In part 1 of our “Examining the Lord’s Prayer” series, we examined the question “Why should we pray?” In part 2, we explore the questions “Does prayer make a difference?” and “Can we change God with our prayers?”
Does prayer make a difference?
Most of us have had a glimpse of the dark side of life: illness, broken relationships, the death of a loved one, or material loss. And when we turn to God in prayer, we are often met with further disappointment and grief as a result of—as yet—unanswered prayer. Still, we know that we must continue in prayer, “[F]or our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”(Eph 6:12). When we pray, we indeed join the protest against injustice, unrighteousness, pain and suffering—we usher in the Kingdom of God. The famous theologian Karl Barth wrote, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”
That is indeed what we are called to in prayer. Let us reflect for a moment on some biblical examples of prayer:
Daniel and his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were faced with the impossible challenge not just to interpret the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar, but even to reveal to the king what he had dreamt! Realizing “there is no one on earth who can do what the king asks” (Dan 2:10), Daniel explained the matter to his friends and “urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery” (Dan 2:18). God revealed the mystery of the dream to Daniel in a vision at night and unsurprisingly Daniel burst out in praise of God who gives wisdom, knowledge, and power and reveals hidden things.
In an equally riveting time of history, a Jewish exile named Esther and her cousin and guardian Mordecai work to rescue their people from a plot by Haman to destroy them. As a last resort, Queen Esther asked all the Jews in Susa to fast for three days and three nights before she went to the king with her request to save the Jews (Est 4:16)! When Esther approached the king, “he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand” (Est 5:2), stating that he would see to her request and that whatever she asked, would be given to her, even up to half of his kingdom!
Furthermore, during the battle against the Amorites, Joshua prayed to God in the presence of Israel and the “sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day” (Josh 10:13-14) so that the Israelites could overcome their enemy.
When we pray, we ask our time-less creator God to intervene more directly in our time-bound life here on earth. God indeed answers prayer and works miraculous wonders, but usually the Bible emphasizes God’s continuous providence and the accomplishment of his will and purposes through the natural laws of nature and normal human activities!
Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” So, for prayer to be meaningful, we need to honestly confront the third question:
Can we change God with our prayers?
When we pray, we are confronted with a certain tension: if the ways by which God’s name be hallowed, his kingdom come and his will be done are fixed—and God does not change like shifting shadows (being “the same yesterday and today and forever” Heb 13:8)—does it make any sense to pray for a particular matter which might be outside God’s will? How should we pray when we are not even sure what God’s will is?
Jesus says that our Heavenly Father knows what we need, but that we must nevertheless ask for it. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7; Luke 11:9). It is remarkable that in Luke’s Gospel Jesus’ teaching on how to pray (i.e., the Lord’s Prayer in Luk 11:1-4) immediately precedes Jesus’ ask-seek-knock teaching (Luk 11:5-10) where Jesus explains to his disciples that a man’s friend whose door is locked and whose family are all in bed, will get up and him as much bread as he needs, not because of his friendship, but because of his “shameless audacity” to keep on asking (Luk 11:8).
Just a few chapters on, Jesus tells the parable of the widow and the judge (Luk 18:1-8) to “show them that they should always pray and not give up.” The widow kept bothering the judge to the point where he finally said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!” So much more “God will bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night” (Luk 18: 7). So, can we change God with our prayers? You decide!
Jesus not only spoke about prayer, he prayed and taught us by example. Shortly before his crucifixion, we find Jesus on his knees in the garden of Gethsemane, in anguish, praying earnestly—wrestling with God to know his will and submit to that. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luk 22:42). As the anointed One, Jesus knew what God’s will for him was; yet he had to fight the temptation to follow his own way and will as he instructed his disciples before and after his time of prayer on the Mount of Olives, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation” (Luk 22:40,46), echoing the words from his teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount.
Praying in this way confronts me with a choice: God’s will or my will. Praying is choosing—every time: it means laying down my life, taking up my cross, bending my will to align with God’s will, choosing to live for God in the world, becoming more like Christ with every prayer and every passing day…
Mother Teresa understood something about the nature of prayer, “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
Therefore, don’t give up. Keep on praying with shameless audacity that God’s name be hallowed, his kingdom come and his will be done, expecting that you will receive from our Father what you ask for!