Thursday, 5 March 2015

Prayer changes things

I am not sure how prayer works. 

I have no doubt that it does - I have seen and experienced too many things in my own life which I have had to see as answers to prayer. But I don't know how it works. 

When Abraham intercedes for Sodom, how does it work? The conversation wrestles back and forth, the numbers game is played, but I for one am none the wiser as to whether the outcome for the city and for Lot is one iota different as a result of the conversation. What I do know is that, through that conversation, God was choosing not to hide but to reveal his plan and purpose and so to share more of himself with his Covenant Man. Who instigates and who responds in the conversation is by no means as simple as we may think at first sight. 

When Elijah prayed for fire from heaven to come on the sacrifice in his battle with Baal, that worked, for sure. But when he prayed for drought, or for rain after the drought, wasn't he simply moulding his words into what God had already said he would do in cursing and blessing his covenant people as they worked out their cycles of disobedience and repentance? What came first, the Prayer or the Word?

When Jesus prayed that the cup might pass from him in the garden, wasn't he expressing the agony of his heart in honesty before God, while knowing that the prayer would not be "answered" in the simplistic sense of the word? He knew that he was walking into a dark valley where it would "please the Lord to bruise him". Nevertheless, he told it like it was, and his prayer was heard, not by the removal of "the cup" but by strengthening in his sufferings. 

In what we call the Lord's Prayer, we are taught to pray along the lines of a range of things where we know what God's ultimate will and purpose will be. His will will be done. His name will be honoured. His kingdom will come. He does forgive our sins. He does provide our bread. The relationship between our asking for these things and the answer is not a simple one. We are praying for what God wants to give - and it is God himself who is teaching us to pray in that way.

The point is that prayer surely changes things, but how that happens is by no means straightforward. God is not a slot machine - pop your prayer in and get your product out. In fact, as one good friend once said, of her own beginnings of God-consciousness, "the only God I could possibly believe in was one who could say 'No' to me."  Even in striking biblical accounts of answered prayer, like Elijah, the content of the prayer and God's answer are all pre-shaped by the prior revelation of his will.  

When we pray, or see someone praying, we are seeing evidence of God at work already. No one truly prays who doesn't know grace, who doesn't have the Spirit. When we pray in conscious awareness of the character and will of God as revealed in scripture, we are orienting our thoughts, like filings near a magnet, to his person and purpose. Or, to put it another way, he is orienting us. 

Because that is how prayer always changes things. Sometimes answers are striking ones - fire on sacrifices, healings, provision for Kingdom projects. Sometimes they are by no means so obvious. But what always happens when we pray is that we become reorientated. We loosen our grip on the value systems and ways of thinking of the world around us, the constantly pressuring mindset of World, Flesh and Devil, and realign, retune to the melody and harmony of our Father and his purposes in Jesus. And that does us more good than words can express. 

Prayer changes things. 

Starting with me. 

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