I jotted this post idea down a few weeks ago. Now that our pastor is covering the topic on Sunday mornings, I think it's a good time to look at it.
The questions I originally wanted to explore were: How does prayer work? Does God change his mind? If God is omniscient, how can we have a better idea of what God should do than He does?
Charlie stated this past Sunday (and I haven't heard the previous sermon yet) that he holds these things in tension, and believes that the bible supports both of them. I think I can state them as 1) the truth that God has a sovereign, predetermined plan or will for how things will work out, and 2) that prayer actually accomplishes an outcome that wouldn't have occurred without prayer. Is prayer simply the vehicle through which God accomplishes His predetermined plan, or is that a cop out?
I would say, and I think this echoes Charlies thoughts, that prayer is primarily for us. We align ourselves with God through prayer. We agree with Him. We access an understanding of spiritual realities. I think a major benefit of prayer is the bonding of relationships through prayer. Unfortunately, many of us see prayer as mainly a time to request things from God.
But what about affecting, or effecting, outcomes?
When I pray for something, even if it's for an issue that I believe God would obviously be in favor of, such as physical wellness, or salvation for a friend, I always add the 'tag line' or 'disclaimer' of 'if it's Your will'. I feel as though I'm acknowledging God may have a different plan, a better plan, than the one I think is best. I may, in fact, be praying for something that God doesn't want.
Is there a category of things that God is fine with either way, but if we pray, we can sway Him in one direction or the other? What about Jesus' instruction about the persistent neighbor and persistent widow who get what they want through insistent, repeated requests? Yet, Paul prayed 3 times for 'thorn' removal, and decided that was enough.