The answer is easy: yes – of course. But this is also the difficult answer too.
If you were to ask any Christian – and many who wouldn’t call themselves Christians – they could tell you of times that they prayed and saw answers to those prayers; some mind-boggling big answers, and some gentle, kind little answers.
But they could undoubtedly also tell you of times that they didn’t see answers.
And here we stand in the tension of one of the biggest questions in the Christian faith – why? And frustratingly, Jesus doesn’t even attempt to offer a direct answer to a problem of unanswered prayer.
But nor does he remain silent on the subject either. As we ask questions like “why” and “when”, he reframes the conversation around “who” and “how”.
We would love a formula, or a theorem; a 4-point answer about why our best prayer of faith didn’t do anything and our vague whisper of a prayer seemed to mobilise all of heaven.
But Jesus always seems more concerned about heart posture than success rate.
He tells us to not use fancy words to show off to God, or to other people. He commands us to never let prayer become a positioning of power or prowess; some feel-good farce. Instead, He tells us to get our heart right:
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”Matthew 6:6
And here we find the fallacy in the very question we started with:
‘Does prayer work?’ – well if prayer is purely transactional then it doesn’t seem to work very well at all. And it’s true; prayer doesn’t function well when seen as some cosmic credit card. But if prayer is about who and how; if prayer is really all about relationship, then the question becomes redundant.
Of course prayer works. As with all relationships, no offered minute of intimacy with God can be seen as wasted.
And from here, Jesus encourages us to keep praying. In fact the Bible tells us to never stop praying. Once you’ve got your heart right; once you’ve remembered who you’re praying to; keep asking, keep knocking, and keep believing:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”Matthew 7:7-8
And yes, Jesus promises, this sort of prayer works. This sort of prayer changes lives and nations, reshapes destines and overcomes sickness.