Praying to the One Who Can



My three-year-old stood on the desk, teetering over the printer, his stocky fingers jabbing at the buttons as he yelled at it: “I want a picture to come OUT!” Ever the problem-solver, he had rigged an elaborate series of step stools and chairs to fashion a ladder for himself, and was now trying to strong arm the black machine into producing one of those printable coloring pages. A dinosaur, in particular, was what he was after.

His little face scrunched with frustration, he kept pushing the green button, just as he had seen me do.

“Why won’t it come out?” he asked me. “I pushed the button!”

Taking his hand, I guided him down the stairs and pulled him into my lap in front of my screen. “The printer doesn’t print by itself, sweetheart,” I explained. “Mommy has to send a message from her computer to the printer to tell it to make the picture. See? You like this one? Here we go …” We watched as the printer hummed to life and a bouncy brachiosaurus appeared on the sheet.

This is my problem with prayer, I thought. Too often I treat prayer like a printer, thinking if I just push the buttons in the right order, the desired result will be magically delivered onto my receiving tray. But what my preschooler—and I—are quick to forget is that it takes a person to make these things happen. It takes agency to effect a command and supply the resources for fulfillment.

Things don’t just happen. They are made to happen.

“Ask and it will be given to you,” said Jesus (Matthew 7:7). But who we ask makes all the difference: my children asking one another whether it’s okay for them eat jelly beans before dinner being just one example of misdirected asking. For not even the tallest of my kids—even with the help of precarious self-constructed ladders—is able to reach the jar of jelly beans on the very top shelf.

So, too, Jesus reminds us that when we ask, we are speaking to a good and powerful Father, who knows how to give good gifts to his children and who delights to do so. If we forget the One to whom we pray, prayer quickly morphs into a spiritualized version of the Power-of-Positive-Thinking. We become like three-year-olds standing at a printer jamming our fingers at buttons, and wondering why it isn’t working?

I was reminded of hearing Oprah Winfrey talk about prayer some years back. As much I admire and appreciate Oprah, her words on prayer fell short. “I believe in the power of prayer,” she said. And at first, I thought, “Me too.” After all, doesn’t James 5:16 tell us that the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective?

But, thinking about it later, I realized that I really don’t believe in the power of prayer.

Prayer doesn’t heal people. The living God, who loves and cares for us and provides each breath we take, is the one who heals.

Prayer doesn’t take away our sadness. It is God who wipes away tears and who ultimately, through Jesus, will conquer all the sad-making things in the world.

Prayer doesn’t provide for our needs. It is our heavenly Father who gives us what we need: “… as the eyes of the servant look to her mistress’ hand, so our eyes look to the LORD our God.” (Psalm 123:2)

Prayer doesn’t bring comfort. God is the one who sees us in our distress and draws near when we feel desolate. He is the comforter. He is our “shield and our very great reward.”

Prayer doesn’t deal with our guilt and our sin. Confession alone does nothing to remove the blots on our souls unless we are confessing to the One who was willing to exchange our guilt for his goodness. It is God alone who has the power to declare the guilty “clean,” and welcome the exile as “my child.”

Watching my three-year-old grapple with that printer, I saw it clearly: me wrestling with prayer as if it were powerful and effective in itself. But it isn’t. Just like the world’s best printer cannot deliver without a prompt, so too the world’s most beautifully crafted prayer is but a breath unless it is asked of the One Who Can.

So, no: I don’t believe in the power of prayer.

I believe in the power of God.

And this is why I pray.

Bronwyn Lea
Bronwyn Lea is a South-African born writer-mama, raising little people in California and raising eyebrows at Fueled by grace, caffeine and laughter, she writes about the holy and hilarious in life, faith and family. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Bronwyn Lea
Bronwyn Lea


  1. Bev Murrill says:

    A.MEN! Preach it, sister.

  2. Sandy Hay says:

    I’m forwarding this to my Bible study girls. So often the emphasis is prayer in and of itself, not on the one we pray too. Thank you Bronwyn 🙂

    • Whenever I find I’m flagging in prayer, this is what it usually comes down to: I have lost sight of the ONE to whom we pray, and so lose my confidence. We need each other to keep pointing upwards so that we don’t lose focus, yes?

  3. valeste says:

    Great reminder Bronwyn. Prayer is a tool of communication to/from God. Even our texting and email programs don’t allow us to “send” until we identify the “TO” whom we are sending.

  4. Hannah Kallio says:

    “Prayer doesn’t heal people. The living God, who loves and cares for us and provides each breath we take, is the one who heals.”
    Yes! Thank you for articulating this. So often we do this with prayer, or with the Bible even, assigning power to them that belongs only to God. Yes and amen.

    • Yes, we definitely do the same thing with the Bible, and more than once I have felt Jesus’ gentle rebuke to me in this: “you diligently search the Scriptures as if you would find life in them… but these scriptures testify about ME: the life-giver.”

  5. I took a religious studies course in my last year of high school and this is one of the reasons I had big problems with Buddhism – they pray – but to what end? Because who are they praying to?? Sending up wishful thoughts to the sky is not the same as bringing requests to our Heavenly Father. It was a good age to really think about that issue and learn that lesson!!

    • Yes! Megan Hill wrote an article for Her.meneutics last week just on this point, and it was so good: “I don’t need your good thoughts. I need prayer.”

  6. Oh, OH! So good, Bronwyn, just so good!

    • Thanks, Ganise. I am constantly amazed at how often God takes little parenting moment and holds up a big mirror for me: “see, my child? I have something to show you about yourself in this….”

  7. Me too, Bronwyn, me too. I like boxes and rituals and frankly – religion. But what all of that is powerless to do God does, and invites me to know Him as He does it. What a mystery, what a challenge, what a gift. Love this piece.

  8. Amen! Thank you, Bronwyn. This is something I’ve thought about often but never articulated.

  9. Such a profound lesson and example Brownwyn… thank you. xo

  10. This is the best thing that I’ve read about prayer for ages.
    I certainly don’t hold to the prosperity gospel, but you could never discern that from listening in on my prayer life. Like Job, I come to God bristling with question marks, and He gives the gift of Himself.
    Then it’s my assignment to see that as a gift and as a reply.

  11. Researcher says:

    I am finding that God is neither a vending machine nor a slot machine…

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