Having received some hard and sad news about a dear friend a few days ago, I have started to think a lot about prayer. Sometimes I wonder that if God already is going to do whatever He is going to do, then why on earth do we need to bother praying in the first place!? What's the point!? But after thinking a while on it, here is some of what I came up with.
I certainly do not have all the answers. But in my walk with the Lord and in my relationships with those more mature in their faith, I have come to an understanding about all this that at least comes close to satisfying my human desire for understanding.
I believe that God answers prayers. The Bible says that He does, so I believe it. I have experienced it. I know it to be true in my heart and in my brain. But you see, God does not always answer in the way or in the time frame we want. We can ask, we can be specific with our request, and yes, God answers prayers! But the outcome we hope for, and beseech God for, is not always the outcome God has in mind.
Nor is there at all any Biblical proof that God uses any sort of tally system when answering prayers. He does not have a notebook in which he makes hash marks for each prayer prayed for each specific need, nor does He dole out answers accordingly.
You see, God hears our prayers. But God still does what He, in His sovereignty, is going to do. He listens to our prayers, hears us each and every time we speak to Him. God is affected by our prayers and He wants us to pray.
But God is still God. I firmly believe that our prayers do not change God or His mind, at least not in the way we sometimes think. If He answers our prayers by giving us the outcome we requested, consider that that is because He knew we were going to pray before we ever prayed. He knows the past, present and future all at once. And when God does not answer a prayer the way we wanted to...what of that? What are we to think of that? But I do know that Christians believe that death is not the end. As unbelievably tragic and sad as losing a loved one must be, there is hope beyond this life. I do not think that God wants any person to die and their family to live life without them. And there is no way I believe that any person ever dies because not enough prayers were prayed on their behalf. God is infinite and I just cannot understand His ways. But I do know that He is eternal, and what He allows on earth is viewed by Him from an eternal perspective that we simply cannot fully comprehend.
I do just know that God listens to our prayers. He does not always answer our prayers the way we want him to, but He does answer them. Yet I have no reason to hold the belief that our prayers have power in and of themselves. Our prayers don't change things. God changes things.
Hmmm. If it is God who changes things, then why should we bother to pray? Can more prayers, or very heartfelt prayers, be the impetus in changing God's mind about something? I suppose maybe, but with a twist. See, if God were to change His mind about something*, because of our fervent prayers, it will be something that God already knew would happen. So, although I am certainly not inclined to think that more prayers create a higher likelihood that we will get the outcome from God, I suppose that maybe He changed His mind about what He was going to do, because He already knew that many would pray. And in that case, since He is omniscient, He already knew He would change His mind. So, I am not sure if that truly counts as God changing His mind in the way that we humans mean it. God knows what He is going to do regarding every thing, small and large, that happens in all of our lives from now until the day Jesus returns and we all take up residence somewhere besides earth.
*And there is some Biblical evidence about times when it surely does appear that God did change His mind. But regarding the idea that larger numbers of praying people are more likely to impact God to change His mind? My gut is telling me that God's will doesn't exactly work on a numbers game like we think it might.
Okay, seriously now...then what is the point of prayer!?
Maybe the point of prayer, if it isn't to get God to do what we want, is instead to bring ourselves into alignment with God so that we can be close enough to Him to be okay with what He decides instead of feeling like we need to try to get our way. Maybe the beauty in having lots of people pray is not that the numbers of their prayers will influence God as it is that there is beauty in the number of people who may draw themselves near to God by praying.
Maybe the joy here is in many of us learning to accept God's will and become closer to Him in the process. I fully trust that God is going to do what it best. Additionally, the more people who pray for someone, the more those people who are doing the praying will see God's glory in the outcome, whatever the outcome may be, and be themselves impacted by prayer. It's just that the impact of our prayers might not be just the impact we first imagined.
At some point, I have also found that it's okay to let go of my need to understand everything about God. I can study up on God as much as I want, which of course I ought to, and still never reach ultimate understanding on this earth. That, my friends, is where faith comes in. I want to love God, and, ultimately, to trust that whatever He decides is best for all aspects of my life. To have faith in His ways even when I don't understand. Even when I don't see. Even when things don't make logical sense.
In fact, Jesus said to those on earth who saw Him in the flesh, "Because you have seen Me, you have believed; but blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20:29 (emphasis mine)
I, for one, have never seen Jesus in the flesh. Yet I believe. My faith in Him allows me to overlook seemingly insurmountable human roadblocks to my prayer, as well. If God already knows what He's going to do, then why pray? Well, I pray because God tells me to, and because I believe He hears me. I pray to bring myself into alignment with God's will, and not to try to change God. I pray to communicate with God, and to get to know Him better, for He is my friend. I have faith that Jesus was real, did actual miracles, died on a cross, hears me when I talk to Him and wants to have a relationship with me. And when I have a relationship with someone, I talk to them.
Prayer is simply talking to God. Because He is real.
We can talk to God like we talk with our friends. If we love Him, and have a relationship with God, we will indeed want to chat with Him.
His Will is perfect. He has the perfect timing.