What Does Prayer Change?
July 3, 2012 § 2 Comments
They say “prayer changes things”, but what does that mean exactly? Who or what is truly changed by our requests made to God? In numerous places throughout Scripture, we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) and reassured that “He hears us.” (1 John 5:14). We know that God answers prayer with either “yes,” “no” or “wait.” Jesus says, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:14)
PRAYER DOESN’T CHANGE GOD
It seems that our prayers have the power to change the will of God. But do we really pray to a God who would bend to our requests? Our immutable Creator Himself says, “I the Lord do not change.” (Malachi 3:6) Can an unchanging God change His mind?
In Jeremiah 26:19, God appears to change His mind.
“Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and the Lord changed His mind about the misfortune which He had pronounced against them?”
Some scholars have pointed out that nacham, the Hebrew term for “change his mind”, can mean just that, but more often it means to change direction.
God’s omniscience and His perfect foreknowledge of what Hezekiah did, and what Hezekiah was going to pray, enables God’s will to include how He will answer prayer. In other words, when God changes our situation in response to our prayer, our prayers haven’t really changed His will. But before our prayers are even offered, God has already planned to change His course of action according to His ultimate plan. God knows everything all along.
PRAYER CHANGES US
This might prompt us to wonder why God urges us to pray when our prayers and His responses are already planned out. Why doesn’t He just act out His will from the start since He isn’t going to allow us to change His mind about it anyway? Why entertain the requests?
Because God desires a relationship with us, and relationships are grown through trust. As Christians, we should yearn to be closer to God, and we are closer to someone if we trust them. Prayer is one way of practicing and nurturing trust in God.
When we pray for answers, we trust that He is El-Roi—God who sees. When we pray for forgiveness, we trust that He is El-Nahsah—God who forgives. When we need His protection, we trust that He is Yahweh Nissi—the God who is our Banner. When we need healing, we trust that He is Jehovah-Rapha—the Lord that heals. When we need peace, we trust that He is Jehovah-Shalom—which means God is peace. When we ask God for anything at all, we are naturally trusting in the idea that He is strong enough, wise enough, caring enough to provide it. And trust strengthens any relationship.
There are conditions to God’s response to prayer, as James 4:3 warns: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” What are the right motives for prayer? The right motive is to ask for things that God would want. In others words, praying according to the will of God. In Matthew 6:10, Jesus teaches us to pray to the Father, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done…” Trust is built when we desire God’s will be done in our prayers, even when it isn’t what we were expecting or wanting for ourselves.
Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)
Prayer doesn’t change God’s will; it changes ours by bringing us closer to Him. By wanting what our loving God wants, we see our thinking renewed and transformed, walking in step with Him. Is there a greater blessing we could expect if we were to pray in our own will?
I think of prayer as a way of communicating with God. The act of communication (not just the content) strengthens the relationship
I know that Dave loves me, but I still like to hear him tell me. Even though God knows what is in our hearts, I think he still likes to hear it from us.
Absolutely, and I was wrong to leave that part out. God’s word is His communication to us, and our prayers are communication with Him. If one is missing, the relationship suffers (and we all know which part tends to be missing).