Paul described an affliction that God had allowed into his life (vs 7).  Let’s call the affliction Plan A.  Paul had hoped that the affliction would be removed.  Let’s call Paul’s desire Plan B.  He prayed three times for Plan B but God would not grant it to him.  Therefore, I believe we can conclude that in this instance Plan A was the only plan God was willing to work in Paul’s life.  There is nothing in the passage to suggest that the number of prayers or people praying was insufficient.  Instead, God had something else in mind – something greater.

If my “Plan A, Plan B” theory of God is correct, or even close to reality, then it would seem that in many instances God is quite willing to give “good gifts” to his children if we would just ask (Matt 7:11).  James seems to back this up when he told his readers that the reason why they weren’t receiving from God was because they simply weren’t asking from God (James 4:2).

Now, someone might argue that if the Plan A Plan B theory is correct, then they can have no assurance in their prayers. After all, what if they are praying for Plan B when God is only willing for Plan A to occur?

I would reply that our prayers can still be very much full of assurance.  For example, we can be assured that God cares and hears our prayers. We can be assured that God is not removed from the situation, but is intimately involved in it.  We can be assured that God is touched by our infirmity and sorrow and desires only good things for us.  We can be assured that God will work out what is to His very best in all things.  These truths can so fill our prayers with assurance that our hearts should become a wellspring of joy!

Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Thy will be done.”  I believe that as we petition God with our plans, we should also be seeking to conform to the will of God.  It is not wrong to lay out the desires of our heart before God.  However, as we do this we should pray expecting that God’s desires will be laid out in our hearts.



Dane Cramer is a backpacker, Christian blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmaker, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us.



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