I’ve been troubled over the last few days – ever since I read the sentence in Jonah 3:10 “God changed his mind.”
It reminded me of a Charles Schulz Peanuts cartoon. Linus is kneeling by his bed with his hands together, not in traditional “prayer pose” but together pointing downwards. Lucy is standing watching him as he says, “I think I’ve made a new theological discovery….If you pray with your hands upside down, you get the opposite of what you ask for.”
There are mysteries here.
So, “Does prayer change things?” (By this I don’t just mean does it change things for me – ie do I “feel better”, am I more “spiritually connected” as a result?)
I’m going to have a go at thinking this through. (My guide through this tricky topic is Don Carson – A call to spiritual reformation chapter 9.)
There are two big truths taught in the Bible and I need to grasp how to hold them together. It’s another example of tension.
- God is King, he wears the crown and calls the shots.
- We are responsible creatures – we choose, believe, obey and there is moral significance in our choices.
If only the first proposition is true, we would reduce God to Fate, so we need to hold the two ideas together – God is transcendent: he exists beyond all time and space and is King of his universe. Yet he is personal in his dealings with you and me: he presents himself as a loving Father. It may be difficult (it is!) to understand how both can be true at the same time, but just because it is difficult does not make them untrue.
So what about prayer?
The biblical truth that God is King is never a disincentive to pray for people in the Bible or for me either. Jesus does say that we shouldn’t babble on thinking that God will hear us for our many words, because he already knows what we need before we ask him; but he also endorses persistence, telling his disciples stories “to show that they should always pray and never give up”. (Luke 18:1)
Like I said, there are mysteries here.
“Despite the fact that God’s nature is in many respects profoundly mysterious to us, we shall not go far wrong if we allow the complementary aspects of God’s character to function in our lives…Then we will learn the better how to pray, and why we should pray, and what we should pray for, and how we should ask.”
“Sometimes it is more important to worship such a God than to understand him.”