The Power and Puzzle of Prayer

By Mark D. Roberts

July 17, 2017

Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: “Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.’”

Isaiah 38:4-6


A puzzle maze where you wouldn't want the ball to fall in any of the holes.As Isaiah 38 begins, King Hezekiah was deathly ill (38:1). In fact, Isaiah came to him with a word from the Lord that Hezekiah would soon die. In response to this bad news, Hezekiah prayed, reminding God of Hezekiah’s own faithfulness. Then Hezekiah wept bitterly.

After this tearful prayer, Isaiah brought a new message. God was going to add fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life! Moreover, God would soon rescue him and Jerusalem from the Assyrians. What fantastic news! How glad Hezekiah must have been and his people along with him.

This story portrays vividly the power and puzzle of prayer. God healed Hezekiah, doing that which required supernatural power, in response to Hezekiah’s supplication. This is the power of prayer. The puzzle comes from the fact that God seemed to change his mind in response to Hezekiah’s prayer. In verse 1 the Lord told Hezekiah through Isaiah that he was going to die. Yet, in verse 5, after Hezekiah prayed, God promised to heal him.

If you are a person who prays, you have surely experienced both the power and the puzzle of prayer. In a way we will never fully understand, the Sovereign God allows us to participate in the unfolding of his will. Thus, when we pray, we submit to God’s will and, at the same time, tell God what we’d like him to do. Mysteriously and graciously, God receives our counsel and, according to his inscrutable wisdom, even acts upon our requests.


When have you experienced the power of prayer?

How do you respond to the puzzle of prayer?


Gracious God, your ways are wonderful. And your ways are perplexing. You are sovereign over all things. Yet you listen to our prayers, somehow working them into your plans for the universe. I expect we’ll never quite understand this mystery, at least this side of the age to come. Yet, in faith, we pray, just like Hezekiah. We pray because you’ve told us to do it. We pray because we’ve experienced the power of prayer. We pray because we believe that you take our prayers seriously. We pray because, as we do, we draw near to you, sensing your presence and receiving your peace.

Dear Lord, may I pray with greater faith, greater hope, and greater wisdom. May I submit myself to you as I pray, offering all that I am for your purposes. And, even when I tell you what I want you to do, may I be guided by your Spirit to pray according to your will. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentaryWhen Prayer Is Hard, Hang in There!

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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