Saturday, July 21, 2012

Prayer changes us so we can change things

 Prayer Changes Things” is a common expression among Christians. It affirms the efficacy of prayer.  That is good. However, the statement seems a bit inadequate. I always feel that more needs to be said.
Actually prayer does not change anything. God changes things when people pray. And what God changes is people, and changed people then affect things or circumstances. So it would seem wiser to say that God changes things when people pray.
I learned this from Oswald Chambers who said “Prayer changes me and I change things.” Authentic prayer, Chambers said, “alters the way in which a man looks at things.”
As we mature in Christ we finally realize that we do not pray in order to get our way but to obtain the grace to accept God’s way. We do not pray so that God will do what we want him to do; we pray so that we may know and embrace what God wants us to do. Otherwise, God is merely a cosmic bellhop to do our bidding – and that he is not.
One cannot read Paul’s letters without observing the importance of prayer to the apostle. Paul prayed for his friends. He prayed, after the example of our Lord, for his enemies. He makes sure that Timothy understands that Christians should pray for everyone – including people we may not like.
It was Chambers who taught me also the importance of praying about everything as well as praying for everyone. There is great wisdom in his advice:
“Get into the habit of dealing with God about everything. Unless in the first waking moment of the day you learn to fling the door wide back and let God in, you will work on a wrong level all day; but swing the door wide open and pray to your Father in secret, and every public thing will be stamped with the presence of God.”
When we swing the door of our lives wide open, we realize the need to pray for those who are antagonistic towards us, those who have hurt us by word or deed, and those terrorists on the nightly news who want to destroy us and our way of life.
Admittedly it is difficult to know how to pray for our personal enemies much less the terrorists who hate America. Only the Holy Spirit can teach us how to pray for these persons. We can be sure that he will for Jesus promised us that the Spirit would teach us “all things.”
Only the Spirit can help us love our enemies as Jesus said we must do. Love and prayer are surely linked together for it is impossible to pray for someone without loving them just as it is impossible to love someone and not pray for them.
We are tempted to limit our praying to our family and friends – the people we feel comfortable being around. Paul insists that we widen the circle by remembering that salvation is for everyone – even the people we do not want in our fellowship.
We need to remember that God does not exclude anyone from his saving grace nor must we. A few years ago I found it difficult to welcome certain men into the church – men who wore ear rings or men with hair in pony tails, for example. The Spirit gave me an attitude adjustment by reminding me that God looks on the heart, not one’s outward appearance.
When we begin praying for people, we begin to experience the power of God at work in our prayers. We begin to have love for people we had not been able to love before. We begin to care for people who are different from ourselves, remembering that Christ died for them too.
Sometimes we are so impressed with ourselves that we pray for God to change other people. Often we need simply to pray for God to change us. This beautiful chorus says it all:
“Change my heart 0h God
Make it ever true
Change my heart 0h God
May I be like You

You are the potter
I am the clay
Mould me and make me
This is what I pray.”
          When God changes our hearts he usually helps us to see others as he sees them. It helps me to pray that the Lord will help me see people through the eyes of Christ. Sometimes I experience his power when he replaces my disgust for someone with compassion and patience. In such moments I am aware that the Lord has given me love that I could not produce in myself; it happens only because Christ is in me.
On occasion I am tempted to pray for “the unlovely.” Then gently the Lord whispers to me, “Does that mean you are lovely? Surely you must realize that to some people you are one of the unlovely.”
When the Lord says that, I ask his forgiveness for my arrogance and to change me and make me more like the Master. He always reminds me that he is more willing to change me than I am willing to be changed.
There is power in prayer because God has the power to change hearts that are willing to be changed. When we become willing to pray for everyone, we truly experience the power of God at work in our prayers. He changes things by changing people – one at a time!                                             

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