The Paradox of Prayer

Jane Olson

READ : James 5:13-17

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (v. 16)

When my friend Anna was two, she developed a problem with her vision. Her parents believed that if God wanted to heal her he would do it through the power of prayer. Anna prayed for many years that God would fix her eye, but nothing happened. Eventually she had corrective surgery, but for many years afterward Anna struggled with this question: Why didn't God heal her? Many of us ask the same question.

What are we to make of James' claims about prayer in these verses? James says that the prayers of the righteous have great power. What about those of us who pray fervently to be healed but are not?

These verses highlight the paradox of petitionary prayer, what C. S. Lewis called “a problem without an answer.” On the one hand, the Bible is filled with examples of righteous people who called on God to do great things and had their prayers answered. On the other hand, when the most righteous man who ever lived asked his Father “to let this cup pass from me,” God was silent.

Prayers are not magic spells: there is no “right way” to pray in order to convince God to act in our favor. For some mysterious reason, God chooses to use our fallible, imperfect prayers to carry out his will. At the same time, when we pray, we must be able to say, “Not my will, but thine be done.”


Lord, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.