Prayer is important. There are over 600 references to it in the Bible. Jesus does it – a lot! Here’s three things prayer changes, and how that could affect how and what you pray:
Prayer changes the intimacy of our relationship with God. There are two major images of God in the Bible; a loving father (e.g. Matthew 6v9) and a wonderful husband (e.g. Hosea). Imagine a child who never speaks to their father; to say thank you for kindness; to ask advice; to joyfully recount a story; to tearfully tell of bullying; or any of the thousand other moments of communication that exist in healthy father-child relationships. Of course it won’t change the fact of who that child’s father was, but it enormously affects the intimacy of that relationship, which would become dry and lifeless. Or imagine a wife who never talks with her husband; never responds to the sweet comments with her own adoration; never pours out her frustrations. It doesn’t change who she is married to, but enormously changes the vitality of that marriage. The quality and quantity of our prayers does not alter the fact God is our father and our husband (that union is because of what Christ has done not what we do), but it does have significant effect on the intimacy of that relationship.
Pause and think: How would viewing prayer as mostly about developing and deepening your relationship with a perfect Father or magnificent Husband (gentlemen you’ll need a bit of gender-gymnastics on that one!) change how you thought and acted? What would you do less of and what more of when it came to praying?
Prayer changes us and others. Prayer is one of the vehicles God uses to move people from their agenda to God’s. People’s hearts are brought into line with God’s. And this is why there are crudely three responses to our prayers. God often says yes, though sometimes having honed our prayer to fit more closely his will. God also responds to our prayers with no because our motives or requests are wrong. Finally, God sometimes responds with not yet. This may be because our request and motives are good but the timing is wrong; or because we need to grow before God can answer that request; or because the greater good for us is to mature in waiting on God rather than have our good request immediately granted.
Pause and Think: If every time you prayed you were conscious that you would be changed or/and someone else would be changed what would that do to how and what you prayed?
God’s agenda is spelt out in detail in the Bible. How does a growing understanding of God from the Bible and an escalating effectiveness in prayer dovetail?
Prayer “changes” God. Our persistence in prayer does not manipulate God or get him to do something he is reluctant to do. Prayer does not change God’s character or ultimate purposes. However, the Bible does occasionally refer to God changing what he had in mind to do in a specific situation, in response to prayer. When God threatened to destroy Israel because of idolatry, Moses prays and God did not act as he threatened (Exodus 32v8-14). Or when God relents from the full measure of destruction on Sodom and Gomorra because of Abraham’s intercession (Genesis 18v22-33). We could phrase it like this; at God’s discretion prayer can bring God’s hand in line with the primary intentions of God’s heart.
What I mean is God longs to bless and love the same people that his justice demands are punished for their rebellion. This is ultimately seen in his sending of Jesus. The examples we have in the Bible of God ‘changing’ his mind are moments when God graciously delays rightful punishment to show generous mercy. At that moment, in that place, in response to heartfelt prayer God chooses to stay his hand of justice in line with his desire that all people know his love. God’s willingness to delay justice to grant people opportunity to know his love is seen in his delaying of Jesus’ great return as Judge of the world; ‘The Lord…is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.’ (2Peter 3v9) In this sense our prayers do not change the character or ultimate intentions of God (the world will still be judged), but in a mysterious way God is willing at times to allow our prayers to momentarily restrain his hand of justice in favour of his hand of mercy in a given situation at a given time. Other points of reference regarding God delaying his justice to continue his mercy in response to prayer include Numbers 14v12-20; Judges 2v18; 2Samuel 24v16; Luke 18v1-8 and several others.
Pause and Think: How does understanding that prayer invites God to restrain his hand of judgement and advance his hand of mercy, within his overall purposes, stimulate how you could pray in the future?
What two actions will you take from this in terms of your praying?