I have a number of very good friends who are battling very bad medical problems. Though the details vary, the challenge is the same: battling through each day, fighting and scratching and clawing against an enemy that will not go away, will not leave them alone, and is insistent that they succumb.
A lot of negative has been said lately about 'thoughts and prayers.' They've been denigrated as poor substitutes for action in response to mass shootings, drug abuse epidemics and more. It's true that those in power, who see tragedies and are moved by them, should be looking at actions they could take to prevent them in the future. 'Thoughts' could be all kinds of things, not all good.
But what about the rest of us? What can we do? Many of us parrot the politicians 'thoughts and prayers' mantra, and I am sure many of us, in fact, do pray for and think about, those affected.
But a lot of us, desensitized to the constant flow of awful news stories, simply turn the page with little thought and no prayer. If pressed, we might tell you that we 'can't do anything about it' or 'what good does it do for me to get upset?'
Fair points. We do need to manage our own mental health, and many of us are susceptible to depression and anxiety, worry and despair.
So then what good does prayer do for anybody? My friends are still sick, tragedies don't undo themselves. Why pray?
Most immediately, the people for whom we pray benefit by having us petition the God of the universe on their behalf. God is not waiting for our direction, nor is he conducting a survey. He knows what is going to happen, and why, and it is good, whether we can see it or not.
Still, the Lord does answer prayers and He can and will do literally anything for His people. Prayer can influence positive outcomes as the Lord unwinds his eternal plan for our friends and loved ones and for us.
In the context of eternity, God's timeline is flexible. Only His purposes are unchanging. He wants us to love Him as He loves us, as our heavenly father. Beyond that, 'small' details such as when and how problems get resolved, illnesses get cured (or not) or even when and how we die can be adjusted to fit his plan in response to our prayers.
Sometimes these adjustments result in what we call 'miracles.' Other times, we don't even realize something has changed.
So all of this goes to show the benefit to the persons or groups or situations about which and for whom we pray. Those alone are good reasons to pray.
But there are more benefits of prayer, and they go to the pray-er*.
*Person who prays. May not be an actual word :)
When we pray, we are talking to God. He loves to hear from us! Talking to Him brings us closer to Him, and He wants that even more than we do. You make God happy by interacting with Him. By having a relationship with Him.
When we pray we are asking God for something. This shows Him our faith. He loves to see our faith! Believing and knowing that He can and will solve any and all problems AND showing Him your belief BOTH make God happy.
When we pray, God has the opportunity to speak to you. It may be through an impression running through your mind, or a message you encounter some time later, or the words of someone you encounter during the day, or through his Word in Scripture. He also may choose not to talk back, but He still hears you and He still works all things out for the good of those who love Him. Responding to you, answering your prayer, in whatever way He chooses, makes God happy.
So yes, when we pray, we are doing the most positive thing most of us can do on behalf of another person. Those for whom we pray benefit, this is for sure.
But we benefit too. God loves to hear from you. He loves to see your faith in Him. He loves the opportunity to respond to you, in whatever form He chooses.
God has made you, has given you everything you have, and loves you more than any of us could ever imagine. To be able to make Him happy, simply by interacting with Him, having faith in Him and letting Him answer you and show His love? That isn't asking very much.
What you get back is, quite literally, everything.
God bless you.