Believing in Prayer

by Jerry Senn

Huckleberry Finn is a familiar character for some of us who are a bit older.

 “He said, Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn’t so. I tried it. Once I got a fish line, but no hooks. It warn’t any good without hooks. I tried for hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn’t make it work. By and by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool. She never told me why, and I couldn’t make it out no way. I set down one time back in the woods, and had a long think about it. I says to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why can’t the widow get back her snuff box that was stolen? … No, say I to myself, there ain’t nothing to it.”

—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

We might not admit having doubts about unanswered prayers, but I suspect we’ve all wondered about it at times. Atheism says prayer is merely “wishful thinking—an escape from reality.” 

The apostle Paul spoke of a thorn in his flesh which he called “a messenger of Satan, to harass me,…(2 Corinthians 12:7). “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:8,9).

His prayer was turned down so Paul could learn to trust his Father more.

“God’s gifts imply his freedom and our free acceptance. God says no to many prayers just as we would say no to a child asking to play with fire. Prayer is our openness to the will of God, our beliefs that he will do what is best (Harold Hazelip).  If our prayers are “according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14,15).

Believing in prayer troubled Jesus’ disciples; they ask him “teach us to pray.” Maybe you and I should reflect more deeply as we learn to pray in faith without questioning as Huck Finn failed in prayer when he didn’t get his hooks for the fishing line. 

We’ll deal with the issue of learning to pray in the next message (coming on May 16, 2024).