I want you to know that I have been bringing you before the Lord this week, asking God to “reassure you of his steadfast love” and “lead you onto level ground” (Psalm 143:8,10).
It is often stated that the real benefit of prayer is that we are changed, and not that God is prevailed upon to actually do something. Immanuel Kant, the 18th-century German philosopher, argued that it was “an absurd and presumptuous delusion” to think that one person’s prayer might actually cause God to bring about a certain outcome.
Prayer is simply an exercise meant to bring us closer to God, it is argued.
And certainly, there’s some truth to that statement. Prayer is the means by which God reminds us of his comforting presence. If you’re feeling lost, then pray. Prayer is the way that God enlivens the soul. If your soul is dry, then pray. Prayer is the way God gives us great joy. If you’re discouraged and feel hopeless, then pray. God promises to respond.
But we don’t pray simply so that we’ll be changed. There’s something else going on. The biblical witness is overwhelming: God has determined to provide for us in response to our prayers. It’s not as though we twist God’s arm and bend him into submission, but God gives us what we need through our prayers. As the Scottish preacher Andrew Murray said so beautifully and succinctly: “Prayer is the power by which that comes to pass which otherwise would not take place.”
The God who has forever existed, who made the world and everything in it, who is unlimited in his power and wealth, and is dependent upon no one, actually invites us into his presence. This God, who is so majestic and holy, that we cannot even look at him and live, can be approached with incredible intimacy—as we address him as ‘Abba, Father’—because of the relationship made possible through Jesus Christ.
And not only can we approach this God, but he has determined to bless us through our prayers. “This is the confidence which we have before him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14).
Tonight (7:00 p.m., in Heritage Hall) we will gather and ask, in Christ’s name, that God would bring about salvation to our friends, co-workers, and neighbors who don’t know Jesus. We will pray that God would bless our Good Friday and Easter services and revive our city. And we will trust that not only will we grow closer to God as a consequence of this exercise, but that God will bring about the very things we ask for.