I find the idea of prayer often tests my faith. It brings out my inner cynic. When I see #PrayFor____ on twitter, or 1 like = 1 prayer on Facebook, I find myself cynical. Almost instantly, I think the whole thing is a pointless ego boost for the poster, and that we should care enough to actually do something. I even stumble when I hear about sincere religious, devoting their entire lives to prayer in isolation from the world.
It’s easy to believe the boring explanation that prayer works simply by changing us. At its most basic, that’s obvious psychology. And it’s not too tough to believe that prayer “allows” God to change us, or that we “open ourselves” to God. Or to believe that we send out spiritual energies or whatever you like, which become reality. But to really believe that simply asking can actually make a difference to the world, that God actually listens and reacts in the world, is a challenge.
Yet this is at the very heart of our faith. Our age has a tendency and desire for divine principles over divine persons. Why? Because principles can be harnessed and made useful, whereas people are free, and therefore (we fear) free to oppress. We want something to tap into, not someone to live in us. This idea can even seem more “spiritual” to our modern minds.
But our God is personal. This doesn’t mean that He is some guy in the clouds, with a will and attitude as temperamental as our ours, nor even that He’s the best guy in the universe, and so the least temperamental. He doesn’t possess an arbitrary will like we do.
It means God is free, and God is freedom. He is not bound by any rules (*gruff voice* not even his own). But God’s freedom is not merely our freedom from, by which less external force constrains the fulfilment our wills; God’s freedom is the entirely positive freedom, to truly exist, to truly and completely go out from Himself, as Himself. And even further, He Himself is this going out from Himself. Nothing conditions God’s existence or actions, not even an arbitrary “divine nature” we might (wrongly) suppose God in some sense was given. God’s personhood, God’s freedom, God’s love, is His nature.
Now if we truly believe that God is personal and God is free, we must believe that He can act on behalf of those He loves. We have to truly believe that God acts.
It is true that in prayer we do not, and cannot, change God. God cannot be bought or bartered with. Nor can we change God’s plans or actions. God is not within time, and so neither God nor God’s choices can change. And yet, from His throne, in the Divine Eternity that He Himself is, He subjects Himself to the temporal wills of His beloved creatures. From Eternity, He accepts requests from time, which He answers from Eternity and within time.
When God answers a prayer, He was always going to answer that prayer because it was always going to be prayed. The answer to the prayer was determined from the foundation of the world, because the prayer was heard at the foundation of the world.
God bless you