I don't think that God and Santa are the same.
Santa has a lot to do. Santa gets a wish list from children and he decides if those children will get presents by keeping score on a simple yes/no list. The books and movies about Santa show the children always get whatever they asked for. The process is easy as well. One letter, once a year, sent to the North Pole and magic happens. Sure, it takes a team. Elves, reindeer, even a talking snowman depending upon which movie you watch, but everyone pulls together and the day goes off without a hitch.
God, has it much harder. Bad marketing and a much worse communication model are where I place some of the blame, but since blaming is one of the items on the naughty list, I don't want to say it too loud.
In my family, each of us has extended networks of friends in this town and around the country who are strong believers. Small church groups, charities, friends, extended families, I have both for prayers. I have personally witnessed miracles. MIRACLES! This is not a word I am using lightly- I have been a gentle skeptic when people have used that word in the past. People toss that word around and cheapen it. I'm being smug, I know, but I had a person call it a miracle when they found front row parking at a NFL football game when the lot was full. I do not believe the creator of the universe answered that prayer in a miraculous way. Who am I to judge, but it felt a little silly.
I have seen honest to goodness miracles in my life and there is not another word for what God has done for me.
Here comes the challenge for me: prayer. I believe in prayer even though I don't understand a lot about it. Believing and not understanding is part of "faith." As the beneficiary of many true miracles, I am still trying to understand:
Does God need to be told that someone is suffering? It's as if He forgot his keys and someone must point them out in plain sight on the kitchen counter. He always knows everything ; he must know that someone is suffering. Why do we pray to ask Him to fix it? He is all-powerful; He should just fix it without having to be petitioned. Is more really more?
How many prayers does it take to achieve an answer? In the Old Testament, the Jewish people would pray and fast in order to demonstrate their obedience and re-commitment to the law as it had been laid out. Since the sacrifice of Jesus, we pray for many things. We pray for health, relief from addictions, for people who have turned their backs on Him to return to God, a new job, or a job in general. The list of our types of petitions is almost infinite. In some of these things, we recruit a lot of other people to pray with us and for us. Health issues are a good example.
Do the number of prayers change God's mind? If so, how many prayers does it take to change the outcome? If the issue is not the number of prayers and God hears each prayer regardless of number, why tell anyone of those who say they are praying for you? Do I have to know you or your name to get on the list? Frequently, I hear people say, "We are praying for you." I say the same words often, but I wonder…does it matter? Within a moment of saying the prayer, I could not tell you their name or what I have prayed for. I can't remember what I had for breakfast so forgetting these things is not a surprise. I've learned to pray in the moment immediately after telling someone I will. This makes certain that I don't forget. I usually pray with that person. It connects us to Jesus' promise- when two or more are gathered in my name, I am there (Matthew 18:20). Do casual prayers count? Is there a level of prayer that has an impact?
Someone told me once that prayer is not about getting God closer to us, but to get us closer to Him. Prayer is about getting closer to God and His plan. I have rolled that idea around in my mind and heart for a long time. If prayer aligns the soul with God's perfect plan, then all prayers are precious. That feels closer to accurate for me.
Lie- God needs our prayers in order to prompt His mercy.
Casual prayers remind a person that there are moments requiring encouragement to a sufferer and recognition of God's sovereign power. Intense prayers bring the praying person to the humble idea that nothing can be achieved without God's intervention. God tells us to bring those things on our hearts to Him. Outcries from our souls to God bring us closer to God to Him as we realize that it is His will not ours that will be fulfilled.
When the spider-web of believers across a church, community or nation joins in prayer, it is a connection of love of God and a humble request for His intervention. All prayers are answered (Psalm 65:2, Mark 9:29), it is just the believers' understanding that the prayer answer options include from the Lord; "no," "yes, but not the way you think," or "later." This is the misunderstood part in the consoling statement often made when people do not receive what those praying have asked for. "It was God's will," just sounds so cheap as an answer. However, when you are willing to recognize answers to prayers that are outside of the realm of "yes, and I'll do it your way and, in your time,," then it is understandable that it was God's will.
The confirmation of the importance of prayer is found in the following scripture,
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. Romans 8:26-28 (MSG)
The knowledge that the Holy Spirit is interceding for me intensely in prayer, even when I am not praying, is overwhelming to me as is the consistent love of me.
There is a sensitive subject, Prayer Warriors. I love the image of a fight. The power of God's people calling on His divine power in this broken world to fight the darkness of an insidious enemy, Satan, who has been given this world for a time (Daniel 7:25). God's power is brought to focus by his peoples’outreach through prayer for specific outcomes…healing is typically the one about which I have most often heard.
I will not mock the idea of Prayer Warriors. I do not understand the imagery or the interaction for intercession. I know this: these are truly dedicated believers who have a deep sense of obedience and faith in God's love. I do not have to understand much more than those beliefs to have love for Prayer Warriors.
All of the ideas I have considered, studied, and more importantly prayed have brought me to the same conclusion- pray a lot. Pray for people you know and those you do not know. Pray intensely, casually, in solitude, and with others. Prayer is aligning to those people and more importantly, to God. That's what He wants anyway; He wants us closer to Him.