Does Prayer Really Change Things?
Many people operate out of a blueprint model where God is viewed as absolutely unchanging, and all that occurs in the world is the unfolding of an eternal divine plan. If this is the case, then the purpose of prayer is to change us, not to change things.
While prayer does change us, the Bible presents a perspective very different than the blueprint model. Prayer really does change things. Scripture teaches that God created a world in which he has significantly bound himself to the prayers of his people.
For instance, in Ezekiel 22:29-31, we see God responding to the sins of his people. He didn’t want to judge them and he sought for someone to prevent it. The Lord spoke as though there were a wall protecting his people from judgment, but the wall was being eroded by their sin. He sought someone to repair this wall and stand in the place where it was breaking so that the judgment wouldn’t come.
He was looking for someone to “stand in the breach” which refers to, or at least includes, intercessory prayer. After all, Scripture is full of examples of individuals and groups changing God’s plan to judge people through intercessory prayer (e.g., Num 11:1-2; 14:12-20; 16:20-35; Deut 9:13-14; 2 Sam 24: 17-25; Jer 26:19).
Let’s look at one example:
Therefore [the Lord] said he would destroy [the Israelites]—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
to turn away his wrath from destroying them. (Ps 106:23)
The prayer of Moses changed God’s plan (Ex 32:10-14). We need to take this teaching very seriously. In Exekiel 22, the Lord doesn’t say that prayer would have changed a person’s attitude about God’s judgment. The Lord says that prayer would have enabled God to withhold judgment. In light of this, it’s difficult to avoid concluding that God has sovereignly designed the world such that prayer significantly influences him and the world.
Jesus confirms this. He taught us to pray that his Father’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven (Mt 6:10). The teaching only makes sense if God’s will is not already being accomplished on earth. Moreover, it only makes sense if our prayer actually helps bring about God’s will on earth. Prayer doesn’t just change our attitude toward God’s will: it releases it on the earth.
In addition, Jesus instructed us to ask God for things, promising us that they would be given (e.g., Mt 7:7; Jn 14:13-16). Prayer doesn’t just change our disposition about what we have or don’t have. It affects what we have or don’t have. Similarly, Jesus commanded us to pray with tireless persistence—as though God doesn’t want to hear and answer our prayer (Lk 11:5-13; 18:1-8). This teaching assumes that the more we pray, the more good is accomplished, not just in us but in the world. Indeed, Jesus taught that prayer can move mountains. It doesn’t just change our attitudes toward mountains!
—Adapted from Is God to Blame? pp. 126-128.
Image by babasteve via Flickr
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