‘Prayer is not for God it is for us’ is one explanation that has a lot going for it. Once we get beyond ‘do this for me’ kind of prayers there is a huge truth in the above. If we are serious about situations changing and begin to address them in prayer it is not normally too long before we discover that the same issues are present in us and need addressing – even if the same issues are not present to the same extent. This is the principle I see in Jesus’ teaching that murder is rooted in anger, adultery in lust, or Paul’s words that idolatry is rooted in greed. One of the principles in strategic prayer (and identificational repentance) is the genuine personal identification and personal repentance that comes through in the identification. It is rare for the prayer to be simply I stand here innocent but I stand in the gap, but more of a ‘we and our ancestors have sinned’.
Prayer changes us, for as we interact with God we find that once we are exposed to his presence we are impacted. Prayer then is certainly for our benefit.
I contend it is also for God’s benefit. Not so he can change (though there are many OT references to God changing his mind after human interaction and dialogue) but so as he can act. The key request / command that the will of God be done on earth as in heaven that we find in the pattern prayer surely indicates that at a very real level for the will of God to be done prayer by followers of Christ is essential. Without the request we can only assume there will be whole aspects where the will of God is not, and will not, be done. Something is released when we pray. We see this with Daniel who prayed fervently but there was a delay, the angel indicated that the prayer released him (her?) to move, but en route there was a necessary battle against opposing forces that took time to resolve. We also see how, in Revelation, that the prayers of the saints rise up to heaven and fill a bowl that once full can be released. No prayer and there is no move forward by the angelic in and through territory occupied by forces of darkness; no prayer and there is no bowl being filled that once outpoured can bring about change.
Prayer of course changes us but it has a major part to play in changing the environment where the prayer is focused. We do not need to adopt an extreme position of God’s mind being changed, as if we can move him from being a hard God to a kinder one (OT) but that he is enabled to do what he was unable to do before the prayer was offered up. This to me is in keeping with ‘the earth he has given to humanity’. This is our jurisdiction, and through wrong choices, both past and ongoing, we have given power to the prince of this world – who has been judged at the cross, and we are to press for that judgement to be visible.
I have many times written that we can never draw a straight line between we prayed this and this happened. To make those claims indicates that we are also claiming to have the full picture. There are so many things we do not know. I had the privilege of praying for a lady who had not walked unaided in 19 years, for 16 of those she had been confined to a wheel chair. The MS had by this stage taken her voice, and her eyesight had also been very badly affected. For whatever reason, I leaned over to the person next to me and said, ‘that woman will walk tonight’. Her story was subsequently written up in one of the national newspapers (sorry to say but it was ‘The Daily Mail’!!).
I visited her later to get the back story. She told me that someone suggested she went to the meeting, but she was very reluctant. She had been prayed for so many times over those many years and had had no improvement so was not looking to expose herself again to any prayer. She inwardly agreed to go only if someone came and directly offered to take her. This subsequently happened.
With regard to all the prayers that went before we might assume they were ineffective, howver in this situation the most likely scenario was that the last prayer was the least effective, but somehow tipped things over.
There are so many things we do not understand and I am certainly not saying that every situation will be resolved if we simply throw more prayer at it. That was the situation for Edith, but we cannot quote one example and make it applicable to every situation. Yet I am suggesting that prayer changes situations that would not change without it. Prayer is not simply for us and our benefit.
I know the frustration of the seeming ineffectiveness of prayer; of being (reluctantly) able to recount where what I have prayed has not received an answer, but in it all I am still pushing to move beyond the passivity of ‘God has everything in control, he knows what is best…’ God has entered our world and is walking with us. His activity might not be totally limited by our response, but it is certainly increased with our partnership. Prayers rise to heaven and one day we will see how it all fitted together.
(Disclaimer: I do not possess the prayer book in the image above the title. (Surprised?) Probably would do me some good to get a prayer book… but that is another story!!)