Over the course of my life I have heard people say, “Prayer changes things.” I have to agree. I believe that. The question that has often lingered in my mind though is this: What exactly is being changed? It is very easy to say that prayer changes things, but when you do not know what is being changed how can we benefit.
Because of my pastor’s emphasis on prayer in his current sermon series, I have found myself thinking on this subject regularly. As much as I would like to think that I pray as I should, I know it is not the case. As Pastor David was preaching this past week I wrote down this simple phrase.
Prayer is about Preparation
As I have thought about this over the last several days I have found that prayer does change things. What I have failed to realize is the changes serve a greater purpose than I have ever understood. There are at least three individuals or groups that are changed as we pray. I would like to look at each one of these in order.
1. The Person Praying Needs to be Prepared
Prayer prepares me for what God will do. Whenever I fail to pray through an issue with God I am missing out on what I will need to receive and use what God sends to me when he answers. If there is any one person that needs to change as a result of prayer it is me. One of the most confounding realities that James writes about is the fact that prayers go unanswered, not because God does not what to answer them, but because we are asking for things that do no conform to the plans and purposes of God. When we pray amiss, what we are doing is asking God to accept our petitions as his own. We want God to approve of what we have been doing, instead of asking God to allow us into what he is doing.
I need to be changed through my prayers. I am the one that must realize that I am not where I need to be. I am not what I need to be. I am the one that gets in the way of what God is up to. Until I see prayer as the way that God is going to change me and prepare me for what he is going to send, I will continue to try and convince God of my plans.
I have to understand that prayer is less about God than about us. We are the ones who tend to think that God owes us in some way. We are the ones struggling with sin. We are the ones who have to deal with the effect of evil. We are the ones that suffer the loss of loved ones, health and opportunity. How in the world would God understand any of this. When we pray he should be ready to answer us and give us what we have requested.
This is not prayer. I am not sure what to call it, but prayer–that’s not it.
Prayer forces us to change and adjust our attitudes. Prayer reveals our dependency on God, our personal inadequacies and the prideful disposition. Without prayer we will not be able to overcome these things. We have to pray, if for no other reason, to be reminded that God is God and we are not.
2. The Circumstances Need to be Prepared
One of the great mysteries of prayer and praying is how God orchestrates the circumstances that will bring about the answer. As a Wesleyan I believe that God has given to humanity volition, the ability to make choices. And, because I believe in God’s total and sovereign rule over creation I believe that God is the one “moving” the pieces into proper alignment. So, the question becomes this, How does God do this? What is God doing that binds prayer and his intervention together?
If we take the first premise that God has to prepare the one praying, then whatever happens next will not violate this very important reality. All analogies will break down at some point, but I offer one that was given to me by my dad. All of my life, I remember my dad referring to prayer and praying as the completion of puzzles. My mother has loved putting puzzles together for as long as I can remember. She has a system. She would get a large piece of cardboard and dump all of the pieces together. She would then find the edge pieces and, using the cover of the box, start arranging the pieces. Then the interior pieces were organized and arranged by color and composition into the general area they should. Now, she would not try to finish one section. She would work on one area and then when her eyes grew tired she would switch to another. She would repeat this process over and over, making progress, depending on the number of pieces in the puzzle. The larger the puzzle the longer the project.
If my dad is correct, and prayers are like puzzles, the God is the one organizing the pieces. He is the one moving and arranging and gathering. The more complicated the prayer, the longer the time we have to pray to see it completed. So, what happens if we stop praying? I believe that God works on the puzzle as long as we are working on praying because the primary purpose of pray is to change us, the one praying. Therefore, if we are no longer praying, then we are no longer changing and God is going to wait until we get back into the game (so to speak).
3. The Audience Needs to be Prepared
The final area, after we have been change and the circumstances have been prepared, is the audience that will witness the results of prayer and God’s provision. There is always someone to see and testify to the glory of God’s providence. Even if there is only one person, there is an audience that will not be ready to tell what they have seen.
Over and over again in the bible we see Jesus healing someone, raising the dead, or performing some miracle and what does he say to the people? He tells them not to say anything. I always find it funny that the first thing they end up doing is EXACTLY what Jesus said not to do. How could they not? Their lives were never going to be the same. They had just witnessed something that should not have been possible. And here it is. There prayers have been answered.
I mentioned a couple of days ago that when my grandfather was saved, my grandmother was also converted. His transformation could only be attributed to the miraculous. That miracle was the product of God’s gracious response to the prayers of my mom and dad. Our fervency in prayer reveals out commitment to God and our ability and willingness to be transformed by the God who answers prayer.