I used to have a wood carving on my office wall that read, "Prayer Changes Things." It was an ornate carving, one that even looked kind of religious. It used to be a reminder that praying really did matter; prayer really did "change things."
So lately, I've been wondering. What kind of "things" are really changed when we pray? I'm wondering because I really think the answer to this questions makes all the difference in the world.
Now I've heard some well meaning Christians approach the question like this. God is all-knowing and all-powerful [but apparently the all-knowing part seems to be more important]. When we approach God in prayer, we do so seeking to align ourselves with "the plan of God." In essence, this kind of thinking tells us that the "things" that are changed are really internal to ourselves - our hopes, dreams, and what is often called "our heart." [This ideology can inherently lead to a self-centeredness and a subtle form of dualism, but that is for another post.]
So I wonder, within this kind of thinking are things really changed when we pray? Do our prayers substantively change the course of things, or do they merely change how we perceive things, without truly changing them?
What I find fascinating is that nowhere to my knowledge is prayer ever described as it is above in the scriptures. When God's people came before God, they appeared to believe that the course of history could literally be altered. Judgment was not the final word. Exile was not the final word. Prayer did change things. It could bring about a course change or a course correction in how the story played out.
Now if you're shaking our head right now consider this. Psalm 106.21-23 makes this astounding claim:
They forgot God, their Savior,
who had done great things in Egypt,
wonderous works in the land of Ham,
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
Therefore he said he would destroy them -
had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him,
to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
According to this text, Moses literally changes the course God was going to take with the nation of Israel. If he had not done this, the text intimates that God would have gone ahead with the destruction of his people. Fascinating.
Now I know that positing that God's mind can be changed is dangerous territory for some, as is the thought of the future having an open-endedness to it. Yet the fact remains. Does not the ability of God to have his mind changed, or the possibility of the course of the future being altered lie in direct relation to the issue of prayer? Can we truly believe that prayer substantively changes things and not wrestle with these ideas? [I find it odd that while we often find division here, the ancients of the scriptures felt at ease with the tension.]
I just don't think issues like these are as easy as some people make them out to be. [But isn't that the way it so often is?]
So I guess the question remains, Does prayer really change things, or not?
Once again, just thinking out loud.