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Does Prayer Really Work?

Written by: David Saldivar


It lays out a path of how prayer works, shedding light and giving us hope that our prayers don’t get lost in the spam folder of the heavens. But for many, prayer is still a mystery they have yet to understand, leading them to let doubt sink into their minds and ask whether prayer truly works. But the correct question is not whether prayer works. The question that should be asked is: how does effective prayer work? God hears. Yet, the enigmatic doctrine of prayer isn’t as simple as merely dialing divine customer service; it’s a complex truth that must be understood in the context of the kingdom of God, our relationship with Jesus, and God’s Spirit. Today, we want to break down the parable of the Friend at Midnight found in Luke 11 to discover an inherent, often missed truth of this parable and some other vital aspects that can empower our prayer life.  

This quest to reveal the principles governing prayer isn’t a mere doctrinal endeavor but a spiritual truth that must be experienced, forcing us to look at the nature of our relationship with Jesus. As we pay close attention to the context of our story, we find the disciples intrigued by the prayer life of Jesus, leading them to make the following request: “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1). Immediately Jesus taught them what is commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer. Then the Bible says that He continued to teach them more about prayer by using the parable of the Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:5-13). As this parable unfolds, it narrates the story of a man that receives an unexpected visitor putting him in the terrible situation of not being able to fulfill his hospitality duties for the lack of provisions where he has no option but to seek help from his friend. We know the friend eventually agrees to help his neighbor due to his persistent demands rather than because they were friends, despite the late hour and the inconvenience. And even though there is much to say about prayer-severancewe cannot oversee the relationship the friend had with his neighbor.


The underlying truth that gives us the assurance and the type of faith that births prevailing prayer is our intimacy with the Lord, a dynamic only possible by the bonds of friendship. Effective prayer doesn’t speculate; it knows.**** Jesus didn’t pray from a position of weakness but from a place of assurance and authority; that confidence was a byproduct of His relationship with the Father. When we ask God something without spending time with Him and without sharing the values and desires He holds near His heart, we are in danger of reducing Him to an agent who only exists to meet our needs. We must realize that God is much greater than a heavenly dispatcher at our disposal to allocate divine resources to mundane petitions. Just as it should be for a disciple, the prayer life of Jesus was a continued life of surrender. Jesus didn’t do anything separated from the Father; He judged as He heard and did as He saw, leading us to understand that prayer is more about obedience than convenience. It’s about praying God’s will into our existence and not forcing Earth’s will in the heavens.

Even when we look at the following promise made by Jesus: “Truly, truly I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.” (John 16:23), it gives us a set of interesting absolutes we need to fully understand before implementing in our prayer life. We have been correctly taught to end our prayers with the expression, “In Jesus’ name, amen.” The word “amen” means “so be it”, and the phrase “In Jesus’ name” is not a magical formula. Praying in Jesus’ name is a sacred call we shouldn’t take lightly nor do in vain. To do something in Jesus’ name is to do it on his behalf. Let’s say you own a company, and you oversee the performance of your manager responsible for your warehouse’s inventory. The supply and demand of the business, in conjunction with the business’ aspirations, determine what he must order to keep the inventory levels up to date. One day it occurs to him to arbitrarily order a load of products your company has no interest in using. He makes the call, places the order, and when they ask him to whom the invoice should be sent, he tells them it will be under your company’s name. What is wrong with this picture? The employee is using your company’s resources and name for his interests, and you will probably not be too happy about it. This is what Jesus referred to when He said: “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-23, NASB). This teaches the imperative need not to see Heaven’s resources as a means to promote our own agendas. Jesus’ words, “I never knew you,” mean that this set of persons used His name to build their own kingdoms, and Jesus disowned them because they didn’t pursue His kingdom or His mission.  


The parable of the Friend at Midnight shows us what typically happens in the heavens when we finally align our prayers to God’s will and when we indeed do it in Jesus’ name. The first thing it reveals is that even though the door appears to be shut and the friend is a bit adamant about attending to his friend’s request, knowing that his friend heard him gives him the necessary hope and faith to continue pressing forward. The Bible declares: “For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers” (1 Peter 3:12). We often face situations and circumstances in which it appears that the door is closed and that there is no hope. Still, the fact stands that God’s ears are open to hear our prayers. As we bulldoze through our fears and the opposition we may face, this story tells us that because of the relentlessness of the friend’s knock, “he will get up and give him as much as he needs” (Luke 11:8). There is no greater evidence in the heavens that God has heard the prayer of His saints than when He stands at the cry of His people. When Israel set out on their pilgrimage to the Promised Land, Moses discerned the hostile spiritual world that awaited, showing Israel’s need for God’s guidance and protection in the wilderness; he prayed: “Rise up, Lord! And may Your enemies be scattered, and those who hate You flee from Your presence” (Numbers 10:35, NASB). Moses’ prayer reveals much about how God gets up against anything that dares to challenge His plans. Just like the main story of our teaching, this prayer shows us that God stands up before the effective prayer of His people to defeat His enemies. Lastly, it shows us that God opens doors, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, it will be opened” (Luke 11:10). 

Jesus wraps up this story by giving us the key to effective prayer that ultimately opens the heavenly vaults of the kingdom: “So if you, despite being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:13, NASB). God is waiting for us to ask Him for the Holy Spirit! He is the key and the essence of effective prayer! Our prayer life is only a powerless one-way communication without the presence and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we must reconcile our weakness with God’s ultimate provision, being docile and growing in our understanding that “we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

Let us yield our agendas at the feet of Jesus, seek the infilling of His Spirit, and let the Holy Spirit elevate your prayer life that will open doors for the kingdom.

In Jesus’s name, amen. 


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