“I finally stopped praying for my two brothers.” Steven explained that he had prayed every day “for at least 12 years and it hasn’t made any difference.”

I didn’t know how to answer so I said, “I’m sorry you’re discouraged.”

Although Steven said those words weeks ago, his words bothered me. Should I have told him to persist? To trust God to reward his efforts? Commend him for stopping?

This morning I figured out what troubled me. Despite his good intentions, Steven prayed for results and quit when he didn’t get them. When we petition God, we want to see changes and that’s understandable. The Bible tells us to ask as in 1 Peter 5:7: “Give all your worries to God, for he cares about you” (NLT).

A number of prayer experts would remind us that prayer is more than asking for something. It’s also praise and thanksgiving as well as confession. I agree, but it includes petitions. And not receiving the answers we want can dishearten us.

Like Steven, I like to do things that bring results. Here’s how I see prayer working — and using the word working emphasizes my pragmatic side. In the act of praying, something takes place inside me. When my petitions move beyond my immediate needs and desires, I’m in touch with God and I move out of my self-centered world.

That leads me to say that every action causes a reaction. When I pray something is altered, even though the change may be within me. When I pray sincerely for others, I become different. The more I talk to God about situations and people, the more I focus on their plight or need. As I focus outwardly I become more compassionate and understanding. I say more than a perfunctory, “God bless James.”

For example, when I begin to pray for someone I don’t like, I go beyond “Make her kind” or “Make him stop gossiping.” Each time I mention others by name, I feel closer to them and to their problems. The result is that I become kinder or I’m reminded to eliminate loose talk and focus on positive living for myself.

Although it may be only slight, when I pray regularly for others, it is inner growth. And sometimes those individuals also change.

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