I have just had an epiphany.
Yesterday, I noticed that our grass was developing large brown patches. Last night, I asked God to give us rain because the grass is turning brown. This morning, it rained.
I remembered James 5:16b-18:
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (ESV)
This says that prayer has power. Then I remembered that the priests of Ba’al prayed very fervently and fruitlessly on Carmel (1 Kings 18). They performed an orgy of ritual shouting, dancing, and self-cutting, and Ba’al did not answer. Elijah stacked the deck against God, prayed a few words, and heaven sent fire that consumed God’s altar.
Then I remembered the words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace if they did not bow to his idol:
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. (Daniel 3:16-18, ESV)
I believe that we may safely assume that they prayed that God would preserve them from the fire because they refused to pray to a false god. They admitted that they might not get what they wanted and still refused to bow to the false god, because they knew that the object of their prayer was true.
I believe that we do God a disservice when we say that he answers prayer when what we really mean is that he gave the answer that we wanted. I believe that Prof. Dawkins represents that group of people who hear this spoken so frequently in Christian circles that he naturally draws the following false connection:
- Power produces results.
- If prayer is powerful, then it will produce the results prayed for.
- Prayer does not always produce the results prayed for.
- Therefore, prayer is not powerful.
And, of course, since prayer is not powerful, then by definition the object of our prayer does not exist.
This connection is false because it mistakenly overlooks that the object of our prayer may disagree with what we pray for. Unfortunately, we contribute to Prof. Dawkins’s wrongheadedness by thoughtlessly teaching (without intending it) that God answers prayer when we get what we want. I almost never hear anyone saying that God answered prayer when they do not get what they want. In fact, I frequently hear people saying that God did not answer their prayer!