Do Our Prayers Really Matter?

On the ABC news program “Primetime:  Beyond Belief,” reporter Bob Woodruff discussed what happens after death by sharing his own near-death experience and interviewing others who had died and come back to life .  One of those interviewed was Don Piper, a Baptist minister who died during a car/truck crash in Texas in 1989.  After being declared dead for 90 minutes by paramedics, Piper came back to life and later wrote about what he saw in the bestselling book, “90 Minutes in Heaven” (

While what Piper reported he saw in heaven is inspiring, I’m more interested in the way he came back to life.  Dick Onarecker and his wife were driving by the wreckage when he felt the urgent need to pray for whoever was in the car.  He and his wife stopped, began praying, then started singing the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  Soon a voice from the wreckage, that of Don Piper, began singing along with them.

Did the prayers of the Onareckers change God’s mind?  Or had God decided that Don Piper would live, and simply allowed a passerby and his wife to participate with him in raising the dead?  Why didn’t God do the same for Dick Onarecker, rather than letting him die in 1996 at a relatively young age of 52?

To understand better our part in prayer, let’s consider the Canaanite woman who had a demon-possessed daughter in Matthew 15:

             Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment (Matt 15:21-28 NIV).

What can we learn from these two examples where people prayed in what seemed to be hopeless situations?  First, we have to be willing to try.  It would have been easy for Dick Onarecker to look at the terrible wreckage and decide that no one could survive.    It would have been understandable for the Canaanite woman to give up since it was unlikely that she had ever seen anyone healed of a demon-possession.  Yet these people were willing to pray and ask for help despite the overwhelming circumstances they saw.

Next, healing power does not come from us and is not dependent on our personal righteousness or faith.    The power to heal comes from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who move as they lovingly see fit for each situation.  The Triune God chooses to work incarnationally through the requests of regular human beings just like us.

Lastly, we have to accept that the situation we pray about may or may not be resolved in the way we think is best.  As parents, we understand that even though our children ask us for many things, sometimes what they want would not be in their best interests.  The perspective the Triune God has over our lives is infinitely bigger and better than ours is, so we need to understand that sometimes our prayers will not be answered with a “yes.” Yet the possibility of a “no” should not hinder our willingness to ask.

The examples of Dick Onarecker and the Canaanite mother can inspire us to step out boldly in prayer, knowing that our loving God is always listening.

~by Nan Kuhlman

~photos courtesy of ABC;

Baker Publishing Group; Don Piper

10 comments so far

  1. Boyd Merriman on

    I’ve always was impressed with the widows who’s sister Tabitha had died and sent for Peter for help. Any one of us would have said, “Well, she (he) died so I guess there is nothing else we can do. Already dead, so that must have been God’s will.

    Not them.

    The Disciples had already pronounced her dead, went so far as to clean her body, and then laid her in an upper room. Then sent for Peter when they found out he was in town. That took a long time. Too long for a body to be lying around. But Peter came and told her to get up. She did.

    Why is that not happening today? Why do we give up so easily? Even in our daily lives, we accept the negative and self defeating problems we face when we need to be going to God in prayer and not giving up.

    We pray, “Well, I guess that’s God’s will, so I’m not asking anything other than to be able to suffer through this.”

    I don’t think so.


    • Nan Kuhlman on


      Thanks for another good example and your interest in the post.


  2. joel on

    I’m in the middle of Dr. Stephen Crosby’s book “Healing: Hope or Hype” and he discusses that one of our major obstacles to healing is our Greek mindset/practice of “teach then do.” We spend lots and lots of time teaching on healing but very very little if any time doing. Jesus’ practice was “do then teach.” If we are truly participants in the life of the Triune God then we are the ongoing incarnation on earth and minister from the life of Jesus in us. What did Jesus do? He healed! So maybe it’s just as simple as doing a lot more doing and a lot less teaching!

    • Nan Kuhlman on


      Thanks for your insight. I agree that we tend to over-think healing/prayer, and we’re quick to assume that we might hinder the process by even becoming involved. I believe that when a situation presents itself to you (in your own little sphere of influence), that’s your call to pray (whether it’s for healing, help, comfort, whatever). I appreciate your summary, and it looks like I’ll be adding Dr. Crosby’s book to my stack of “must-reads!”


  3. Jeannine on

    I needed this reminder, Nan – thank you! I’ve often wondered why God *needs* our prayers other than for the obvious relationship-building aspects. We know that Jesus is constantly praying for all of us, and that when we don’t have the words to say or even know what to pray for, He does. I’m wondering whether our prayers for each other and for strangers are like positive spiritual energy – God delights so much in seeing us truly care for each other and take the time to pray for each other that His only response can be to oblige in His perfect way.

    If we don’t pray, perhaps we really do miss an opportunity to help make someone’s life better – not because God doesn’t care for them and love every inch of them besides – but because He wants us to be involved in caring for/loving them too.

    • Nan Kuhlman on


      Thanks for the additional insight. I like thinking of prayer as a “positive spiritual energy.” I think it reminds us that there is another dimension to this world that we can’t experience through our senses, but is very real. I also like your thought about prayer uniting us (humanity) with each other and with the Father, Son, and Spirit. Love that started with the Triune God travels through us to bless and comfort others.


  4. Steven Sell on

    Thank God that even in are toughest times when we do not have hope in praying that God still knows our heart and feels our suffering. Praying is a wonderful part of our relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.Thanks for reminding us of the goodness of God even when were not feeling it.

    • Nan Kuhlman on


      God’s heart for us and his character are always good, and I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “even when we’re not feeling it.” If we allow our emotions or our circumstances to dictate our view of the Triune God, we will be in turmoil. Our best bet is to go back to the foundation of the world when the Father said that adoption, not destruction, was our destiny, and the Son said, “I’ll go get them.” When we think of the lengths the Triune God took to secure our relationship, our inclusion in their fellowship, we need never doubt that all is well, despite our circumstances.


  5. Anita Onarecker Wood on

    Today is my first time seeing your post. Thank you for recognizing the daring prayer that my husband Dick Onarecer prayed. In his words, he felt compelled to pray a specific 2-part prayer: That God allow the man to live, and that the man have no internal injuries. God specifically answered that way. I believe that the bold prayer and God’s intervention is a huge, often overlooked, part of this story.

    • Nan Kuhlman on

      Hi Anita,
      Thanks for taking time to comment. What a wonderful participation Dick had with the Father, Son, and Spirit in this event! We are inspired by his boldness!

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