"Prayer changes things."
"Prayer changes those who pray."
Which is it? Or is it both? Prayer has a mysterious alchemy that is often inscrutable. We want to parse out prayer, to determine how exactly it works, or doesn't work. We tend toward a spiritual utilitarianism, which reflects so much of the rest of our lives: you get out what you put in; garbage in, garbage out; what's my return on investment? Those kinds of things.
How does prayer work? Prayer certainly is a mystery. At its core, prayer is a conundrum: we Christians confess our faith in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. This God is sovereign, the ruler of all things. God is eternal, immortal, and omnipotent. In what possible ways might we little human beings nudge God or bend God's will to act on people, circumstances and needs? It would seem that God, who is gracious and good and wise and loving, would not need our puny efforts to assist him or direct him in any way.
But what if prayer is primarily about transformative relationship? What if in prayer God invites us to participate with him in the unfolding of his gracious purposes on earth? What if prayer is God's chosen means to pour out blessing? Not that God needs this...but what if God wants this? For our sake, our good, and the good of the world? If this is the case, then prayer changes things AND prayer changes us, the people praying.
On my bike ride today an analogy hit me. It's summertime, my boys are home and they have more time on their hands. While I've been doing the lawn care around our home all year, it really makes sense that I'd share the work with them. After all, it's good for them to participate in our household and know the joy (and the work) of contributing. Rolling up their sleeves, putting in a little sweat equity, these are transformative experiences that will ready them for the responsibilities of adulthood. They'll be better people if I ask them to help.
But in my mind, I say: "I can do it better than they can. I'm more attentive to details. I'm more diligent and careful and particular." All true. But still...how will they grow if they're not invited in to share the work?
Couldn't this be roughly analogous to God's invitation to join his work in prayer? Of course, God could enact his gracious will independently. Without a doubt, God doesn't need our fumbling, inadequate mumblings of prayer to accomplish his work. But what if this is God's gracious way of being family? Of calling us to maturity? Of helping us to grow up and share his heart for people and for our world? It doesn't remove the mystery of prayer, but I think it makes sense.
And, besides, that grass is getting long.