Prayer Changes Things!

Prayer Changes Things!



Prayer Changes Things!


Prayer makes a difference! When we pray, things change; when we don’t, we may miss what God wants to do.


He will rescue us because you are helping by praying for us. (2 Corinthians 1:11, NLT)


‘But can you prove that prayer makes a difference?’ the sceptics ask. ‘And how do you know that what you prayed for wouldn’t have happened anyway? Maybe it was just a coincidence.’ Well, maybe it was. But our own experience, along with countless Christians through the ages, is this: a remarkable number of coincidences seem to happen when we pray!


As authors, we would be the first to admit that we haven’t learned everything about prayer that there is to learn and that, at times, we still feel like novices. But as we look back over the years of our faltering experience, we are convinced that prayer changes things. Prayer is not a meaningless exercise; God hears our prayers, God answers our prayers, and those prayers change things. Of course, the change may be in circumstances; but it is just as likely to be in us!



Prayer changes situations


While prayer is never seen in the Bible as ‘twisting God’s arm’ to get what we want, the truth is that prayer does change situations. As we discover God’s purposes and turn them into prayer, we are giving God the opportunity to act in our world, just as he wants to.


Expectation that prayer would be answered


It is clear that the central figures of the Bible expected their prayers to be answered. How different that is from today when many people pray, but often without any real expectation that anything will change. But if we don’t expect answers, then what is the point of praying? We are engaging in a meaningless spiritual exercise. This is certainly not the attitude we find in the Bible, where there was tremendous confidence that God would answer prayer and that things would therefore change.

Consider, for example, Paul’s confidence that the prayers of others on his behalf would be answered:


He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:10–11)


I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. (Philippians 1:19)


And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. (Philemon 22)


Examples of prayer changing things


The Bible is packed with examples of people who prayed and saw things change. Here is an overview of just some of the key characters who did so.


Abraham


As we saw earlier (Part Five, Chapter 4) Abraham’s bold prayers for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16–33) couldn’t spare the cities as a whole because of their tremendous ungodliness (Genesis 19:1–9); but his prayers did see things change for his family living there (19:12–28).


So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived. (Genesis 19:29)


Moses


Moses saw things change through prayer many times. As each of the ten plagues visited Egypt, it was only as Moses prayed that they were lifted:


Then Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD, and the LORD did what Moses asked. (Exodus 8:30–31)


When confronted with the Red Sea, it was as Moses lifted his staff in prayer that the waters withdrew:


Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (Exodus 14:21–22)


It was as that same staff was lifted in prayer that Israel won her battles:


So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. (Exodus 17:10–13)


Hannah


But it was not just for great national affairs that people in Bible times prayed. Personal needs were just as boldly brought to him, as we see with Hannah who experienced her own circumstances of barrenness changing as the result of faithful, persistent prayer.


‘I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him.’ (1 Samuel 1:27)


David


David saw many situations change, both in his personal life and the life of the nation, as a result of prayer. In his later years, his pride took the better of him when he decided he wanted to know the true strength of his nation and so ordered a census, which even Joab saw as a wrong thing to do (2 Samuel 24:1–4). David’s error led to judgment in the form of a plague coming upon the nation; but his crying out to God saw the situation change completely:


David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the LORD answered prayer on behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped. (2 Samuel 24:25)


Elijah


Elijah too saw many answers to prayer during his ministry. One significant example was when his prayers brought an end to a significant period of drought which had come upon the land as judgment for King Ahab’s turning to Baal. Baal, god of fertility and rain though he was supposed to be, had not been able to send rain; but now Elijah called on the Lord and things changed!


And Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.’ So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. ‘Go and look towards the sea,’ he told his servant. And he went up and looked. ‘There is nothing there,’ he said. Seven times Elijah said, ‘Go back.’ The seventh time the servant reported, ‘A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.’ So Elijah said, ‘Go and tell Ahab, “Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.” ’ Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. (1 Kings 18:41–45)


Hezekiah


Hezekiah saw two very significant changes in situations as a result of prayer. The first concerned deliverance for Jerusalem from an impossible situation (2 Kings 19:14–37); the second concerned restoration of his own life when he was struck with a terminal illness:


In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, ‘This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.’ Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, ‘Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.’ And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: ‘Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, “This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the LORD. I will add fifteen years to your life.” ’ (2 Kings 20:1–6)


Nehemiah


Nehemiah, a senior official in the Persian palace, was once caught without a smile on his face in the king’s presence (a capital offence in that culture). He had been praying and fasting for some days (Nehemiah 1:4) because of the news he had received about the plight of the Jews who had returned to the Promised Land. He wanted to do something about it, and here was his chance. It would be either success, or the executioner’s block! It was his prayer that changed things:


The king said to me, ‘What is it you want?’ Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.’ Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, ‘How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?’ It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time. (Nehemiah 2:4–6)


Daniel


Daniel was a real man of prayer (e.g. Daniel 6:10) who saw many situations changed by praying. When he refused to abandon his devotion to God in response to a new law (6:6–9), he was thrown into a lions’ den, sealed ‘so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed’ (6:17). But God changed it!


Very early the next morning, the king hurried out to the lions’ den. When he got there, he called out in anguish, ‘Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you worship continually, able to rescue you from the lions?’ Daniel answered, ‘Long live the king! My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.’ The king was overjoyed and ordered that Daniel be lifted from the den. Not a scratch was found on him because he had trusted in his God. (Daniel 6:19–23, NLT)


Peter


Peter saw countless examples of prayer changing things. Indeed, it was while he and the other disciples were praying in the upper room that they experienced the biggest answer to prayer in their lives: the promised baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; 2:1–4). From that point on, Peter saw prayer changing things again and again, whether through his own prayers, such as the healing of the crippled beggar (Acts 3:1–10), or through the prayers of others, such as when he was miraculously released from jail (Acts 12:1–19). Little wonder he would later write, quoting from Psalm 34, ‘For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer’ (1 Peter 3:12).


So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. ‘Quick, get up!’ he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. Then the angel said to him, ‘Put on your clothes and sandals.’ And Peter did so. ‘Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,’ the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. (Acts 12:5–10)


Paul


Like Peter, Paul also saw countless instances of prayer changing things. As a good Pharisee, prayer had always played an important part in his life; but once he encountered Jesus, his prayer life left the realms of the required and the ritualistic and became an exciting adventure with God. He saw prayer do everything from changing the outlook of a whole church (Acts 13:1–3), to bringing about great miracles (e.g. Acts 28:1–9), to rescuing him miraculously from prison:


About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’ The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ (Acts 16:25–30)


God is still looking!


This brief overview of some key Bible figures should convince us that prayer changes things! But know this too: God is still looking for men and women who, like Moses, will pick up the staff of prayer, who will listen to him, and then come with bold prayers, expecting things to change as they do.


‘I searched for someone to stand in the gap …’ (Ezekiel 22:30, NLT)


As God searched for those who would pray long ago, he still searches today.



Prayer changes people


But not only does prayer change things; prayer also changes people. In fact, it is often the change in people that is far more significant. When we feel our prayers haven’t been answered, it is often because God is looking to bring about a change in us rather than in what we have been praying about.

Here are just a few examples of people who found that they changed as they prayed:


  ❑   Jacob—whose life was so changed as he wrestled with God that he was given a new name and left with a limp (Genesis 32:24–32)

  ❑   Hannah—whose deep sadness of spirit was changed as she persisted in prayer for a child (1 Samuel 1:6–8, 10–20, 26–28; 2:1)

  ❑   Job—whose self-righteousness (e.g. Job 33:8–10; 40:8) was knocked out of him through suffering until he understood his rightful position before God (Job 42:1–6)

  ❑   Jonah—whose attitude to sinners was changed to become more like God’s own attitude (Jonah 4:1–11)

  ❑   Zechariah—whose unbelief was challenged by an angelic visitation and who had to bear his unbelief through dumbness until his barren wife bore him a child (Luke 1:5–20, 57–64)

  ❑   Stephen—whose attitude to his persecutors was changed as he prayed (Acts 7:59–60)

  ❑   Peter—whose attitude to the Gentiles, so long despised by him, changed as he encountered God in a vision (Acts 10:9–48)

  ❑   Paul—whose attitude to weakness changed when God didn’t remove his ‘thorn in the flesh’ but gave his grace instead (2 Corinthians 12:7–10)


All of these bear witness to the fact that prayer changed, not just their circumstances, but them. Hearts were softened, preconceptions were challenged, attitudes were changed, and unbelief was dealt with. If you pray, be ready for God to change you too!



A final prayer


 Lord, what a change within us one short hour

 Spent in thy presence will prevail to make!

 What heavy burdens from our bosoms take;

 What parched grounds refresh as with a shower.

 We kneel—and all around us seems to lower,

 We rise—and all, the distant and the near,

 Stands forth in sunny outline brave and clear;

 We kneel: how weak!—we rise: how full of power!

 Why, therefore, should we do ourselves this wrong,

 Or others—that we are not always strong?

 That we are ever overborne with care;

 That we should ever weak or heartless be,

 Anxious or troubled, while with us is prayer,

 And joy, and strength, and courage, are with thee?


 Richard Chenevix Trench (1807–86),

 Professor of Divinity, King’s College London, and Archbishop of Dublin



Conclusion


God wants to hear our requests and wants us to believe that things can change as we bring them to him.


He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him. (1 Chronicles 5:20)



Relevance for today


Expect your prayers to be answered!


Do you really expect your prayers to be answered? Or has prayer become a religious ritual, a duty to be done? Remember: God has committed himself to answering our prayers when we call to him in faith.


 ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble;

  I will deliver you, and you will honour me.’ (Psalm 50:15)


Expect your situation to change!


There is little point coming to God with half-hearted prayers; God wants us to come to him confident that things can change.


Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:35–36)


Expect your life to be changed!


If you pray about something, be ready for God to change you, not just your circumstances! His priority might be different from yours—so be ready for it!


Expect the biggest change of all!


The biggest change of all—the ultimate change—has yet to happen, when Jesus returns at the end of this age. The kingdom of God is already breaking into this world (e.g. Matthew 12:28; Mark 1:15; Luke 17:20–21); so the more we yield to this kingly rule, the more our lives change. But the change will not be fully completed until Jesus returns, just as he promised (e.g. Matthew 16:27; 24:36–44; John 14:3) and just as his followers taught (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Hebrews 9:28; 2 Peter 3:8–13). In the light of this, we should surely pray for Jesus’ return with the fulness of his kingdom, and for our doing all that we can (e.g. Matthew 24:14) to bring that day closer.


 ‘Your kingdom come …’ (Matthew 6:10)

 Come, O Lord! (1 Corinthians 16:22)


He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20)



Manser, M., & Beaumont, M. (2020). Handbook of Bible Prayers (pp. 451–460). Manser and Beaumont.