Prayer, Does It Change Things?

Prayer, Does It Change Things?

By Rubel Shelly

Published in LoveLines (July 29, 1993)

Does Prayer Change Anything?

A disappointed and, in my opinion, angry lady put the question to me recently. After praying with such intensity about a difficult situation in her son's life only to see his family fall apart, she was grieving both his loss and her heartache. She was wondering aloud whether or not there is any real purpose to prayer.

Indeed, there is power in prayer. The assurance of the Scripture is still that the prayers of God's people are "powerful and effective" (Jas. 5:16b).

For one thing, prayer can change one's circumstances. The context of the verse cited above has James assuring his first-century readers that prayers offered in faith can both make sick people well and forgive sins.

One of the most dramatic cases of such prayer is the Old Testament story of Abraham's intercession for Sodom. His nephew, Lot, had settled his family in that wicked city. When God determined that it was to be destroyed, Abraham began intercessory prayer on the city's behalf. His primary concern, of course, was for his own family.

The outcome was that Lot, his wife, and their two daughters were given the chance to escape the city before its overthrow. The story ends with these words: "So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived" (Gen. 18:16--19:29).

More important than the power of prayer to change circumstances is its power to change the one who prays. If prayer functioned as some of us think it should (i.e., a guarantee of changed circumstances), it would be an evil thing. It would corrupt us, make us shamelessly selfish, and reduce God to nothing more than a wish-granting genie.

Perhaps more often than not, one's life circumstances will not be altered simply because they are unpleasant. They are serving some purpose that we cannot see at the time. They are accomplishing the divine will in an indirect way by disciplining us. They are mellowing us and teaching us to trust God through the dark hours.

Was Paul a righteous man? Did he pray fervently to have his "thorn" removed? God chose not to change Paul's circumstances but to change Paul! "My grace is sufficient for you," was the answer Paul got, "for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). What Paul received through learning to depend on God was more significant to his spiritual growth than healing.

So don't doubt the power of prayer, and don't stop praying. But allow God the freedom to answer you in the way most appropriate to your true need. It may be your heart rather than your situation that needs transformation.

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