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Does Prayer Work? Pastor David Welch

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

April 11, 2021

Do you or someone you know have doubts about Christianity and whether it actually works in real life? Do you believe it will do what it says it will do in your life? At the start of this new sermon series, Pastor David addressed our first question, "Does Christianity give hope?" And in this segment, we ask... Does Prayer Work? 1. Prayer works, but not like magic 2. Prayer works, but not like name it–claim it 3. Prayer works, but not like Christian fatalists 4. Prayer works, but like a good Father with a much loved child Prayer is how we have a relationship with our Father. Verses to study: Mark 7: 7-11 John 14:14 Challenge: Recommit yourself to your daily relationship with God. Speak to Him daily.

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Introduction Video:

  • I believe prayer works in my life because God meticulously worked in my marriage.

  • I believe that prayer works in my life because I have seen God answer the smallest requests, as well as the big ones.

  • I believe prayer works in my life because I've witnessed it firsthand, very recently.

  • I believe that there's power in prayer. And in my own personal life, I learned that from a very young age.

  • I believe in the power of prayer, because he is my Jehovah Rapha. He is the great physician, and he is my healer.

  • I believe prayer works in my life as a believer, and here's why: In middle school, I had a hard time focusing when I was spending time with God, and I was praying, so I started actually just taking journals and just writing in them. And over the years, I've been able to go back and look at these journals. I started to trust in God with all of the things that I had going on my life, from celebrations, to joys to things that were really good, I just brought it to him.

  • Back in 2019. when I had my back injury, it was through daily prayer, the prayers of my faith family, and my friends, that continues to give me hope that God will heal me.

  • We received news that our unborn granddaughter could have serious organ issues. We immediately started asking friends and family across the U.S. to please pray. Two days later, the doctor was so surprised that he thought they had the patients mixed up. Ariel is now nine years old, and is very healthy, I get to look back every so often in my journals, when I need to be reminded that God answers prayers, and I can see evidence of it in these journals.

  • I've learned over the years that it's okay to just give everything that I have to God, because it's a personal and private time, with just me and him. Continue to pray for those people in your life, whether they're friends, family members, co- workers, who don't know Jesus, don't give up on them.

  • My father was diagnosed with COVID back in January, and immediately me and my family and I began to pray, as did many of you, as we put him on the prayer list here at the church. He was admitted to the hospital. He was in the hospital for 22 days. But fortunately, through the prayer, he was only in the ICU on a ventilator for two days. After that he was released to a skilled nursing facility. And today, I am pleased to say that he is on the road to recovery.

  • Prayer does work. I believe that prayer works. Prayer really works.

Pastor David Welch

So, we're going to we're going to jump in. We were in a new teaching series, and we started it last week. It's called does Christianity Work? And what does that even mean? Here's what it means we're in a generational moment where there's a lot of question and a lot of doubt about Christianity. And here's why mostly it is because Christianity no longer fits comfortably into the middle of the cultures’ values. And so, it's becoming increasingly countercultural, to be a follower of Jesus. And that's nothing really to dread. The church actually grows weak, and it grows weak and, and not powerful at all when Christianity is the culture. It's when Christianity is counterculture, that it actually grows in great spiritual strength. But therefore, because Christianity is not right in the middle of the cultural value today, it's popular to object to Christianity, or to argue against it, or to de-convert. I can just tell you if salvation has happened to you, you can't de- convert. And that's a whole message all by itself. I just don't want to preach it right now. You know, let me just give you a hint. I John 2 says “They went out from us because they were never of us.” And so, if salvation is the is the supernatural act of what God does, and you can't de-convert from that. So anyway, I'm dogging non-Christianity right now. And so anyway, so in popular culture, get back on track here, okay, listen, listen. So, in popular culture, so you know, there's a whole new stream of atheist books that are written to badger Christianity. And, and most of them write really about intellectual arguments, intellectual objections toward Christianity. Or they take the behavior of some people who name Christ but live out a set of horrible principles. Let me tell you that sign on to that book. Yeah, I'd like to object to that, too. But I don't think that's where most people have questions about Christianity. You know, I'll do an apologetics series in some circles, meaning a defense of the faith. And, and this one is going to be different. Because I think the most puzzling thing, the thing that a lot of people have doubts about in Christianity is - does it actually work? Do you know what I'm asking? Does it actually work in my real life? Does it do what it says it will do in my life? So, I want to do a different sort of apologetics, I want to ask, does Christianity actually work? Does it do what it says it will do in my life? And so, we started last week, and last week, we just asked, as does Christianity actually give hope? And we sought to answer that out of real life and out of the Word of God. And that we move to the next question. You got to hint you know what it is you saw, sort of these, this faith story collage. The question is, in real life, does prayer work in real life? If Christianity works, then does prayer work? And you know, most of the time that question comes, the skeptical question of does prayer work comes out of an experience, usually of wanting something really badly and that thing not happening. And look, hey, I am not talking about when you were nine years old, and you want a pony and you prayed for it, and you didn't get it? We're not talking about that. But we are talking about when you prayed that your marriage wouldn't end, and it did. We are talking about when you pray that your mom would not pass away from the heart attack, and she did. We're talking about when you pray that your son would not fall into drug or alcohol addiction, and he did.

And so, the question is, does prayer work? The question is, is what the Bible says about prayer: is it true? So, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7, starting in verse 7, Jesus, what Jesus is about to say here is representative of what all the Bible says about prayer and how it works. And so, this will be familiar to you. Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7, starting verse 7, Jesus boldly says, “Ask, and it'll be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it'll be open to you. For everyone who asks, receives. He who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” And then he goes into an illustration of what man is there among you when his son asked for a loaf of bread, will he give him a rock or a stone? Or if he asked for a fish, and remember they live around the Sea of Galilee, fish is the staple of their diet. He will not give him up saw tooth snake, will he? Verse 11 If you then, (here's Jesus’ opinion of us.) being evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give what is good to those who ask him? Is that true? Does prayer work? There's our question, there's the question of the message. Does prayer actually work? Let's answer them.

I love that you don't think I'm ever rhetorical. Does it work? Let me give you this answer. Here are prayer works, but not like three of these. Prayer works but not like, and then I'll give you a fourth. Prayer works, but it’s not like magic. Listen, let me give you where you need to go for prayer to work in your life. You’ve got to wrap your head around what it actually is. And so, if you'll get this right, these “three prayers work, but not like” if you'll get these three things right. And then the fourth, prayer will be a phenomenon in your life. So, prayer works number one, but not like magic. A couple of different times Jesus tells his disciples, John 14: 14 is one of those moments where he says, “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” And so, a lot of people take that like it's almost an incantation. I'm praying to God; I'm pouring my heart out for 30 minutes and then I say amen. But I didn't say in Jesus’ name, and you don't get it. They think it's like this incantation that you don't get it. if you don't say in Jesus’ name. Like prayer must be a little like speaking magic phrases. Prayer is not like that. There's this incident in Acts 19, where some like really opportunistic guys, they watch Paul the Apostle in Ephesus. Ephesus was a place of a lot of dark religions. It was it was loaded with religions, and a lot of them were very demonic. So, Paul goes there to share the gospel. He's there two years, and he would often in the name of Christ, therefore praying to God, in the name of Christ, he would free people from demonic oppression or possession. And they were like, they were fascinated by that fact, the Bible identifies them, they were the seven sons of Sceva. And so and so they thought, wow, this guy just uses the name of Jesus, and the demons scatter. You know, we can make some real cash with this. We could like go door to door and say, we'll, we'll get rid of the demons in your house or people in your life. Because they're going, look, he just uses this incantation, in the name of Jesus. And so, they try that, in fact, when you read the story, they go in a house, they're in the house, I'm sure they made their financial transaction first. And so, they tried it with someone demon possessed. And so, they tried it in the name of Jesus. And here's what happened. The demon responded out of the guy and said, I recognize Jesus. I know about Paul, but who are you? And it empowered him, and he jumped on those seven guys and tore their clothes off. And they ran away bloodied, you know. And so, it's not that. Look, as long as long as you think of God is like the genie in a bottle, and you're the lucky schmuck who found it, and you rub it three times and he pops out and says, Master, what can I do for you? If that's what you think prayer is, it's not going to work so good in your life. Do you know the fallacy, there are these social science experiments that you read about that? It happens in hospitals; some social scientists will do an experiment about prayer. Here's the fallacy of those experiments. You know, it's where some people are prayed for in a in a hospital, and some who are prayed for get better, and then some don't. And then some who are not prayed for get better, and then some don't. These experiments start with a view of prayer, that it's an incantation that you speak over somebody, and then it's supposed to get them better. Prayer seen as a means of getting the genie out of the bottle to do what you need it to do. That's not prayer. That's why prayer doesn't work in a context like that. Prayer works, but it's not like magic.

Number two, prayer works. But not like name it and claim it. That's kind of that may be too religious for you. Prayer works, but it’s not like the secret. Prayer works, but not like that. Matthew 21, Jesus says, He makes this moment about prayer. And he says, hey, look, whatever you ask in prayer you'll receive if you have faith. Now there are these really secular kind of philosophies. And it has bled over into some forms of Christianity, that it sees faith as a force, almost as a Star Wars Force, where I can use that force, that invisible force, to get things that I want. Just like, as I mentioned, the metaphysical philosophy of the secret, which is, by the way, it's just repackaged from positive thinking philosophy. And the thought of it is this, that there is this law of attraction, and that my thoughts create an energy force around me. And if I'm filled with negative thoughts, then negative things are drawn to me. But if I'm filled with thoughts of the things I really want, then all the things I want will be drawn to me. And the problem with name it and claim it secret positive thinking is, and the supposed law of attraction is that is that on our own, we are way too selfish, for that to be an actual reality. We're at we're way too selfish, we're way too self-absorbed for prayer to work like that. Do you even get what I'm saying here? Look, let me put it this way. If prayer worked like that, positive thoughts, positive thoughts come to me, then you’d thirst for more. You’re craving for more and more would make you so incredibly self-absorbed that within a few days, your culminating prayer request would be make me God. Prayer works, but not like name it and claim it, not like the secret.

Number three prayer works. Prayer works, but not like the Christian fatalists say. You came on a good day, it’s the day that a Christian is going to dog Christians for a minute. It's prayer works, but not like the Christian fatalists. So, I John 5, there's when you hear like some Bible studies about what are the elements of prayer, what you know, makes prayer work and, and so you've probably seen some of those. And one of those usually comes out of I john 5:14. And there, John the Apostle writes, “And this is the confidence that we have before him, that if we ask anything, according to His will, he hears us.” And for a lot of Christian fatalists, that is like the brackets that mean prayer is never answered. It's like on the practical side, Yeah, well, here's because there's some implications that come out of a certain sort of sub- theology and Christianity that God's control and plans over you are so minutely foreordained that every single thing that happens to you or around you or that you do was already planned out by God. Your birth, your death, your salvation. You're lostness, God planned your lostness and every other thing that happens to you. And so, therefore you don't really have a choice in the matter at all. You just think you're choosing so that theology is built on something good. And that is that a good thing that Bible says in multiple places that God does not change, God does not change. And therefore, their implication is if God does not change, then it really doesn't matter what you pray, the only thing that's going to happen is the thing that God had already planned out. And so, it's kind of a Christian fatalism. I mean, it basically says, all you can pray for is your own submission to God's will, because that's all that's going to happen, because it's the only thing that's going to happen anyway. And so, you might, and now that you think about it, you might as well not even pray for, for your own submission, because that's already planned out, too. But is that how prayer really works? There's a moment that God says to Moses, when his people are rebelling against him so badly. He just says to Moses, get out of the way. I'm going to wipe them out and start all over with you. And Moses pours his heart out to God, for His glory, for his love and mercy to manifest, and God says, I'll give them another chance. God sends a prophet Jonah to Nineveh to tell the Assyrians, I think it's an eight-word sermon. I know that you'd like for me to preach an eight-word sermon, but I'm not Jonah. And so, yet 40 days and Nineveh will be destroyed, and yet 40 days and Nineveh will be destroyed. But they repent and, and they pray to God and, and they turn to Him, and God relents, and He doesn't destroy them. In fact, the that’s the whole point of the story and that makes Jonah the Prophet swell up and pout like a little toddler, because God didn't destroy them, they repented, got right with Him. II Kings 20 God sends Isaiah the prophet, to King Hezekiah and tell tells him set your house in order, you're about to die. But Hezekiah immediately goes to God in prayer and pleads for his life. And before Isaiah can get clear of the palace grounds, God speaks to Isaiah and sends him back into Hezekiah, to tell him that God would give him 15 more years. So, there's a truth in Sacred Scripture, God does not change. But it is clear that prayer affects His heart. And so how is He changeless? His character is changeless; his character is always love, is always mercy. It is always righteousness all at the same time. And so, he speaks conditionally at times, but his character is changeless. It is out of his changelessness that he would say get out of the way. Okay, I'll give them a second chance. It is out of his changelessness that he would say go tell them that Nineveh is destroyed. Okay, it's not destroyed. It is out of his changelessness you're about to die. I'll give you 15 more years. His mercy, His love and His righteousness don't change. And so, listen, a part of the glory of God is his ability to accomplish His will, in the midst of the complexity of billions of free human choices. You get that? I'm balancing here. If you're like a real theologian here, I'm balancing for you there.

Let's move to number four. I said there are these three, and you needed to hear those, because those three should correct a perspective of what prayer is. But now listen to number four. Number four is where prayer becomes a phenomenon in your life. Number four is this that prayer works, but like a good father, and a loved child. Prayer works and it becomes a phenomenon in your life. When it works like a good father and a loved child. If prayer working means I got God to get me what I wanted him to give me. Or if prayer means the opposite of that, it's the way I just fatalistically submit to whatever comes into my life, well, then no prayer doesn't work. But if prayer is what Jesus said it was, then it's an incredible phenomenon in your life. And I'm going to read it again. Here's prayer; this is what prayer is. The passage I read to you, after ask, seek, and knock, then the illustration of Jesus, what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will he give him a stone? If his if he asks for a fish will not give him a snake, will he? If you then being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children; how much infinitely more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask him. Jesus is justifying prayer, and he's justifying it in such a phenomenal way that it works in an incredible way in your life. If prayer is my means of relationship to my father, I'm defining here. If prayer is my means of relationship to my father, then yes, prayer works in a phenomenal way. When Jesus taught us to pray, in the Lord's Prayer, how did he start out? Our Father. In this parable about what prayer is, God is the father here. In Galatians 4:6 and in many other places, but in Galatians 4:6 the supernatural effect of his life coming into us salvation, the gospel, being born inside of us, the supernatural effect of that is that that God sends His Spirit, the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Daddy, Father, Abba. Prayer is how we have a relationship with our father. I’ve been a Christian a few years, like since I was 13. And I may not have ever said anything more important to you that I just said in the last sentence. Prayer is how you have a relationship with your father, whose heart can be touched, whose hand gives us what we need. And he gives us what is ultimately good. He answers prayer to produce His glory in us and make us like him. He answers prayer to grow us up and make us much more mature in him. He answers prayer to provide our real needs, he answers our prayer to cause all things to work together for our ultimate good. And that answering is full of yes’s and full of no’s and full of not yet and full of wait for something better that I want to do in your life. If God is a perfect father to me, then he's in all the details of my life. If he is loving, then he is shaping those details for my good. If he is wise, then he's not going to do everything I ask him to do because I ask stupid things. And if he's patient, he's going to take the time to do it completely perfectly in my life. Prayer cannot be disconnected from what God is doing in your life every day. That's what makes this little command from Scripture so supremely important. The New Testament says it in a couple of different ways. Here's the I Thessalonians way, “pray without ceasing”. It's your relationship to him. Let me illustrate it. A good father plans to give his daughter a car when she's 16. So, he knows he knows that by that time, she'll have maybe a part time job, have a lot of activity going on her life: school, sports, church maybe and, and maybe we'll be able to pay some maybe a little on the insurance. But he also plans to wait to give it to her until she asks for it. Because he wants her to value it out of that experience. But by 14 she's asking for the car, and she doesn't get it. At 15 she pleads and begs for a car, but her dad doesn't give it. And, and she continues on and tells her dad that it's so unfair that she doesn't have a car, she storms out of the room. But then, somewhere around her 16th birthday, she approaches her father, and she says, Hey, I want to go I want to enroll in Driver's Ed. Then she says, “Would you take me to take my driver's test?” And then she sits down, and she talks to her dad about her need for the car and she just tells her dad Look, I know you'll get me the car at the right time. I'm a dad, I have a dad's heart. We have daughters. I would that afternoon have a new car in the in the driveway for her.

Did that good dad change his mind at any point? Did he give her did he give into her begging or her anger? No, he had always planned to do what is good in her life. But she did need to ask. Prayer works. If it is the daily relationship I have with a good and perfect Heavenly Father, it works. If it is the relationship I have with my father in heaven, it works.

Let's bow. I want these moments to be about you. Getting rid of what prayer is not, for you to just sort of get washed of thinking prayer is like magic. If I say the right words, then the lessons are that that just really have positive thoughts, lots of faith and I get whatever I want from him. That's not prayer. Nor is it on the opposite extreme just a fatalistic attitude of why ask. All that God's going to do is what God wants to do. No, prayer is a supremely loving father, a supremely good father, pouring his love out on a much-loved little child. Why don't you recommit yourself to your daily relationship with God? You know, what would please the heart of God, for you to say God, I commit to speak to you daily. Father, I just am praying for my own heart and life. And I pray for everyone in this place. That you reset us for what prayer even is and cause it to be the phenomenon that it actually is in our lives. And we pray that now in Jesus’ name, amen.

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