|This is an opinion article from a user of WikiChristian.|
By Graham Grove, April 2008
A 1,000 opinion answering the question: Does prayer affect how God acts?
The question as to whether or not prayer affects how God acts is an important and emotive question. Unspoken behind the question is the acceptance that God exists, listens and cares. But beyond these presuppositions, Christians don't unanimously agree upon the role of prayer. For me, the immediate gut reaction is “of course prayer affects how God acts” and so it seems a little surprising that there are many faithful Christians who believe the opposite. As Mark Pretorius puts it 
- If God is sovereign and His plans fixed, why pray? Does prayer change what God has purposed to do? If not, what is the point in praying? One could take these questions even further and say: if prayer has any effect on what happens, then it would seem that God’s plans are not fixed. On the other hand, if God has settled His plans and He will do what He is going to do, then does it matter whether we pray or not?
These are powerful questions which cast doubt on the effectiveness of prayer. But, taking into account Scripture, church tradition, experience and reason, I am still convinced the answer is that prayer does, at times, affect how God acts.
Using Ephesians 1 as a spring-board, Tim Chester in his book “The Message of Prayer” argues that God’s actions are influenced by our prayers but that his purpose ultimately will prevail. In the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul voices his prayer that God will empower the Ephesian Christians with inner strength and that they may understand and experience God’s love. The fact that Paul prays suggests that the apostle also believed God would hear and act based on his prayers.
In the Bible there are many examples of prayer apparently affecting God. Using parables Jesus explained that God answers requests in prayer (Matthew 7:7-11). The Old Testament contains dozens of stories that describe how God acted differently because of prayer, such as when Abraham prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18) and Hezekiah praying for healing and a longer life (2 Kings 20). There are also many passages that reveal that God’s purpose will prevail (Proverbs 19:21), but in my mind, these passages in no way negate the examples where God answers specific prayers, sometimes altering his previously revealed plan.
Church tradition attests to the fact that many Christians through the generations have believed prayer affects how God acts. Many of the recorded prayers in churches in various liturgical denominations, for example, many prayers recorded in the Book of Common Prayer, are prayers asking for natural and material blessings and healing. Asking for these only make sense if it is believed that God will respond.
Reason is perhaps the point where the issue of God answering prayer becomes more confusing. The issue is also sometimes emotive with people attempting to box opposing views neatly into hyper-Calvinism, Calvinism, Arminianism and Open Theism. On the one extreme is the view that because God is all powerful then it follows that all events are predetermined by God, leading to a fatalistic view of the world. This view is particularly unappealing because it results in the conclusion that we only pray because we have been fated to do so. A similar view is that all events are predetermined and cannot be changed and so the only purpose of praying is to be obedient to God’s commands to pray in the Scriptures. At the other extreme is the view that God does not know the future and so our prayers are crucial in helping God decide what route to take. This view is also unappealing because like the opposing extreme, it doesn't line up well with Scripture and feels uncomfortable. A middle ground that understands God as sovereign and responsive to our prayers is both more Biblical and more comfortable, although it still raises some difficult questions as to how God can know the future and have specific plans yet still listen to our pleas and fit them into his purpose. My own personal philosophy is that God’s very sovereign nature means that he is big enough to hear our prayers and have his actions affected by them. I believe he knows the future because he is God, and so he knows our future free-will decisions and prayers, and this somehow does interact with his purposes, although as temporal beings we can't fully understand this interaction.
Finally, experience tells me that God is affected by prayer. A friend of mine involved in "Encounter", a Christian presence at the annual end of high school "Schoolies" event, has related the following story. Each year he had noted that alcohol consumption and drunken behaviour at open-air street parties begun shortly after 2am on Saturday morning and so he and his group of friends prayed that God would bring rain at exactly 2am. The entire day he noted blue sky, but that night at 2am clouds blew over the party that was about to begin and a sudden down-pour occurred and the people returned home. In my own life there have been times where I am convinced that God has answered prayer. Almost two years ago my wife sat in the bathroom having a threatened miscarriage. She had had two miscarriages in the previous six months. We both cried out to God that he would save the unborn baby, and six months later, a normal baby boy was born. I believe that God heard our prayer and as a result saved the life of the baby. I don't understand why he didn't save the babies in the previous miscarriages (although one of those miscarriages was due to major genetic abnormalities in the unborn baby) but these events further convince me that God does hear our prayer and sometimes alters what would otherwise have happened, and other times does not alter the course of events.
There are significantly differing views on whether or not God acts because of prayer among Christians. Ultimately I don't believe that this is an issue of salvation but I am comforted by believing in a personal God of friendship who does hear my prayers and that when it is right he will act because of them. Conversely, I am encouraged in believing in an omniscient God who has ultimate power such that his eternal purposes cannot be prevented.
- ↑ Mark Pretorius, How Does Prayer Affect God’s Plan? An Enquiry into God’s Providence with Special Reference to Prayer and Healing ([cited); available from http://www.satsonline.org/satsonline/userfiles/Pretorius,ProvidenceandPrayer.pdf.
- ↑ Tim Chester, The Message of Prayer ed. Derek Tidball (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2003), 246-257.
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