I have a confession to make.
When it comes to prayer, I’m not what you’d call a “warrior.” (But then again, you might not call anyone that. I’ve always thought the term a little jokey, myself.) I do pray. And I keep a journal where I write out my thoughts and prayers and confessions. But I’ve never felt as if I qualified to be one of those super-pray-ers who has calloused knees from hours logged in the prayer chapel.
Mostly because I don’t have a very great attention span. More times than I care to admit, I start to pray and end up with a grocery list.
I’ve always thought prayer was more of a “me” thing. I pray prayers of confession and of thanksgiving and of pouring my heart out to the Lord. I can vent to God just fine. But I don’t know if I have ever whole-heartedly and persistently put requests before the Lord, because in my mind, he’s got it all worked out anyway. And here’s the ugly confession: deep down, I doubted that God really answered our prayers. If the universe is set, then asking God for stuff is rendered a little unnecessary, you know?
I have started reading a book, per the suggestion of my supervisor, called Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster. The chapter on prayer is busting my boxes about what I thought prayer was. And as it turns out, the immaturity of my prayer life is a reflection of my misunderstanding of who God is. Foster writes something that startled me. He says:
“The apostle Paul gladly announces that we are ‘co-laborers with God’; that is, we are working with God to determine the outcome of events (1 Cor 3:9)… Moses prayed boldly because he believed his prayers could change things, even God’s mind. In fact, the Bible stresses so forcefully the openness of our universe that, in an anthropomorphism hard for modern ears, it speaks of God constantly changing his mind in accord with his unchanging love (see Exod 32:14, Jonah 3:10).”
Upon first reading this, my brain bucked wildly against the idea of having so much sway in the outcome of events around here. Practically my whole theological viewpoint—however underdeveloped or simplistic it may be—hinges heavily on trust in God’s sovereignty. (See last blog post and all the others while you’re at it.) This idea of my prayers changing God’s mind seemed to encroach upon that. If he is omnipotent and omnipresent and omni-that-jazz, (See what I did there?) then doesn’t he have all this planned out? What about THE plan???
But I can’t deny the biblical evidence. Yep, I know the stories. Of Moses and the Israelites and Jonah and the prophets who prayed so fervently for Israel’s deliverance. And in all of these cases, God does change his mind in response to prayers.
I don’t know how to fully reconcile his plan with his merciful relenting, but it doesn’t limit his power. He doesn’t have to listen to us. He does because he loves us.
This, however, gives us so much responsibility. If I’m a co-laborer, who can I be laboring for in prayer? If I’m a co-laborer, who needs God’s provision, his encouragement, his mercy? Why wouldn’t I present these requests before God? Why wouldn’t I ask?
Yikes, it’s time to get to work.