How does prayer work? An atheist in the hospital who doesn’t believe in Jesus “prays” and gets well, while in the next room a believer and follower of Jesus who loves the Lord prays and doesn’t recover. How does this happen? What’s going on here?
No one is an atheist in heart. “There are no atheists in foxholes.” You can deny God all you want, but when push comes to shove and the chips are down, everyone believes in some “higher power.” Regina Spektor sings, “No one laughs at God in a hospital, no one laughs at God in a war, no one’s laughing at God when they’re starving or freezing or so very poor. No one laughs at God when the doctor calls after some routine tests, no one’s laughing at God when it’s gotten real late and their kid’s not back from the party yet. No one laughs at God when their airplane starts to uncontrollably shake, no one laughs at God when the cops knock on their door, and say, ‘We got some bad news, sir.’ No one’s laughing at God when there’s a famine, a fire or a flood.” Maybe when the atheist prays, God’s goodness, love, and mercy come through, despite his disbelief and ungodliness. So be it. “All praise to Him who reigns above.” Who are we to argue with what God does, as if we know better than Him?
We know a Christian’s prayer has more weight and depth, however. Our prayer is based on the covenant promises of God who is Father, Son, and Spirit. The empty grave proves, “My Savior lives,” and He hears and answers our prayers. God doesn’t lie, He will not be mocked, and He says, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:10-13)” Prayer is not wielding “the Force” and “God is not a genie who does magic like Houdini, or grants wishes like Jimminy Cricket or Santa Claus.” Prayer for the Christian is humble dependence, coming to his Father-in-heaven through his Lord and Savior by the power of His Spirit in an ongoing relationship and asking, “Thy will be done.” The chips will fall where they may, as He determines. Regardless of an answer we may want, we can say, “It is well with my soul.” Whatever He decides will be for His glory and praise and we can rest in all things working together for our good.
And so the atheist prays, but we pray to God, in the name of Jesus, by the power of His Spirit. We pray for God’s name to be lifted up and glorified. We pray for His kingdom to come and His will be done, as He sees fit. We ask for daily bread and whatever needs we have, and continued forgiveness of our many sins as we forgive others when they sin against us. We pray against evil and temptation and give Him the glory due His name. And He always hears and always answers.