By Brittany Rust, Crosswalk.com
I had never prayed before the moment I prayed for salvation. I was sixteen years old and heard the Gospel for the first time, knowing immediately I wanted Jesus. And so, I prayed, offering words to a Savior I barely knew but wanted to follow desperately.
Realizing quickly that prayer was an important aspect of the believer’s life, I wanted to know more. Our youth group held a time before Wednesday night service when teenagers could come an hour early and pray. It was called Warfare Prayer and I went to each because I wanted to learn how to pray.
My youth pastor at the time, Scotty Gibbons, often said, “The battle is won in prayer.” So, I battled.
I came to Christ with a lot of hurt and bondage—anger issues, sexual sin, and stronghold—and I desperately needed freedom. So, when I heard that the battle is won in prayer, I battled hard. And God heard my prayers!
Within the next two years, at altars seemingly built just for me in those intimate moments, I found freedom from those strongholds and healing in my broken areas. God answered many prayers and did the seemingly impossible right before my eyes! My faith was strengthened through answered prayer in those early years.
But then I started feeling as if my prayers fell on deaf ears. Prayers were no longer being answered in the way I wanted them to as often as I’d like them to. I wrestled with God and wondered what was happening. Why were my prayers no longer being answered?
Since then, I’ve learned so much about prayer. And I’ve been asked many questions about prayer. One of the most common: if God ultimately decides the outcome, why should I pray?
Changing God or the Circumstances?
Before I answer that question it’s important to differentiate between two thoughts: changing God’s mind and changing the circumstances. While they might sound like similar questions, they are indeed two very different ones.
When we ask if our prayers change God’s mind, we wonder if there is room for God to change based on our actions. And the answer is, no. The reason being, God has already determined His plans and because He doesn’t change, nor do His plans. In addition, to change His mind would mean that God’s original plan wasn’t best for that situation; that there was room for improvement. But that wouldn’t be in His nature either.
However, can our prayers change the circumstances? Yes, they can. Knowing beforehand how our actions and prayers would lend to a shift in the outcome, God planned it accordingly. In His perfect timing and place, God answers our prayers for His glory!
So, why do we pray? If God has already determined what He will do, what’s the point? There are three important aspects of prayer we must consider:
1. We are called to pray.
Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians that it is God’s will we should pray without ceasing. But rather than literally pray 24/7, he means we should have a heart, lifestyle, and attitude to pray. That our first inclination should be to talk to Him.
In the drop-off line at school, on our way to work, while we’re doing the dishes, and when we have a moment to breathe, may our thoughts turn towards God. Furthermore, when we run into any obstacle, may we always turn to God first rather than a friend or spouse. God is our first line of communication, always.
What this reflects, more than anything, is a heart posture surrendered to God. That’s what he desires from you and me—a life all for Him. God is after our hearts, and a heart that is for Him is one that prays often.
Prayer puts us in direct communication with our incredible God, brings down idols and distractions, paves the way for deliverance, and tunes our ear into His voice. We are called to pray because so much hinges on our communication with Him.
2. Prayer can change things.
“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” James 5:16-18 (ESV)
The prayer of a righteous person has great power—that’s a promise we have in Scripture. All throughout the Bible, we see people pray and things change. Hannah prayed fervently for a child and God opened her womb. Elijah prayed for drought, and then rain, and God moved both times. Peter prayed to be released from prison, and his prayer was answered. There are hundreds of answered prayers all throughout God’s Word that serve as a lamppost of God’s faithfulness.
You and I can have full confidence that God hears our prayers. And that at the right time, in the right way, He will respond. It won’t always be the way we hoped, but it will always be the way He desires.
3. Prayer changes our hearts.
“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39
I've come to find that the most valuable aspect of prayer completely defies what we've believed about prayer for so long. Prayer is more about changing us than changing God.
So often we go to prayer for a need and ask God to move. But what if that isn't His will? That's when we become discouraged because we want to believe that God hears our prayers and yet He may not choose to move in such a way. He may withhold meeting that need or choose to go another route. When He does, we must remind ourselves that in prayer, He may be more concerned with aligning us to His will rather than the other way around.
When Jesus was in the garden, just before His arrest, He prayed to the Father and shared a request. But ultimately, Jesus was fully committed to the Father's will, and not what He himself desired. And prayer was the vehicle by which Jesus aligned himself with the Father.
Prayer has great power, but it’s completely possible you’re missing its value in your life. How are you doing and which of the three points could you improve upon most? Where is God wanting to stretch your faith regarding prayer?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Pheelings Media
Brittany Rust has a passion to see people impacted by the power of God’s Word and His abundant grace through writing and speaking. She is the founder of Truth and Grace Ministries, Truth x Grace Women, and is the author of five books. Brittany lives with her husband, Ryan, and son, Roman, in Castle Rock, Colorado. Learn more at www.brittanyrust.com.