Prayers That Work

What do you do make of the verse “The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective” when you’re seeing nothing but failure?  Does it mean you’re not in good standing with God?  That you’re unrighteous, and so your prayers are destined to be powerless?

I wrestled with this mightily when we were trying to conceive.  At the time, no one had the courage to confront the question with me, and the result was a lot of suffering and guilt.

I got an email this week from a woman requesting prayer.  She and her husband are about to start IVF – following six failed IUI’s and a miscarriage at 16 weeks.  She has prayed for a baby throughout her journey, but she sees no evidence that God is listening.  What does that mean — especially in the context of the promise, “The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective”?

The answer is in the first infertility story in scripture, found in Genesis 15.  God promised a very elderly Abram “A son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”  Despite any guarantee that this promise would be kept, the Bible says, “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”

Even though he knew the fertility statistic — not many wives conceive in their 80’s, Abram chose to believe God.  And God knew it.  The decision to trust God, despite what Abram knew about the present and expected in the future, delighted God – and God declared him righteous, by faith.

Not by action.

Soon afterwards, Abram decided to father a child with his wife’s maidservant.  As best we can tell, it was Sarai’s suggestion – but Abram went along with the plan because he, too, wanted a child.  Impatient to get the show on the road, they took matters into their own hands rather than waiting for God… and they gave birth to a mess of ruined relationships, resentment and hostility.

Not very righteous action.  Pretty profoundly lacking in trust.

But, that’s not the end of the story.  In the end, God’s grace led Him to forgive their impulsive decision to play God.  Once they made peace with the consequences of their actions and humbly accepted their failure to be God, He blessed them with a son – conceived by Sarah, against all odds.

What am I saying?  We’re all tempted to play God when we’re faced with infertility and the urgent need to conceive.  We may not take things into our own hands quite the way Abram and his wife did, but we understand the temptation to hurry things along when we don’t see evidence that God is at work.

Thankfully, God’s ready to forgive us, too.

If we choose to trust Him, then even if our actions sometimes betray our desire to believe, He is full of grace.  He declares us righteous by faith, not by perfect choices.  And, as the Bible promises, “The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective.”

You’ll see.

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