What’s The Purpose of Prayer?: Prayer Changes The World

If one lives honestly with the world that they see around them, it is impossible not to see how much struggle and need that there is around them. In our moments of powerlessness, sometimes all we have is prayer. In our prayers we seek, we ask, we knock, because we need to find the God who seems absent in the world around us. Sometimes we are so in love with the life that we have that the only compassionate thing to do is pray and to do so without cease.

There are some people who don’t believe in things like spiritual warfare, angels, and demons. They think that when Jesus prayed casting out demons, he was curing “the possessed” of some psychological condition. While others who believe in spiritual warfare (which would I would affirm), Jesus prayed to rebuke their demons. Regardless of where one stands on this issue, in the ministry of Jesus, it seems of the utmost importance that Jesus used prayer to liberate the world of its suffering.

When we pray it seems that we ought to do it with a sense of this liberation. We pray to God for healing, for some form material intervention (unexpected money, personal need), for the release of tension in the world around us. And, it seems consistent that the God of the Bible is the one who’s work is to liberate us from the decay of the world. Prayer serves a pivotal role in the Gospel of reconciling all things. In this way, our prayers are a form of spiritual activism.

This type of writing can not be escaped without someone asking why God heals some and not others. Why does intervene “here“ but not “there“? For those of you with that question, I recommend Greg Boyd (an excerpt from his website):

Question: If God always does the most that he can in every tragic situation, as you claim in Satan and the Problem of Evil, how can you believe that prayer increases his influence, as you also claim? It seems if you grant that prayer increases God’s influence, you have to deny God was previously doing the most he could do before people prayed.

Answer: I don’t believe there’s any inconsistency believing that God always does the most God can do, on the one hand,  and believing that prayer sometimes changes God’s mind, on the other, if one believes, as I do, that God has bound himself to work within the variables the condition free will. One of the most important of these variables, I believe, is prayer. As I argue in Satan and the Problem of Evil, because God wants a “bride” who co-rules with him on earth (Rev. 5:10), he has set up things such that, to some degree, his will shall not be done except when his bride aligns her will with his in prayer. Since he’s all good, God is always doing the most he can do to maximize the good and minimize the evil. But God’s involvement in the world is genuinely conditioned by the prayers of his people. When they pray, God can do more than he was doing previously. This isn’t about him gaining more power. It’s about God creating a world in which agents genuinely share power and responsibility with him.

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2 thoughts on “What’s The Purpose of Prayer?: Prayer Changes The World

  1. Tim says:

    Seriously, this is a subject I have struggled with since I was in high school. I still don’t understand certain aspects. You brought up the idea that we have the power to change God’s mind. Scripture says that if we have the faith of a mustard seed that we can move mountains, which if taken a certain way says that in order to see things happen it would require works. Which leads to the thought that if I don’t have enough faith then my aunt will die of cancer. Yet at the same time Jesus shows us very clearly how to pray. “Your will be done” is used by Christians (including myself) all the time creating a safety net that whatever the outcome it was in God’s hands. My question: are we to have more authority in prayer believing that it will happen? Or do we pray “whatever happens was meant to happen?”

    • Mike Friesen says:

      Tim,
      I believe that God seems to change his mind (whether it was predestined or not). You can read things like Jonah where God says that will destroy Ninevah, then decides not to. You read things like Hezekiah where God says he’s going to kill him but then grants him more years. Whether this was all part of the plan (some would say) or God actually changed his mind (other would say), it’s the responsibility of us to pray.

      I don’t adhere to the “God killed my aunt because I didn’t have the faith” argument. When you read things like Daniel 10 (angel got stuck in the spiritual realm) or Matthew 17:21 which says it’s prayer and fasting that only some things can be liberated through, in my eyes, sometimes bad things happen and God didn’t will it. Sometimes as free people, we do bad things to others. Or, somethings like the butterfly effect that say what we did 25 years ago created a ripple effect that changed our future. To me, to say that God willed the Holocaust is kind of a slam against God’s character. Sometimes, bad things happen and we don’t know why.

      Hope that answers the question (I may have created a bunch more).

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