One question I often ask myself, and I'm sure many Christians ask themselves the same thing (even if they don't admit it) is 'Is there any point to prayer?'
I know many people who seem to have the kind of faith that can move mountains. They pray and they believe that God will answer their prayers. I can't pray like that. Maybe I just need more faith. However, it's hard to believe in prayers that move mountains when I've seen so many mountains unmoved.
I have friends who are believing God for things and who constantly pray for those things with faith - and yet those things haven't eventuated. Recently, the whole church was praying for someone's healing. Sadly she died. And no matter how many times people tell me that she's gone to a better place, I still find myself asking 'Why?' 'Why didn't God answer our prayers?' And then 'Why bother praying at all?' While I do have friends who have strong faith that their prayers will be answered, I've also seen the opposite where people completely lose faith in God when he doesn't answer their prayers. To be honest, I've sometimes come close to that myself.
I believe there is a point to prayer. There must be. Jesus told us to do it. So while I don't always believe in the efficacy of prayer, I never doubt its necessity. Therefore, I pray. Even when the situation seems hopeless, even when I don't understand exactly what prayer is meant to do, even when I think prayer is pointless - I still pray. And I believe that any situation in which we want God to work demands our prayer.
One of the things we must be praying for at the moment is the environment. Not only are we in the midst of an ecological crisis, but we are continuing on with the practices and lifestyles that are destroying our planet. Furthermore, issues relating to the environment, such as climate change and, in Australia, the carbon tax are not just causing anxiety, but division and even hostility. As Christians we must also be aware (and therefore pray for) the plight of all the many people who are and who will be adversely affected by climate change and environmental destruction.
So I strongly believe this is something we need to pray about. However, my doubts and questions about prayer in general often stop me praying with faith even as small as a mustard seed. While Jesus told us that faith can move mountains, the environment is so much more than one mountain - literally and figuratively. The situation seems hopeless. If prayers don't seem to change little things, how on earth are they meant to have any influence over this very big thing? And so yet again, I am faced with the question of 'Is there any point to praying at all?'
One thing I do believe prayer does is change the people who are praying. Often our actions and our attitudes help prevent the thing we are praying for. And when it comes to the environment, we all have actions and attitudes that need changing. Praying gives God permission to work in our lives. It also empowers us to do what we can to achieve what we are praying for. Christians are God's hands, feets and voices in this world. If change is going to occur, then people need to be involved. We can't just pray that we avoid ecological crisis and that people are saved from the negative effects of climate change. We need to do all we can to ensure that happens. And I believe prayer empowers us to do that.
And yet prayer has to do more than this. Because some problems are too big for the people who are praying to solve alone. If everyone praying for the environment was changed and empowered to take action, it still would not be enough. If any kind of real change is to happen in our treatment of the environment, prayers have to do more than simply change the people who are praying.
But I don't know what and I don't know how. Maybe I'm not meant to know. Jesus didn't tell us to figure out how prayer works. He just told us to pray. And when you start trying to 'figure out' prayer it becomes a method of getting what you want, rather than a relationship and a way of participating in the work God is already doing.
While there's lots of things in this world that I can 'figure out', prayer isn't one of them. I can't pull it apart and see how it all connects together. There are hundreds of books I can read on prayer, but none of them will give the kind of account of prayer that you might find in a say a manual on a car. I send my prayers up to heaven, unsure if they're heard or whether they accomplish anything. Ultimately, prayer means doing something that I don't understand. It's about having enough faith to pray anyway.
Furthermore, when we try to work out how to get our prayers answered, the focus is on getting God to do what we want. Then when God doesn't do what we want, we think our prayers haven't been answered. But maybe prayer should rather be about letting God into the situation. God is God. He knows the best thing to do, far more than we do. Maybe the best thing is to simply invite him in and let God take over. And when it comes to the environment, I don't really see we have any other choice. For I certainly can't work out what God should do. I can see lots of problems but very few solutions. If I'm praying for particular things to happen, I may well be limiting God. He has a much bigger picture of what can be done than I do.
It's not our job to give God a detailed action plan of the steps we think he should take. And it's not our job to work out exactly what prayer does and how we can get our prayers answered. Our job is to simply pray.
I don't know if I have the kind of faith that can move mountains. But I will keep praying for mountains - and trees and seas and animals and plants and all the many wonderful things that make up God's creation. And I have enough faith to believe that God will take my doubt-filled prayers and do something with them. Maybe that's the type of faith that's as small as a mustard seed. But God can do marvellous things with mountains when all you have is mustard-seed-sized faith.
If you are interested in praying for the environment, you might want to take a look at Hope for Creation. On 6 November, Christians all around the world will be praying for climate change. For more information about Hope for Creation in Australia, go to http://hopeforcreation.org.