The Apostle Paul exhorted the Colossian Christians, “Devote yourselves to prayer… (Colossians 4:2).” Many Christians lament that their prayer life is not all it could be. Perhaps prayer is not as regular as it ought to be, because people do not understand it. They prayed for something, and nothing seemed to happen. So, they pray less.
Prayer is not magic, nor can it be used to manipulate the mind of the divine. James the brother of Jesus said our Heavenly Father does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17). In the Book of Numbers, the author says God is not like a human being that he should change his mind (Numbers 23:19). The author of Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).” Though there are passages that seem to say God changes his mind, scholars through the ages have understood these passages to use human terms metaphorically to help us understand God’s actions.
Though prayer does not change God’s mind, it does change things. First, prayer shows our dependence on God. The great early American preacher and scholar Jonathan Edwards said, “With respect to God, prayer is but a sensible acknowledgment of our dependence on him to his glory.” Prayer says to God, “I can’t live the life you want me to live without you, your mercy, your goodness, and the gift of your Holy Spirit.”
Second, prayer prepares our hearts to receive whatever situation may befall us. In the verse mentioned above, Paul goes on to say, “…being watchful and thankful (Colossians 4:2).” We often think of thankfulness as a response to a favorable outcome. In the Bible thankfulness is offered to God even in the middle of great adversity. It is to lean on God’s acts of deliverance in the past to allow us to trust in him in the present and future.
Third, prayer invites us to participate in God’s redemptive activity in the world. Though prayer does not change God’s mind, it does change things. God uses our prayers to accomplish his will. What would have happened to Lot and his family, if Abraham had not intervened? If Judas had prayed, “Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil,” perhaps it would not have been him who betrayed our Lord.
God commands his people to pray, and we do well to heed him. Prayer is not magic, but God has ordained it as a crucial way to fulfill his purposes in us and in the world.