I think what surprises me about this chapter is Foster’s expectancy that prayer will, basically, work. I realise I was expecting cautious explanations of how if we look for our prayers to come true, we’ll be sorely disappointed.Of course, the Bible doesn’t say this, and neither does Foster.
He doesn’t give a recipe for success, but he explains quite clearly which prayers are more likely to ‘work’.
The factors include:
Being attuned to God: ‘We begin praying for others by first quieting our fleshly activity and listening to the silent thunder of the Lord of hosts. Attuning ourselves to divine breathings is spiritual work, but without it our praying is vain repetition (Matt. 6:7).’ (49)
- Similar to being attuned to God, is being so immersed in the Holy Spirit we already have an idea of what we should pray for. Jesus ‘never concluded by saying “If it be thy will.”‘ (47)
- Empathy: ‘Frequently our lack is not faith but compassion. It seems that genuine empathy between the pray-er and the pray-ee often makes the difference.’ (50)
- Starting off small: ‘But when we listen, we will learn the importance of beginning with smaller things like colds or earaches. Success in the small corners of life gives us authority in the larger matters. If we are still, we will learn not only who God is, but how his power operates.’ (49) (I subconsciously thought that if God wasn’t going to heal people of terminal cancer when I prayed for it, why would he heal people of a common cold when I prayed for it? While Foster suggests that I master praying for a common cold first.)
Foster goes on to point out that answered prayer isn’t the main goal: ‘Answers to prayer are wonderful, but they are only secondary to the main function of prayer, which is a growing perpetual communion. To sink down into the light of Christ and become comfortable in that posture, to sing ‘He walks with me and He talks with me and know it as a radiant reality, to discover God in all of the moments of our days and to be pleased rather than perturbed at the discovery – this is the stuff of prayer. It is out of this refreshing life of communion that answered prayer comes as a happy by-product.’ (56)