Prayer Changes Things … In Surprising Ways

Last week I saw a friend’s Facebook post that said, “I don’t pray to change the circumstances but to align myself with God’s will in the circumstances.”

This is a great example of the mental gymnastics needed to make the Christian concept of prayer actually work. If you re-define the purpose of prayer to something intangible, you’ve diminished the probably of disappointment.

Now, I don’t want to presume I have the first clue how my friend arrived at that concept. What I can speak to is I had a similar coping mechanism back in the day … and I can tell you exactly how it developed.

ID-10095434I was what Christians call a prayer warrior. I studied prayer, (my favorite author was Richard Foster). I taught prayer, wrote bible studies on the topic, was the leader of our prayer team and practiced prayer daily. If you’d have stopped me on the street and asked for prayer, I’d have grabbed your hands and ushered you into the throne room on the spot.

I was as close to the 1st Thessalonians cry to “pray without ceasing” as I could’ve gotten.

With that type of life style, where everything is bathed in prayer on a daily basis, one is sure to experience disappointment. Big ones, small ones, confusing ones and tragic ones. And one must learn to cope and still keep God faithful.

As the leader of our prayer team, I learned something critical early on: There’s a difference between private prayers you utter when no one else hears VS prayers the whole group prays out loud together.

prayer1There’s accountability when people pray together. And when a group has corporately gone to God seeking help, intervention, comfort or whatever, then the group members begin actively looking for His answer. When someone comes back to the group claiming to have seen His answer, the group will confirm it without further vetting. Praises and hallelujah’s will follow.

But when God has seemingly ignored our prayers, we face a dilemma.

And THIS is where the quote comes in handy: “I don’t pray to change the circumstances but to align myself with God’s will in the circumstances.” 

At the beginning of my tenure as prayer team leader, I could oft be heard saying, “Prayer changes things.” Toward the end of my time as prayer team leader seven years later, I’d adopted the idea that while God does indeed change circumstances sometimes, the real point and purpose of prayer is for God to change US. His children. “Circumstances we can handle,” I’d say, “the REAL benefit is how prayer changes us from the inside.”

ID-100350267Unanswered prayer over time was beginning to wear me down. It wasn’t just the 7 prayer team years … but those years were especially difficult because the members of the team looked to me for guidance.

Week after week we met together and when faced with a prayer-failure, we’d work to create valid reasons for why it wasn’t actually a fail but instead, God’s will in the circumstances. 

Most times, we’d simply tell each other that God’s answer was, “No.” That ended any doubt and further conjecture. We could go on believing He was still actively hearing our prayers.

But how long could I continue to ignore the facts? How long could I continue to fabricate excuses for God’s incessant “No’s”?

It’s ironic, too in that the phrase I’ve quoted is simply not biblical. Jesus said to ask whatever you will and he will do it. The book of James promises that the prayer of faith will save the sick. These promises were made. But what do we do when these promises are left unrealized?

Not praying to change circumstances but only to change our will is nothing more than a cop out.

I’d be untruthful if I said that I believe prayer is completely ineffectual. Even though I am no longer a Christian, I see that prayer may help people concentrate and focus on the desired prize and therefore, it may help them more easily attain certain goals. After all, you tend to hit the target you’re focused on.

But that’s about the mind, not a spiritual force at work. Meditation could serve the same purpose, so could a vision board, for that matter. Which in my opinion would be a healthier view of the world around us. 

It would appear that my Facebook friend faced disappointment and disillusionment with prayer. This may be his way around doubt and disbelief in the same way that it became mine.

Prayer can certainly change things. But in surprising ways. If you don’t pray to change circumstances, then you aren’t dismayed when God doesn’t change them. If you only pray to change your attitude, you have the power within you to answer your own prayer. And you probably will if that’s your aim.

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2 thoughts on “Prayer Changes Things … In Surprising Ways

  1. With your insights into social dynamics, I think you’re wasting your potential if you never go into sociology.

    By the way, did you guys have anything like mystical prayer techniques? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quietism_(Christian_philosophy) There’s a relevant method in the Eastern Orthodox Church, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hesychasm To me, those are clearly pre-Christian pagan mystical and philosophical practices, more or less badly incorporated into Christianity.

    Which makes me wonder if the very early Christians didn’t mean that you’d get any actual physical rewards for your prayers but that Jesus would always reward you with spiritual states of mind and tranquillity instead. Which would be exactly the same kind of thinking you just described, albeit without the more mystical aspects.

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  2. Ha! Maybe I missed my “calling” by skipping sociology in college! ;o)

    I personally dabbled a tad in the contemplative prayer concept of Madame Guyon although this was never taught to me from the pulpit or any bible study. The quieting of the soul for prayer is also a concept explored a bit in Richard Foster’s book on prayer … although it’s been some years since I read that so I don’t recall the details.

    Christianity is brimming with pagan mystical practices, can’t imagine how prayer couldn’t be as well.

    I get what you’re saying that early Christians may have had a more mystical intent, but we certainly didn’t interpret it that way by what we read through scripture. In fact, their intention seemed obvious to me. Keep in mind, I was a young, idealistic, naive Christian, but to me, when Jesus said, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it,” I thought that meant to expect answers. When I read that he said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…” I believed we could expect to see miraculous works since he was all about miracles.

    It’s a simple view, I know. But even our full-gospel teachers and preachers were making a big deal out of expecting physical manifestations of god. So-much-so, if we didn’t see miracles, WE were lacking faith or had sin in our lives! It’s the concept of serving the living, breathing, active god who’s at work in the lives of his children.

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