And the LORD restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. (Job 42:10)
If there is one thing that I have learned – and learned the hard way due to my own stubborn foolishness – is that the power of God for transformation and restoration is released through prayer. That’s a very simplistic overview of a spiritual truth, yet it’s a foundational truth in our relationship with God. Prayer is both the evidence of relationship and the privilege of relationship. It is, essentially, communication with God. To fully live the power of prayer in our lives, we need to move past the skewed perception that prayer is always asking God for something.
The power of prayer has nothing to do with us. It’s all about God being present in the communication.
There is a tendency, particular among new or growing Christians, to look at others and ‘measure’ their own prayers alongside the ‘powerful prayers’ that seem to inspire approval and respect. The problem with this, however, is that it creates the impression that these prayers are somehow more efficient. They sound bold and confident, full of zeal and, the kind of prayer that must surely open the doors or heaven. Quite often, though, they’re full of ‘large language’ and scriptural verses, and if we’re around the person long enough, we find the same phrases coming up over and over again. Not every ‘powerful prayer’ is actually releasing the power of prayer.
Of course, we can never generalize. There are many committed Christians who pray strong prayers because they’ve been doing it for years. They’re comfortable with praying out loud, and they have a solid background of Scripture on which to draw. Their prayers, because of their real and living relationship with God, may well touch His heart and move Him to act in the power of prayer. They difference lies in the presence or absence of God in the prayer. This is solely determined by the heart of the person praying and by the work of the Holy Spirit in guiding and shaping the prayer. It’s not about the person praying at all.
But there is another reason why some Christians seem to be able to pray in a way that releases the power of prayer, and that is because they habitually pray for others. If we look the Bible, we continually find examples of praying for others, and particularly in the New Testament, we find numerous places where we are commanded and encouraged to do so. It’s a fundamental principle, both in prayer and in restoration and transformation, but it’s one we so often overlook.
I’m always struck with the prayers that Jesus often prayed – or, it sometimes seemed, didn’t pray. No, this is not a contradiction. Consider both the miracles of feeding the multitudes and resurrecting Lazarus. In effect, in all of these instances, Jesus simply gave thanks. There were no long, involved prayers with big words and impressive Scriptural phrases. Christ was absolutely assured of the will of the Father in that moment, because He was in constant communication. Remember, Jesus had the Holy Spirit, just like we do. It is the Spirit that ‘injects’ the power of prayer into our prayers.
I learned this lesson in a very odd way, but that was because of my own self-centred, self-absorbed focus on the absolute destruction that was my life – much of it through my own wrong choices, I must add. I was desperate, resentful, stubborn, and entirely absorbed in wanting my own transformation and restoration. Now, there was no doubt that it was necessary. In that condition, I was no use to myself, let alone to God or man. I was right at the bottom of the barrel and wallowing in darkness and mud. I would cry out to God constantly, but it was all about me – what I wanted, thought I needed, and on some level, even thought I deserved. All this time, I hung on, believing absolutely in the power of prayer but somehow unable to experience its reality in my life.
Until the Spirit began to do an odd and often disconcerting thing. He would prompt me to pray for someone – in a supermarket queue, when an ambulance rushed by with sirens and lights, passing someone on the pavement, during a business meeting. Most of these situations were times when praying out loud was ‘inappropriate.’ Many of the people were strangers, and some were people I didn’t even particularly like. The answer to my silent inner protest was always the same: Pray in the Spirit. I tried, of course, to get out of it. More than once, actually. But then I realised that it was easier to simply obey. It took a long time, but I finally began to discern the power of prayer to effect transformation and restoration, and it was never in the way I imagined.
For one thing, my heart was seldom in some of those early impromptu prayers. They were simply obedience to the prodding of the Spirit – a kind of grit your teeth obedience, like going to the dentist because you know you have to. After a while, though, something shifted in me. I began to experience a peace and even moments of joy when I prayed. I began to respond with real ‘heart’ as the heart of God was slowly revealed to me. Most of all, I stopped looking only at myself and my own seemingly insurmountable problems. When I stopped focusing on what I couldn’t fix, and wallowing in my misery, God was able to begin to release the power of prayer.
Remember, the Bible tells us that God’s ways are not our ways. He doesn’t work according to our expectations, and Jesus is the perfect example of that. He lived on this earth to serve others – totally and completely. Nothing in His life and ministry had anything to do with His rightful glory as the Son of God. It was about others. Always. The same principle applies to prayer, and it’s one we often find so difficult to grasp because it so totally contradicts the expectations of the world which are all about ‘me.’ The power of prayer is released in our lives in full measure when we begin to pray for others.
There are many Christians who confess that they struggle to pray. This is because it requires constant practice. Like anything, the more we do it, the better we do it. Ask any sportsman or dancer, and they’ll agree that constantly doing something ingrains it and makes it a habitual, instinctive response, something that no longer has to be thought through and then acted on. It becomes a part of who we are. The same is true for prayer. And, like an athlete, we cannot expect to rush out and perfect it in one day. We have to learn the basics. We have to start small. The good news is that God doesn’t look for eloquence and absolute mastery and complete memorisation of Scripture. He looks at the heart. If we’re willing to give it a try, He is there to begin to release the power of prayer to effect the changes needed.
I found myself wanting to communicate with God constantly. Whether I was doing the laundry or deciding what to make for dinner, I began to include Him in the process. The amazing thing was that I began to want Him there – not for what I could get out of it but simply to be with Him where there was no pressure, no stress, and no desperate demands. The power of prayer lies in God’s hand. The closer we are to Him, the more we know Him, the less we look to ourselves. When we let go of the problem, God has space to move and to change us.
But, critical to this process, was praying for others. The word ‘intercession’ can have somewhat daunting connotations, particularly for a new believer. We immediately imagine hours in the prayer closet, crying out for people with a kind of consuming emotional and spiritual commitment. This is real, of course, but it’s not something we’re thrust into and told to do without Him first growing us into it. But intercession basically means praying to God on behalf of others. It includes that simple prayer in the supermarket queue for a complete stranger. It may have been a couple of sentences spoken silently in the Spirit, but it’s no less powerful than prayer closet intercession because the power of prayer depends on God being present in it. If we’re prompted by the Spirit to pray, God is in it, whether it’s two words or two hundred.
Today’s verse makes it very clear that a critical part of receiving our restoration and transformation is praying for others. The implication is obvious – if Job had not prayed for his friends, he would not have received the blessings. The simple reality is that we’re not in this world to please ourselves. Like Jesus, we are called to live for others. But the power of prayer is such that it always brings life to something that was dead. When we lay down our lives, we find them again. It’s a remarkable miracle, but when we begin to pray for others, we discover the joy and peace that is the beginning of our own transformation. In looking outward to the needs of others, we cease to look inward to our own needs.
When we pray for others, we are essentially working with God according to His purposes. This places us within the power of prayer alongside Him. When the power of prayer is working, even if it is on behalf of others, it will always impact us. The transformation may not take the form or direction we expect or imagine, but it is always according to His purposes and for our good. Prayer should never be ‘hard work.’ There may be times when we are called on to intercede on a deeper level, sharing the heart of Christ and weeping with Him. But even then, His yoke is easy and His burden is light, because He is present and walks beside us to share the burden.
What matters most is the daily communication with God in the small details. When we invite Him into every part of our lives, we are quick to hear the Spirit’s prompting, and we are able to respond and work with God to release the power of prayer. We may never even know the outcome. That simple prayer in the queue may stop that man from robbing the store. That one-liner when the ambulance rushes past might just be what an accident victim needed to stay alive or come to Christ. The reality is that when we work with God, we are in a position to release the power of prayer to change the world and the people in it without us ever seeing the result.
If you’re struggling today, if you’re trapped in a dark and desolate place, if you’ve been crying out with no apparent response, try asking God to guide you into praying for others. Let Him into the mundane, ordinary moments of your life and listen for the prompting of the Spirit. When you can, try to pray aloud – you never know when you may be called on to pray openly, and it’s good to overcome the inhibitions when alone with God. The power of prayer is a real, abiding spiritual truth. It can effect transformation and restoration in your life. Begin to desire to pray for others, and you will discover that He is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, far more than you could ever ask or imagine.
Father God, we acknowledge today that we are so often too focused on ourselves and our own problems to think of praying for others. Help us to look beyond self, to come to You with hearts which desire to pray for others and to serve them alongside You. Help us to invite You into every detail of our lives so that we are in a place to hear and obey, and to trust that as we begin to live for others as You have called us to do, You will begin to change, restore, and empower us to the life in abundance found only in Jesus.