Nearly everyone prays at some point. Christians, Muslims, Jews and probably even skeptics may ask the heavens or inquire of the great beyond. Those of us who are Christians address God, our loving Father and Divine Parent, in the name of Jesus Christ in the strength of the Holy Spirit (we pray in Trinity…but that’s another story).
Yet, what is prayer? Does it affect God? If God is infinite and all powerful, isn’t God just going to do whatever He, or She, wants? This is a big question. Its one of those questions that everyone has an answer for which in reality means no one has an answer for.
CS Lewis addresses this question in an essay found in his book God in the Dock:
“We know that we can act and that our actions produce results. Everyone who believes in God must therefore admit (quite apart from the question of prayer) that God has not chosen to write the whole of history with His own hand. Most of the events that go on in the universe are indeed out of our control, but not all. It is like a play in which the scene and the general outline of the story is fixed by the author, but certain minor details are left for the actors to improvise. It may be a mystery why He should have allowed us to cause real events at all; but it is no odder that He should allow us to cause them by praying than by any other method” (106)
In other words, just as our actions make a difference so to do our prayers impact real events. It may be a mystery how it works, but for Lewis, the relationship of God and humanity means prayer, or lackthereof, does make a difference:
“He (God) made the matter of the universe such that we can (in those limits) do things to it; that is why we can wash our own hands and feed or murder our fellow creatures. Similarly, He made His own plan or plot of history such that it admits a certain amount of free play and can be modified in response to our prayers” (106)
Lewis goes on to address the difference between prayer and work. He basically says that we humans possess a good deal of power in our work, God has given us freedom. When it comes to prayer, God has “discretionary power”. To use an example, you can choose to harm another person and act to make it happen and God, as far as we know, will not intervene to stop you. But if you pray to kill another person, God will not make it happen.
“You cannot be sure of a good harvest whatever you do to a field. But you can be sure that if you pull up one week that one weed will no longer be there. You can be sure that if you drink more than a certain amount of alcohol you will ruin your health or that f you go on for a few centuries more wasting the resources of the planet on wars and luxuries you will shorten the life of the whole human race. The kind of causality we exercise by work is, so to speak, divinely guaranteed, and therefore ruthless. By it we are free to do ourselves as much harm as we please. But the kind which we exercise by prayer is not like that; God has left himself a discretionary power. Had He not done so, prayer would be an activity too dangerous for man and we should have the horrible state of things envisaged by Juvenal: ‘Enormous prayers which Heaven in anger grants'” (107)
My take away from Lewis is simple: Pray. Do not choose between Prayer and Work because both make a difference. Work hard to do good and pray hard for good to be done.
There’s lots more that could be said If you’re interested, my friend Tim just preached a sermon on prayer this past week: Negotiating With God. Give it a listen. I’ve posted on prayer in the past, here are two that might be helpful.
Finally, if you’re into books you could always try Lewis’ Letters To Malcolm on Prayer or Philip Yancey’s Prayer or Andrew Murray’s With Christ in the School of Prayer. Of course, there’s the book of Psalms in the Bible which is filled with prayer.
And there’s the act of praying. Since prayer is not about reading and learning but mostly about doing.