Is Prayer Effective When Our Situation Doesn’t Change?

canstockphoto0629896In my last post I wrote how prayer is primarily designed not to move God to action, but to move us.

That is not to assert that God does not listen to our prayers, or isn’t active in our world. He does, and is.

It is, however, an acknowledgement that a God who is good and who is characterized by unconditional love is already moving and acting in our world in ways that are good, just, and loving.

He can’t become more good, more just, or more loving; and he won’t become less good, less just, and less loving.

If there is  a need in our world for more goodness, more justice, and more love—and who can say that there isn’t—God isn’t the one who needs to change, we are.

All all the injustice, all the fear, all the hate in our world is of human origin. So the change that prayer effects must be in us.

Funny, isn’t it, how we work so hard trying to change the mind of an already good, just and loving God, while his primary work seems to be trying to get us to change our minds and hearts to act with goodness, justice and love.

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 NRSV)

Prayer is one of the means God uses to effect that change in us. Read through the psalms and you can see this, especially in the psalms of lament. Let’s look at one, Psalm 77.

The psalmist begins by saying that he is trying to get God’s attention. God needs to listen. ”I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.”

I’m already doing my part, he says: “In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.” (vs. 2)

In fact, he’s exhausted from trying to get God to act, and so stressed that he can’t even sleep. “I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints. You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago. I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit.” (vs. 3-6)

The psalmist has done everything that he could; now it’s time for God to step up and do his part: “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (vs. 7-9)

He is distraught because of the LORD. Something has caused God to change his attitude. “And I say, ‘It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.’”

The prayer takes a turn starting in verse 11. The psalmist has decided that he will no longer look at his present circumstances and wonder where God is in all of his troubles; he will look instead to the past in order to find hope for the future. He begins thinking about God’s history of faithfulness, his steadfast love, his deliverance from the injustice of slavery in Egypt as he led them through the waters of the great sea and into new land of milk and honey:

I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD; I will remember your wonders of old. I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples. With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (vs.11-20)

What has changed from the beginning of the psalm to the end? Have his circumstances changed? Has God heard his prayer and answered him by delivering from his troubles, whatever they may be? Has God changed his mind, his attitude, his bearing toward the psalmist. No, the only thing that has changed is the mind and attitude of the psalmist himself, and that has made all the difference.

This is not the type of prayer you will hear in a worship service or a Sunday School class, yet it is a boldly honest prayer that effected a transformation in the heart of the psalmist. That is what was most needed. Our circumstances don’t always change, but how we respond to them makes all the difference.

When our prayers change our attitudes and responses to our circumstances, they really do change our world.

Image by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Klementiev

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