Prayer Requests and Learning How to Pray

How Can We Know if Prayer Really Changes Things?

hands together praying over bible with lit candle, christians prayer closet

Prayer is the call to an interactive relationship with Jesus. In prayer we present ourselves, and our needs, ceaselessly before the Lord. Prayer, however, is not just about us. As members of the community of faith, we also pray for the needs of others. We pray with people, and for people. The body of Christ is a body at prayer.

Jesus promises that our prayers will have an effect (Matthew 21:12). Our prayers have the capacity to change people’s experiences in life. The sick can be made well, the blessings of God can be bestowed. The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective, says the book of James (5:16). Scripture continually affirms that God’s power is revealed in people’s lives when the faithful give themselves to prayer.

And yet, despite these affirmations, we do not always see these things take place. When our prayers are met with apparent silence, we may question the fruitfulness of prayer. Have you ever asked yourself if prayer really changes things at all? How do you know that your prayers for a sick friend have any effect? If I pray for someone to get better, and they do not, does this mean that my prayers have failed?

Questions abound when it comes to our prayer lives. Can we trust God’s promise to answer our prayer? What does it mean when my prayer seems unanswered or unrealized? Can I trust that prayer changes things, even when no change is evident?

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What Does the Bible Say about "Prayer Changes Things"?

We often view prayer from the human side of the equation. Prayer is what we say or do. This can make us believe that the power of prayer lies in our own activity. The truth is the power of prayer is based in God’s gracious willingness to respond. The power of prayer is God’s power. God inspires us to pray, and when we pray, God releases God’s power in the world.

God’s powerful presence, met in prayer, is what differentiates the Lord from every made-up deity or idol. Prayer to an idol can never change anything in one’s life because an idol is but a creation of human hands. It has no spirit, no life, no strength (Psalm 115:5-7). As Israel moved from Egypt to the Promised Land, they encountered many nations whose gods and idols were distant and powerless. In contrast, Yahweh traveled with them and intervened for them. Deuteronomy 4:7 declares this fact; “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” God hears the cries of God’s people. Not only does God hear, but God also responds.

God’s desire to respond to us when we call means that we can have confidence in our prayers. John writes, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). God does not answer our prayer out of duty or obligation, but out of a loving delight to be a part of our lives. God’s power is connected to God’s love. We can be confident in experiencing both these realities when we pray.

"Prayer Changes Things" Meaning

"Prayer Changes Things" Meaning

One of the most astounding facts about prayer is that prayer works. Prayer is not just an abstract principle or theological doctrine. Prayer is not a religious placebo - something the faithful do to feel better but ultimately holds no power. Prayer affects the world. Prayer changes things in our lives, and in the lives of others.

This reality is displayed continuously throughout the Book of Acts. The apostles became well-known for their power-filled prayers. Prayer was a fundamental component of the apostles’ mission to the world. This directly contributed to the spreading of the gospel. The apostles did not just talk a good game, they changed people’s lives.

Examples abound. When a faithful woman named Tabitha died, for example, people immediately call for Peter to come. When Peter arrives, he does not just lend a comforting ear or speak to the grieving of the reality of heaven. Rather, Peter enters the room, kneels, and prays. In this marvelous account, Peter turns to the woman and says, “Tabitha, get up.” In response, Tabitha opens her eyes. Luke records “this became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:42). People believe because the gospel because of what Tabitha experiences as a result of prayer.

The interesting this about this event, however, is that it coincides with a similar event in the life of Jesus. Jairus, a leader in the synagogue, asks Jesus to heal his daughter who was close to death. Jesus agrees but is delayed at arriving at Jairus’ home. When the two eventually arrive, Jairus is told, “Your daughter is dead, why bother the teacher anymore” (Mark 5:35). Surprisingly, Jesus responds that the girl is not dead. This receives mockery from the crowd. There was no misdiagnosis, the people were not confused about her physical condition. The girl had died; thus, the crowd believes nothing more can be done. Jesus knows differently. He goes to her room, takes the girl by the hand, and says, “Little girl, get up.” Immediately, the girl gets up and begins to walk around.

Did you notice that both Jesus and Peter use the same words?

The tie between the two accounts suggests that Peter’s prayer is directly tied to the power of Jesus working through him. This occurs time and again. Peter, John, Paul, Barnabas, Philip, and Stephen are all recorded to have healed people through prayer. Christ’s power is manifest in the lives of the faithful. By prayer, the sick are made whole, the lame cured, and the dead raised. This may seem farfetched and fanciful today, but such occurrences are presented as fact. The apostles’ ministry was not one of empty words; they came with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power (1 Corinthians 2:4). It is a historical fact that the early Christian community, fueled by prayer, changed the world.

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How Can We Know Prayer Changes Things?

Prayer is not a technique. Nor is prayer a divine loophole for simply getting what we want. Treating prayer this way robs it of its power. Acts 8 tells the story of one of the early converts to the Christian faith, a man known as Simon the Sorcerer. Simon had practiced sorcery all throughout Samaria and had garnered a large reputation and following. Upon meeting Philip, he believes the gospel message and is eventually baptized. Simon’s conversion, however, is dubious. Simon recognizes the power of Philip’s prayers and wishes to obtain this ability. Simon shows that his heart “is not right with God” (Acts 8:21) when he offers to purchase the prayer-ability, believing that God’s power can be wielded with the right amount of money.

Simon saw the power of prayer as rooted in his own ability, a technique that he could learn to help him get what he wanted. Prayer was not about ushering people into the presence of God, but the bolstering of his own reputation. Simon treats the power of prayer as nothing more than a tool for his own greatness.

The power of prayer is found in looking to Lord and not to ourselves. When we pray for one who is sick or infirmed, pleading for their healing, we are always cognizant that the Lord’s ways are beyond our own. We seek not the realization of our desire, as good or as well-meaning they might be; Rather we hold ourselves, and others, before the throne of God, asking for God’s righteous will to be made known.

Ultimately, this helps us remain faithful in those times where our prayers are seemingly met with silence. For as much as the Bible is a 66-book record of the power of prayer, it also gives testimony to how we may faithfully respond when our prayers go unrealized. The psalms give abundant testimony to the legitimacy of laments and questions. It is because prayer calls us to embrace God’s will and not our own, that we sometimes find ourselves feeling like our prayers are unanswered. It is because God works in a timeframe beyond our own that we sometimes find ourselves waiting. None of these things deny the power of prayer or the power of God working through our prayers. Nor do they stop us from persevering in prayer. Jesus teaches us to “pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). In the end, the result of our prayer, and the power of our prayer, is not based on our own perceptions. They occur by God’s will, in God’s way, and for God’s glory.

woman looking up wonder question guilty

Conclusion

Whether it is in interceding for others like Moses (Numbers 14:19), calling for rain like Elijah (1 Kings 18), or healing the paralyzed and lame like Philip (Acts 8:7), power-filled prayers are the inheritance of all Christians. When we pray, our prayers have power. This is a fact. This is a fact about you.

It’s easy to accept that prayer changes things when we see it occur in our lives. The change is evident; the sickness ends, the job is found, the relationship saved, the sinner believes. This change, as good and pleasant it is, is only a surface change. The true power of prayer to change things is found in the inner transformation that occurs.

In all prayer, we are graced to meet the one who journeys with us. Whether we recognize his presence or not, Jesus meets us when we pray. Christ’s power is revealed even when it occurs behind the scenes. Ultimately, as we approach Jesus in prayer, we grow in our trust of the Lord’s power. We increase our capacity for faith-filled hope. In our laments and struggles, we deepen our reliance upon the power of God for our physical and spiritual livelihood. Prayer will always change us because we cannot meet the living God and not be transformed.

Thus, the ultimate answer to the question is found inside of us. How does prayer change things? Prayer changes things because prayer changes us. If we are inwardly changed because of our prayer, whatever the prayer may be, and despite whether we see the result or not, then we can be sure that prayer has done its work. Because in the end, it’s not about us, or our ability. It is about the Lord’s power and the Lord’s love. Of that, we can always be sure.

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SWN authorReverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of the Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found here.



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