Can Prayer Change Anything?

August 11, 2012

Excerpt from Matthew 7:7-11

"Ask, and it will be given you."

Reflection by William C. Green

Why pray if it's not my will that counts but God's? Besides, doesn't God already know what I need?

One answer is that prayer doesn't change God but it changes us. The Talmud says we see the world, not the way it is, but the way we are. The psalmist asks God to "put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!"

But prayer also changes God! Theologian Karl Barth declared that unlike other hopes and ideals that rule our hearts, God's own sovereignty is influenced by our prayers. What could a relationship with God mean were it not a two-way affair?

It's true this doesn't mean we always get what we pray for. But sometimes we do—even if it's something we think beneath God's dignity or our own. Like praying to find a misplaced bill, or praying to find a parking spot. Sometimes we act higher and mightier than God and save prayer for a crisis or noble purposes. But as Jesus shows us, God is down-to-earth and is found as much in the little things of life as in dramatic moments.

Rather than begin with how we understand God and then, in light of that, pray, it's wiser to turn that around. Pray first. That changes how we understand God—and prayer. We learn faith itself by doing it, not by holding it in check until we've figured it all out.

Prayer

"Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love!" (Psalm 66:20)

About the Author
William C. Green is Vice-President for Strategy and Development, Moral Courage Project, NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and the author of 52 Ways to Ignite Your Congregation: Generous Giving.

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