I have not abandoned my study of prayer, but for the past month events have consumed my time, and I had reached an impasse concerning the immutability of God.
“Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays,” said SØren Kierkegaard. On the other hand, Karl Barth says, “He is not deaf, he listens; more than that, he acts. He does not act in the same way whether we pray of not.”
I will come back to the question, but today I want to explore the effect that prayer has on the prayer. Cicero says of pagan prayer, “We do not pray to Jupiter to make us good, but to give us material benefits.” For the Christian it is the other way round. By praying we allow God to change us. The more I pray, the more I see things God’s way.
Sometimes we are taken in by Biblical texts like “Ask and it shall be given unto you” and “You receive not because you ask not” as if God were a sugar-daddy who would spoil us with presents we didn’t really need. “A god who would grant every request of every man or every company of men would be an evil God – that is no God, but a demon,” said George MacDonald.
St Augustine said, “A person prays that he himself may be constructed, not that God may be instructed.” That is the key. Jacob the twister walked arrogantly on two good legs; Israel limped into history as the father of nations. Peter took a simple query about different types of food to the roof of the house, but climbed down after a lesson in legalism and racism. Paul prayed for healing and received humility. All prayer is answered; it’s just that the answer may not be the one we are expecting.
“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” (Ephesians 2:10) ‘Workmanship’ is a poor translation of the Greek ‘poiema’ from which we get ‘poem’. Better to say we are God’s work of art. Prayer enables God to refine and remodel us so that we become (one hopes) God’s masterpiece.