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What does the Bible say about the power of prayer?

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Chris Elkins: Hello, my name is Chris Elkins, and I’m with the Denison Forum. And we have Dr. Denison with us today. Jim, you know that the Bible teaches us to pray, and it says much about the whole practice of prayer. But I have a question for you.

Why should we pray to an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God?

If he knows what we need, and he’s all-loving and all-powerful, why do we need to ask him?

Jim Denison: That’s a question I’ve been asked a lot over the years. It’s a question I’ve asked over the years as well because the question really is, I think, absolutely logical, right? I mean, the Bible says that God is all knowing. He knows the past, the present, and the future. So he knows what you’re going to ask before you ask him, Jesus says. He certainly knows your need before you ask him. And so you’re not praying to inform God about anything, you’re not telling him something he doesn’t know.

He’s all loving. And so you’re certainly not praying to convince him to do some right thing that he wouldn’t have done otherwise. It’s not like you’re having to persuade God to do the right thing, even as if you could. And he’s all powerful, and so it’s not like your prayer is going to compel him to do something. You’re not going to be able to make him do what you want him to do just because you pray, just because you ask.

And so if that’s the case, then why pray at all? If God already knows your needs, if he’s loving and powerful enough to do the right thing always, then why is it that we, in fact, need to pray?

So some years ago, I was working on a book entitled Wrestling with God, where I was dealing with some of the most difficult intellectual questions that I knew anyway. I wanted to spend some time on this one. So I was speaking at a conference center in Tennessee, a beautiful place, beautiful setting. I was out there for the week, I was kind of their campus pastor for the week. And on Monday of that week, I was playing tennis and pulled a hamstring. Only time I’ve ever done that. It was such a pull that I could barely get around the rest of the week. And so I spent a lot of the week on the porch, the kind of screened-in porch they had there at the minister’s cottage, and it gave me a chance to think about some really tough questions, a lot of which I moved into this book as I mentioned, that I was writing.

And as I was focusing on that specific question, sitting in that screened-in porch at that minister’s cottage at that retreat center in Tennessee, the thought occurred to me: you know, when I pray, I’m talking to God. That’s when I’m connecting with God. Praying positions me to experience what God’s grace already wants to give.

And that brought me back to Richard Foster. Thirty years earlier. Richard Foster’s marvelous book, Celebration of Discipline, makes the point that all spiritual disciplines, whether they’re prayer, Bible study, worship, fasting, solitude, meditation, these various disciplines, don’t earn God’s favor. They don’t talk God into giving us something he didn’t want to give. They get us close enough to God that we can then receive what his grace wants to give.

Well, that’s what spiritual disciplines do. And prayer, especially. You have to be close enough to a device to hear this conversation right now. You have to be close enough to a worship service to hear what’s going on in the worship service. And so it is with praying. The first answer to the question is that prayer positions us to receive what grace wants to give.

But that leads to a second answer as well.

In the book of Romans, were told in Romans 8:29, that God wants to make us more like Christ, that his purpose is that we’d be transformed, or molded, conformed into the image of Jesus. And that’s a lot of what the Holy Spirit’s doing in our lives. That’s the whole doctrine of sanctification, of being made holy.

Well, when we pray, the Holy Spirit can sanctify us, shape us, mold us in ways that he can’t if we’re not praying. If you think of a carpenter who has to get his hands on wood in order to sand it or shape it, to paint it, to varnish it. Well, think of prayer as how God gets his hands on you.

Right now we’re talking about God, but if we were praying, we’d be talking to God. And it’s in that act of talking to God that the Holy Spirit is able to mold us and shape us and make us more like Jesus. So that’s the second reason we pray.

And that leads to a third reason: when we pray, God empowers us to do what his purpose for us intends us to do.

So you think about Matthew chapter 9, at the end of the chapter, where Jesus invites his disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out laborers into the harvest. And then in chapter 10, they become laborers in the harvest. After they’ve prayed, the Lord has equipped and empowered and encouraged and molded them in such a way that they could then be the answer to their prayers.

Well, when we pray, God often does that. He often makes us the answer to our prayers. If we’re praying for lost people, God will often put a lost person on our heart that we could reach out to with the good news of God’s love. If we’ll pray for hurting people, God will often bring hurting people across our path or move us in the direction of somebody that has a need we can meet.

And so when we pray, again, we’re not telling God what he doesn’t know, we’re not talking him into anything or forcing him to do something. We’re positioning ourselves to receive what grace wants to give. We’re being molded to be more like Jesus. And we’re being empowered to make a difference in the world, to the glory of God.

Elkins: So Jim, that really helps me better understand that prayer puts me in a position to receive what God already wants to give. Jim, there are two billion of us that claim to be Christians in this world. And while I know God’s omniscient—he can hear actually all of these prayers at once—it still seems pretty difficult to me to understand how this actually happens. How could it possibly be true?

How does God hear us when we pray?

Denison: You know, that’s a terrific question, Chris. I think back to when my wife and I were engaged to be married more than forty years ago. One of the things that you do in a time like that is you go to these wedding showers, and it’s wonderful to be there, to see these wonderful friends that are encouraging and affirming, and they give you gifts and all of that.

But in some of these events, I would be at these places, and we’d all be kind of sitting in a chair, and everybody’d be talking at one time. And I could not follow the conversation at all. I had no idea what was going on. My now-wife, Janet, could follow all of that. When it was done, she could tell you what everybody had said, but I absolutely was lost in that. I can’t understand two people if they’re talking at the same time. So how can the Lord understand two billion people talking at the same time?

We know that he’s omniscient. We know that he’s omnipotent. We just figure it must just be something he can do because he is God and we’re not. And in a sense, that’s true. But there’s another factor, I think here, that really is important in understanding the power of prayer.

God is not bound by time. C. S. Lewis says you can think of time as a line on a page; God is the page. We are bound by the space-time continuum, as scientists say. So we experience the world as this kind of linear sort of thing, with past and present and future, and this moment is the only moment that there is. This is all of reality there is.

Well, God isn’t bound by any of that. He created time and he transcends time. And one day, time shall be no more, as the Bible says. And God does not live in this time continuum that we are in. And what that means is, God has all of eternity to listen to your next prayer. He’s not bound by time as we are. And so he literally has all of eternity to talk to you, to listen to you, to shape you, to mold you, to empower you, to give you what his grace intends to give you. He has all of that time for you.

All of God there is, is in this moment. While the consequence is: because God is not by bound by time, he has all of eternity for your next prayer. He is there for always listening to you. He is there for always waiting for you. He’s there for always wanting and longing for an intimate, personal connection with you, like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus.

The question is: Is he waiting for you right now?

God bless you.

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