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Who's in control with prayer?



I have a dear non-believer friend who is asking me questions about prayer.  I
believe this is a great way to share with him about God's power and His love
for us, but I just wanted to get some thoughts on the issue.  I myself have
been very baffled on the subject and realize I don't know anything about prayer
except that God hears us and that He is all powerful and that His will will be

So, what is prayer?  How does it work?  Specifically, if we ask for something,
and it happens, then we praise God for answering our prayers but if it doesn't,
then what happened?  We were asking the wrong thing?  God knows better and
gives us another outcome?  If so, why pray at all?  Echoing my friend's last
question, how do I view God's omnipotent power vs. my power to ask and change
the outcome of a situation?

More specifically, here is an excerpt of the email he sent, in response to a
near-accident I had on the freeway.  When I got to my destination, my friend
had told me that she had been praying for my safety since it had been raining
that day..."In your last email you wrote, "I tend to be very skeptical about
even prayer sometimes, but Betsy and I know how truly amazing it was that we
drove away completely unscathed!" Now are you saying that the praying
influenced the outcome of the situation? If so, then what about all your
prayers that haven't been answered?  Lets assume that all 4 drivers in your
situation prayed for their safety before they got in the car.  Why would your
prayer, then, be answered and not theirs?  Sure you could say that their
prayers were answered, in that nobody was killed, but then isn't that just
arbitrary?  So now since it's often acknowledged that God knows best, and
that He works in mysterious ways, then what effects would praying have on
the situation?  What if you didn't pray that day.  Would the outcome of the
accident still be the same?  If the outcome of the situation changes, then
that means your actions have a direct effect on God's will, which
subsequently is incongruous to the axiom that "God has his plan."  So I
guess my question in all of this is, if your thoughts affect God, and God
changes the sequence of events, then who exactly is in control of your world?"

first response

I am one of the Paraclete Forum team members. You may well hear from
more than one of us as we work together.

One great way to learn about prayer is to study the great prayers in the Bible.

I can strongly recommend two series that I believe will be helpful:



Many of the Psalms are exquisite prayers from which we can learn much
about God's heart for us.

C.S. Lewis said this about prayer, "When we are praying about the
result, say, of a battle or a medical consultation, the thought will
often cross our minds that, if we only knew it, the event is already
decided one way or the other. I believe this to be no good reason for
ceasing our prayers. The event certainly has been decided. In a
sense, it was decided before all the worlds. But one of the things
taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things
that really causes it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are
now offering....Thus, shocking as it may sound, I conclude that we
can at noon become part causes of an event occurring at ten o'clock."

(That is, even our prayers after an event affect the event. Now that
is strange to us, but I think it is true. We are up against a great
mystery in the matter of prayer).

"There is no question whether an event has happened because of your
prayer. When the event you prayed for occurs, your prayer has always
contributed to it. When the opposite event occurs, your prayer has
never been ignored; it has been considered and refused for your
ultimate good and the good of the whole universe."


second response

Your questions and comment on prayer is on the mind of many people I meet, an
important topic.  Why would two girls be saved in Afghanistan and many other
Christians killed in another place when people are praying for both?  I'm sure
John the Baptist was wondering about prayer when he sent a message to Christ
asking if he should look for someone else, Luke 7:20.  He was beheaded and the
Apostle John lived a long life.  Jesus loved and honored them both. We pray
because we are instructed to pray in contrast to being anxious.  We need to be
assured that God's wisdom is somewhat beyond ours in respect to who gets what,
when and how.  Jesus never placed a high value on the physical however
continually spoke of the spirit and soul.  Prayer is an acknow-ledgment that
God exists.  Prayer is an expression that we are children speaking to the
Father, sharing our pain, joy and needs.  Jesus in his suggestion for prayer
said we should pray for our daily food, ask for forgiveness and ask Jesus to
return that life here will be as it is in heaven.  That's a short but rather
important prayer suggestion.   Analyzing the result of prayer is probably not a
good idea in that our expectations are without God's view..   As I look back in
my life, 50 years as a Christian, I am very comfortable that God has been the
Good Shepherd, not intervening in all experiences that I might grow. We all
dislike pain and sorrow.    God also surprised me with grace and gifts when
I least deserved it.   It cautions me to not judge and help people only when
they appear to "deserve it".   I wish you well....keep praying.