I liked math as a child. It made sense to me. One of the things I liked about it was the predictability. I knew that one plus one always equals two. I eventually found out that A2 + B2 =C2. Math works in the same way consistently; it doesn’t change us. That sense of predictability is a draw for logically minded people. I think many would like prayer to work more like a math equation. If we plug in the right inputs (say the right words to God), we get a predictable output (whatever we pray for). We want to know that if we pray the correct way, that God is going to respond the way we want him to. However, we all know that’s not the way prayer works.
God is not predictable like a math equation, he’s a living being. He doesn’t always answer prayer in the same way, he answers in accordance with his will for the situation that we find ourselves in. Jonathan embodied this ambiguity when he called his armor-bearer to follow him and attack the Philistines. He said,
“Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6)
“It may be…” how’s that for a battle cry? Jonathan knows that God is able, he’s just not sure that God will – even though he prayed. It’s hard to figure out how prayer actually works. And yet, study after study have shown that prayer is efficacious. In a non-systemic, unpredictable, and surprising way, prayer moves the hand of God. As Blaise Pascal wrote, “God has instituted prayer to impart to his creatures the dignity of causality.” Prayer allows us to participate with God as he shapes the future.
And yet, we must be careful not to suggest that prayer controls God. No, God is not bound to answer our prayers exactly as we hope. I’m convinced that we would pray less, not more, if God answered every prayer precisely as we ask. Prayer does not control God, but it does influence God. In his sovereignty, God has chosen to use prayer as a methodology for shaping history. Our prayers matter. They matter to God and to the people around us – whether they recognize it or not. The world changes because of prayer. I’m not sure how, after all, it’s not like an equation; but I am confident that it’s true. Prayer works.
Today, I want to invite you to establish a prayer list. I’m struck by the fact that George Muller saw over 50,000 prayers answered in his life, but he was only able to know that because he kept track of his requests and God’s answers.
Here are a few categories to consider:
- Family and close friends
- Non-Christian friends
- Leaders (in church, community, and country)
- City, region, world
If you’d like a guide to help you establish a list, you can find one here.