Saturday, December 31, 2011

Q & A: "Does God change, and if not, why pray?"

OK, I'm starting with a "two-fer" one more theological, and the other a practical outworking of the answer.  The first part is relatively simple, in that God says of himself, "For I the Lord do not change..." (Mal. 3:6).  James says there is "no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17).  His faithfulness, covenant-keeping  and steadfastness are elements of his unchanging nature (see Exodus 34:6-7).  Those references where God seems to change course or plan (often it says God "relented," such as in the case of postponing Nineveh's judgment due to their response to Jonah), represent the use of our finite human language to try to describe how God acts in relation to His creation in ways we can comprehend.  God can experience the full range of emotion--for example He was "sorry" that He made man (Genesis 6), but not in the "I wish I hadn't done this" mode, but the "this is a terribly painful--sorrow-ful--state of affairs."  Again, we have to use our language to describe an infinite, changeless being who nevertheless experience the sorrows we tend to link with regret.

So, if God does not change, why pray?  Let me try to answer this with a list:
1. We pray because God directs us to do so, and his directions are never pointless.  We may see no reason why the children of Israel had to march around Jericho once a day for six days, then seven times on the seventh, then blow a trumpet for the walls to fall down.  We look at that and say, "what was the point?"  Well, a better way to look at it is to say, "what an amazing, unique, and powerful way God chose to destroy Jericho. Only God could do it that way."  In our limited, cause and effect thinking, we try to figure out how things work. God says, "Pray, and  you will see things happen."  We say, "what difference does it make?"  God responds, Pray, and see how it makes a difference."  Jesus taught his disciples to pray on at least two occasions (Matt 6: 9-13, Lk. 11:1-4) and gave the parable of the persistent widow to teach that we should never give up praying (Lk. 18:1-8).  His instruction when it comes to receiving answers to prayer are clear:  keep on asking, seeking, and knocking (Matt 7:7-11), and pray as Jesus would have us pray (John 15:7, 16:23-24), and you will see results.  The God who ordains the ends also ordains the means by which those ends come to pass.  God has set up His universe in such a way that prayers are the means by which His ends are accomplished.
2. We pray to communicate our hearts desire to God.  Some might say, "But He already knows."  That is true, but communication and communion is a part of relationship.  I may know what my wife wants or thinks and she may know my mind, but we still talk about our thoughts and desires, and share with one another.  It is one thing to "know," another to "share."
3. We see our own hearts shaped by the activity of prayer.  As I pray, I am immediately made aware that I am speaking with One who can do what I can't, who is the only One I can count on in this or any situation, and One whose love for me and acceptance of me is perfectly established through Jesus.  As I voice my petition, I actually think about it, and that thinking may well refine, deepen, and change my request as I think about it and bring it to a loving, holy, and gracious "Abba" Father.  The Spirit intercedes for us as we pray (Rom. 8:26-27), and as we pray we can be sure that the Spirit is at work in us.  The more I pray about something, the more I see how important it is to me, and the more convinced I can become that God is keeping me praying about this for a reason.

These three just scratch the surface, but they suffice to show us the value of prayer as God's means to shape us and accomplish His will.  Any questions?