Can prayer really change things?

The Question:

I lost my son suddenly in February of this year. Although I still believe in the Trinity and especially the resurrection, I have found it difficult to pray as I once did. I know that God is almighty and omnipotent and he knows all about us, but what I do not understand is that since God is in control of our lives, how praying for something will change the already predestined outcome. I believe that we should thank God for all He has done though.

-R from Kansas City, Missouri


The Answer
Part 1: Bruised soul
Part 2: Can prayer change things?

Bruised soul (Part 1)

I can well understand that you are finding it difficult to pray. Who wouldn’t under the circumstances of losing a child? I think it is like how your body would feel if hit by a Mac truck - numb and sore and very disoriented. Only in this case your soul and your spirit have taken the hit.

Therefore I’m going to answer your question two separate ways. In this part I’m going to address your bruised soul and then in Part 2 I’ll try to answer the theological question you ask.

What do we do when something happens to us that simply does not compute in our framework of understanding how life works? In the natural order of things, children should not die before their parents. Yet it happens and it has happened to you. You are left to make sense of it and continue life with someone missing.

When we are in great emotional pain we often try to make intellectual sense out of it since we are unable to handle the emotions that are so raw. At least we can try to think our way into something more manageable or controllable.

I believe that as you work your way through the grief process, you’re trying to figure out what you can still believe about God. Yes, you believe the Trinity; yes to the resurrection. Those things are not scary to stick with because they are removed from what happened to you. Now things come a little closer to home. You realize God is in control of the universe. Because of it he knows what is going to happen. So why is prayer necessary or even desirable? Why pray if we can’t change things?

My advice is to give yourself time to heal before you take on the giant mystery questions of the universe. If you had been hit by that Mac truck, no one would expect you to run a marathon the next week. In fact, trying to do so before you are ready might even set you back. God may never tell you “why” your son died when he did but one thing he will do for sure right now is comfort you and lead you in a path of healing for your sore soul. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

I am so sorry you have experienced this severe blow. I’m glad you still have it in you to thank God for all he has done. You are on the road to a mature relationship with him that is not just dependant upon how easy or difficult your life is.


Can prayer change things? (Part 2)

Outcomes are not necessarily predestined. Some are, it is true, but not all. Many things (perhaps MOST things) are up in the air until we pray and it is we who determine the outcome when we come into agreement with God’s Word or stand and ask.

How do we know that? James 4:2 says: “You do not have because you do not ask.” This tells us that certain things never happen because of our failure to ask for them. Further in the same book James tells us; “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (James 5:16) If events were predestined prayer would accomplish “nothing” instead of “much.”

Sometimes prayer changes the outcome based on a condition. A sample from Mark’s gospel is: “’Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you.’” (Mark 11:24) The condition here is faith or believing.

In scripture we are continually admonished and encouraged to pray. Jesus modeled this for us when he was on earth. If prayer did not affect the outcome, God wouldn’t ask us to do it; we would only be spinning our wheels in futility.

Think of how God invited Abraham to negotiate with him over the outcome of Sodom and Gomorrah. God had not pre-destined their destruction but was willing to change his mind if as few as ten righteous men could be found in those great cities. (Genesis 18:17-33) See Abraham-Great Negotiator for more detail.

God has foreordained some things that prayer will not alter. For instance, Jesus told the disciples to meet in Jerusalem after his ascension into heaven and wait for the Holy Spirit. They stayed and prayed in the upper room for fifty days after the resurrection. On the day of Pentecost he showed up with wind and tongues of fire.

Do you think if the hundred and twenty would have prayed harder the Holy Spirit could have been persuaded to show up in forty days? NO WAY! God was working on an eternal timing having to do with fulfilling Old Testament holidays in the new covenant.

How do we know what is pre-destined and what is up for grabs in prayer? We often don’t. That’s the mystery and a big dilemma for many of us. Still, we are commanded to PRAY. And when the mystery is thorny and difficult we must trust in this: “’Call to Me, and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.'” (Jeremiah 33:3) KEEP ASKING!

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