Prayer Changes…

Prayer Changes… October 31, 2013

We’ve started talking about prayer in my Sunday school class.

Many Christians use the phrase “prayer changes things.” And some people at my church certainly would. But some in the class last Sunday also had qualms.

There is a long history of Christians thinking that God will always do what is best, and so asking God to do something else makes no sense – and even if God listened, it would result in something less optimal!

There are also those who think that it is problematic from the perspective of Jesus’ teaching about prayer – we treat it as though we expect to make a difference because we use many words or pray more often.

And there are those who think that it leads to dubious statements interpreting God’s alleged actions, which can hurt those who may have prayed just as much or more and yet had things turn out much less well.

But most would agree that prayer can change the one praying. It can express concern, quiet the mind, calm the nerves, and help turn one’s focus outwards from self to others and beyond to a perspective that includes the ultimate, even if it cannot grasp or encompass it.

I’ll leave it at that for now. What are your thoughts on prayer, if any?

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  • Just Sayin’

    Fine in theory but in practice it all goes out the window. In real life we expect God to change things (external to ourselves) and believe he is powerful enough to do so. Often, that’s why we pray.

    • Brian P.

      Personally, I haven’t said a prayer like that for about a decade. In practice.

  • Joshua Smith

    @nbooks:disqus beat me to the punch! In a recent sermon, Greg Boyd recalls the dramatized conversation between CS Lewis and one of his colleagues in the film, The Shadowlands, in which Lewis claims piously, “Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me.” Sure, prayer does change us, but that’s not why we pray, is it?

    Boyd’s sermon, “God Needs Prayer”:

  • Whatever the effect of prayer, why do Chrisitans ignore what Jesus said about the practice of prayer? Whatever happened to praying in the closet?

    Matthew 6:5-6
    And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

    • Jakeithus

      Why do Christians ignore the Bible’s clear instructions to “pray without ceasing”? (1 Thess 5:17) What ever happened to praying all day, every day

      I get your point, I just always personally find it frustrating when individuals take it upon themselves to tell others how to pray. From the verse you quoted, it seems like motivation is the key (so that they may be seen by others). I have no special insight into the motivation behind what I’m seeing above, I don’t think anyone does, so maybe criticism isn’t always warranted.

      (I also believe there are recorded instances of Jesus praying in public. It’s not such an easy subject to proof text in this way.)

      • Matthew 6 begins:

        “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

        Given Tebow’s bible verse eye-blacking, the fact that there are many places and times he could choose to kneel and pray other than a public spotlight with thousands in the stands and millions of television viewers, and given the numerous copy-cat memes sharing the media spot-light, I find it highly doubtful that piety isn’t being displayed before others to be seen by them.

        Jesus publicly prayed when people gathered on hillsides to hear him speak. Individuals pray in church for the shared purpose of offering a prayer with and on behalf of all who gathered, in part, for that specific purpose.

        Tebow and all those who copy his example are taking advantage of public sports forums, open to all people of all beliefs, to display their piety before others to be seen by them. I don’t for one second believe that these are private little moments with God, that we just happen to catch on camera.

        • Jakeithus

          I never said that what Tebow does is simply private little moment with God, they are obviously public by the very nature of where they take place. But there is nothing inherently wrong with public displays of faith and prayer. I personally don’t believe that his reasoning behind it is to show off how pious he is and receive praise from others for doing so, which is at the heart of what Jesus warns against.

          If his motivation is mainly for people to see how pious he is, that’s between him and God. If it is the heartfelt way in which he gives thanks and praise to God, then who are we to question?

          • I am less concerned about Tebow’s personal relationship with God, than I am with how the Christian media puts his displays on a pedestal and raves over it, and encourages others to mimic it. Whatever, Tebow’s personal motivations, when Christians copy him and Christian media outlets facebook him – it is, without doubt, piety displayed to be seen by men. Prayer posture displayed on the internet has nothing to do with any NT purpose for prayer.

          • Jakeithus

            Maybe I’m sheltered from the worst offenses of Christian media since I do not live in the US of A, but what you describe hasn’t been my experience. Probably explains part of our different thoughts on the matter.

            There are far greater things to commend Tebow for than his prayer posture, although from what I’ve seen more people criticize him for it or use it in a joking manner than commend him for it.

          • No argument from me on Tebow’s character; I don’t know him; but I remain critical of the gesture.

  • In my course on the psalms, I explore the possibilities of prayer through these conversations. There are no simple answers – except the one Jacques Ellul gave to the question :why should we pray. We pray because we are commanded to. Let’s hope for the life of the world that we learn what it means.

  • Gary

    OK. Reality check. The cause of people leaving religion. “But most would agree that prayer can change the one praying.” You pray for one to live. They die. Then you get the crap that God wanted them for another purpose. I do not think so.

  • $41348855

    Philip Clayton deals with this issue in his book, “The Predicament of Belief”. He argues against the possibility that God might intervene physically in the world. He does this not on scientific grounds but on theological grounds. According to Clayton, God has a choice between intervening constantly and never intervening. Intervening occasionally isn’t an option. This is because occasional miracles would be arbitrary. If a hundred people are terminally ill and God saved one of them it would be arbitrary and senseless.

    Clayton does allow for one exception to this rule: God can influence people’s minds. That’s why Clayton still thinks of himself as a Christian. He doesn’t think that God physically raised Jesus from the dead, since that would violate the rule, but he does think God caused the disciples to see Jesus after his death.