We continued the "Open Skies" series this week at WNW. We began with a worship set that included "Our God is Love" (Hillsong United), "Good To Be Alive" (Jason Gray), "Always" (Kristian Stanfill), and "City On Our Knees" (tobyMac). We spent some time in prayer lifting up the drama Lucifer's Lies that we are a part of the next two weekends. We focused our prayers on the lost that will hear the saving truth of Jesus Christ.
After a brief review of the previous week and what the series is about, I explained how we were going to do something a little different. I had 3 questions to cover surrounding the topic of why we pray. I explained that I would cover 2 of them, we would have a prayer time of reflection, would pack our weekly sack-packs, and then be dismissed. For those who were able and willing we would sit around and discuss a third question.
I began by covering the "why" in relation to prayer. We covered this in week 1 of the series but I wanted to review it before going further. We again looked at Matthew 6:10 and the model prayer Jesus showed His disciples how to pray. We read that in this model prayer we are to pray for God's will be done. This shows us that the purpose of prayer is to change who we are. When we understand and accept that what God desires and puts into motion is right, then our hearts change and we desire what God desires. As we pray and have conversation with God then we are changed. We become more like Him. We love the things that He loves and hate the things that He hates. We have talked about this before and so we should understand this by now. But this leads us to other questions surrounding prayer that we need to answer. While there are some things about our relationship with God that we cannot find answers and must rely on faith, there are some things we need to dig deeper on and seek God on.
Question #1: If God knows everything, then why should I pray?
This is a very valid question and one that we can find an answer to. We first looked at the truth in Scripture that God does know everything, that He is omniscient. Psalm 147:5 and Psalm 139:4 shows us this. The latter verse even telling us that He knows what we will pray before we speak it. Then why should we pray? We read in Matthew 11:28-30 that Jesus tells us to come to Him when we are weary. God desires us to come to Him. He already knows our burdens, those matters that weigh us down, those who we desire to pray for, yet He wants us to come to Him in prayer. We do this because we realize our dependence is on Him. We not only need Him, but we also want Him. Even though God knows what we want to pray, we should still pray because we are submitting to Him and worshipping Him.
Question #2: Why doesn't God answer my prayers?
This is a question that people often ask, but the truth is that God always answers our prayers. He answers them as He sees fit, not as we do. The old saying goes that "God answers prayers as either 'yes', 'no', or 'not right now.'" We must understand that He answers all prayers, but as He sees fit. He also answers them in His own perfect timing. He does not have to answer them in a time frame that we think He should. Another reason we might think that God does not answer our prayers as He answers them differently than we desire because we ask for the wrong things or with wrong motives as James 4:3 says.
Another thing that is often misspoken is that our prayers are not answered because we did not pray with enough faith and people use Mark 11:24. This sets us up for disappointment when we pray for something earnestly and it does not happen as we think it should. We end up feeling that we did not pray enough or with enough faith. We do need to approach prayer with faith and belief that God is able to do what we ask Him to do. However, we also must approach prayer with the belief that God will answer our prayers as He sees perfect.
We ended this portion of the night with the challenge to praise God because He knows all things. He knows everything about us and loves us the same and desires us to approach Him in prayer. We can also pray with confidence in God that He will answer all of our prayers as He sees best and however will bring Him glory.
After packing sack-packs for the week, we dismissed and whoever was able and willing to stay we sat around and discussed this further. I asked if they had any other questions relating to prayer and things we had already discussed. One student spoke up and raised the third question that I was going to cover in this smaller group: Can we change God's mind with our prayers? I asked them first what they thought in order for them to begin thinking deeper. It was asked about the moment in Exodus 32:14, where Moses intercedes on behalf of the Israelites. So we looked at this and proceeded to look at some of the attributes of God. First we looked at Hebrews 13:8 that lets us know that God is immutable or unchanging. Any change would imply that God is not perfect. Next we looked at Numbers 23:19 that says that God does not lie, and does not change His mind. So if God does not lie, and all Scripture is from the mouth of God (2 Timothy 3:16), then that means there are no contradictions in Scripture. Then we have to break down the fact that Scripture teaches that He is unchanging, does not change His mind, but at a quick glance can appear that Moses changed God's mind with his prayer. This is why we must study the Bible and not only read it. When we look at the Hebrew word naham used in Exodus 32:14 we see that it means to repent. When this is applied to humans in Scripture, it means that we change our minds and turn away from sin. However when the word is applied to God, it means that He relents, grieves, feels deep emotion, or sighs. God is deeply grieved by the sinful action of the Israelites. It would be His nature to kill the Israelites for their actions. However, He is deeply grieved and when Moses intercedes on their behalf He decides not to kill them. He had not previously decided He would do this, it was simply His nature to do so. Therefore He did not change His mind as we change our minds. To say that God changed His mind in this situation would mean that Moses knew best instead of God. To say that we can change God's mind with our prayers is to say that we know what is best and not God. God was not the one who changed here, the people repented of their sins and turned back to Him. Because the purpose of prayer is not to change God, but so that we are changed to depend on Him, and follow His will. It was a great night to go deeper with our students and I am so glad we have such a great group of students who are willing to do so.