Does prayer change things? It is a common question. What’s more is that it is a question that both believers and unbelievers share, and this is a sad thing. I have atheist friends who say that they have prayed and nothing changed. I have believing friends who pray and are discouraged because nothing changes. This begs the question within all of us. Does prayer change things?
My short answer: no, it doesn’t. Let me explain. As christians we believe in God’s sovereignty and with that we believe that he has complete, total, and true knowledge of everything, which would include those future events. We would even agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith when it says: “God—the great Creator of all things—upholds, directs, disposes, and governs all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least. He exercises this most wise and holy providence according to his infallible foreknowledge and the free and unchangeable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.”
With this in view lets ask the question again, does prayer change things? No. It cannot. Why? Because God has determined all that would happen before it happens. Scripture is clear that God cannot and will not be changed.
God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19 ESV)
But then does God answer prayer? Yes! His answers, whether yes or no, depend solely upon his will and his nature and not our own. We struggle with this. This is sanctification; that continual change from one degree of holiness to another, from the mind of the flesh to the mind of the spirit. We struggle with the fact that we are not sovereign and God’s will does not depend on us.
Our response is often, “But the bible says if I ask in his name he will give me anything!” Exactly how I quoted that verse is exactly how most of us hear it. In fact, the verses in John 14 says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Often our response is, “But I did say ‘in Jesus name’ at the end!”
When Jesus tells us to ask in his name he is asking us to pray in accordance with his will and thus the fathers will as well. Notice the reason for our asking and Jesus’ giving, it is that the Father may be glorified in the son! The purpose of any prayer is to glorify the Father and this happens when we pray in accordance with his will and not our own. God’s yes and God’s no depends on his holy will, not ours.
Prayer does not change things, it does change you, the individual. When we pray we are not changing the will of God, we are changing, by his power, the very mind with in us. When we pray, the thing that is changing is our thoughts, heart, and intentions. Our mind is being changed from the will of the flesh to the will of the Spirit and we begin to come inline with God’s will. When he answers yes, we have asked in his will, when we have answered no, we have not. But these answers are not instantaneous. Sometimes the yes’s are no’s for a while. All in all it depends on God’s holy will.
I will leave you with the words of saint Paul in Philippians 4:6-8
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.