Does prayer really change things?


For the week of November 22, 2014/29 Heshvan 5775
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 25:19-28:9
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 20:18-42

Praying for Change

And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. (Bereshit/Genesis 25:21)

Praying for Change

Have you ever heard anyone say, "Prayer doesn't change things; prayer changes you"? It sounds so wise and spiritual to shift people's attention from what appears to be a utilitarian approach to prayer to an inner personal one. But is it true? Ask Isaac. Abraham's son's wife Rebekah was having trouble getting pregnant. So he prayed. I guess it could have been Isaac who changed if the problem was him, not his wife. But even then, they had an issue. Isaac asked God for help. God granted his request. Not only did she get pregnant, they had twins!

I don't claim to understand prayer or how it works. But as far as the Bible is concerned, prayer indeed changes things. It doesn't take expert analytical skills to discover this. Person or persons find themselves in undesirable circumstances. God is petitioned for help. Sometimes he responds as desired. Problem solved. Therefore prayer changes things.

I know it's not the prayer that does the changing. It's God. Prayer is not a mechanism. It's communication; communication with God, the Master of the Universe, who, out of love for his human creatures, makes himself available to us and actually responds to our requests. While it's God who does the changing, his actions on our behalf in these cases are as a result of our communication.

I can't say for sure, but I think that pithy statements, such as "prayer doesn't change things; prayer changes you" exposes a deep cynicism on the part of some people who assert faith in God. This obviously is not something that someone says who has experienced regular answers to prayer. It can only come from those who haven't. They can't deny prayer as a legitimate activity derived from the Bible, but their disappointment twists God's Truth into a spirituality of their own making.

There could be other factors undermining their ability to take the Scriptures at face value. Philosophically it is difficult to understand how God's actions unto humans could be dependent on our requests. Doesn't God do what God does regardless? So why pray? As I already mentioned, I don't understand how prayer works; I just know it does as modeled by Isaac and others in the Bible. And by the way, how could prayer change us if it doesn't change things, unless the change is only to do with the exercise of praying and nothing to do with God at all. If praying is not communication with God, I don't know what it is, but it's certainly not prayer.

I do concede however that this statement is half true: prayer indeed changes us (again, it's not the prayer doing the changing; it's God). It's important, however, to understand how that works (this much I think I know): Prayer as communication with God is similar to a child's communication with a parent. When one of my children vocalizes a need, they invite interaction. A good, wise, and loving parent (which I try to be) doesn't respond with "Yeah, yeah, whatever you like;" or "don't bother me!" but rather engages the child by clarifying the request and granting it only if it is in the best interest of the child. This interactive process initiated by the child but directed by the parent should result in some level of learning and growth for the child. It is in this sense, that we could say that the child's request changes him or her; but only in the sense that the parent influences that change.

But what kind of parent would be so focused on the maturity of their child that they would only use their requests as occasions for a lesson of some sort, and never actually give them what they ask for? Yeshua the Messiah refers to the general generosity of parents when he says, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:11). This doesn't mean God automatically grants every request, just because we ask. He is an all-loving, all-wise Father, who also knows when to say, "No." But we won't get any answer if we don't ask.

Want to see some things change and be changed in the process? Pray.

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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