Effective prayer?

I was struck recently by a video I saw of some Christians in Denmark who roam the streets looking for sick people to pray for.  Their approach was unassuming, they didn’t make a big issue of it, but lots of people were being healed.  There were lots of shots of people throwing away crutches and walking unaided without pain.  There was no prior explanation of who Jesus is, how he saves, how he heals.  They just asked if they could pray.

What struck me most however were their very simple prayers.  They didn’t shout, command healing, rebuke Satan, or use any of the other spectacular techniques that we have come across.  They prayed a simple prayer: Jesus, we thank you that you can heal.  We ask you to heal this person now and take away all the pain.  Thank you.

This of course, is not a new approach.  Jesus told his disciples not to pray like pagans, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words (Matthew 6:7).  He taught them that God will answer quickly (Luke 18:6-8) because he is a good father who knows how to look after his children (Matthew 7:7-11).  Hudson Taylor remarked that he never forgot that his children needed food to be put on the table for them, and he had no reason to assume that God was any different than him.

Max Lucado observed, in a sermon called The Power of the Timid Prayer, that when Jesus found his disciples unable to cast out a demon, he subsequently taught them that only prayer could cast the demon out  (Mark 9:29).  Yet the only prayer recorded in this passage is the one of the boy’s father – if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us. Did he have great faith?  No, he even asked Jesus to help him believe.  Was he eloquent?  No, his prayer was a pitiful plea.  All he had in his favour was that he had asked the right person.

Have pity, he pleaded.  The underlying Greek word is much stronger than pity or compassion, closer to ‘gutted’ in modern English.  It is used selectively in the Gospels: only of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:33), the father of the lost son (Luke 15:20), and of Jesus on the numerous occasions when he had compassion on the lost, the poor, the sick and oppressed.  It tells us a lot about Jesus.  As the creed says, his nature is always to have mercy.

Effective prayer depends not on our faith or our eloquence, but on the mighty and compassionate God who has pity on us.

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