I have skeptic friends who would challenge the idea that prayer is anything more than talking to ones self. Unfortunately, supporting prayer is a difficult argument to make much of the time as the results of prayer are extremely personal. I can tell someone the story of the time that God met my desperate financial concerns by putting a number in my head one evening and then a cheque for that exact amount in my church mailbox the next morning, but if they choose not to believe me the story means nothing, as true as it actually is (and you can feel free to ask me about it... I still shake my head in amazement). On the flip side, there are prayers that God has chosen to answer differently than what I have prayed for, only for me to look back later to see that what I wanted at the time wasn't best for me at all. Once again, any argument in sharing the story would be purely resting on my own experience. Finally, and most importantly, I can claim God's promises in scripture that He answers prayers made in His name (ie. James 5:16 as one of many examples). However, if a person puts no stock in the Bible as being authoritative, then once again the argument is a difficult one to make.
Now, I say all this not to put down my skeptic friends in any way, but actually as a challenge to myself about what I really believe about prayer personally. It's one thing to hear of another's experience with prayer and quite another to know of your own, and yet I admit that I easily forget. I've seen the results of prayer time and time again, results that are simply not explainable by any answer other than a loving and personal God. However, I often (far too often than I even like to admit) revert to seeing prayer as a burden, or forget to do so all together. It's one thing to believe in prayer and another to live out my beliefs, and that is something I am still learning every day. Telling others I'm praying for them has helped... once I make that promise to pray for someone I really do take it as a responsibility and I do pray. Difficult situations (financial, emotional, etc) tend to lead me into prayer, especially when it's me facing them. There are even certain people I've never met who I have been compelled to pray for. A 10 year old boy fighting cancer who's father's twitter post was retweeted and caught my eye has been on my heart ever since, and I pray for him almost daily and sometimes multiple times in a day. However, in the grand scheme of things, there is a lot more I know I should be taking to God if I really believe in the power of prayer.
This week the prayer team at our church put out the challenge for every church member to just simply take a walk through their neighbourhood and pray for what they see. I decided that tonight would be my night, and as sad as I am to say that it's the first time I've done this, it was actually quite the experience. It's hard to explain, but looking at the buildings and sites that you see everyday now through the lens of prayer is quite eye opening. As I walked past the neighbouring building that had recently been renovated, I suddenly felt compelled to pray for those who were now could no longer afford to live there and were forced to move. (I must say it's quite the contrast from being thankful for less crime in my back lane). As I walked down the next block I passed a house where a woman was having an animated conversation at in her backyard with someone else, and the words "I cried and cried..." rang out to me. Suddenly I was walking praying for comfort and peace for whatever situation this woman was in. As I turned the corner onto the next block, I thought of my friends who lived on the block and began praying for them and other Christians to be powerful witnesses to their neighbours of the love of Christ. This in turn led me to pray that same prayer for myself, remembering the time I wasn't as gracious as I could have been when someone used my laundry time slot. Finally as I headed back one more block I was struck by how quickly neighbourhoods and living standards can change. I was challenged to pray not only for those who were less fortunate financially than I, but also for God to continue to remind me that He loves them no less and that I must love them as well instead of making assumptions (a reaction that is far too easy to have).
As I walked back up the back lane towards my apartment I became thankful for what God had shown me in that relatively short time. I was reminded once again that I really do believe in prayer, and Lord willing I believe enough that I will take that walk again, and again....