Section One
The Purpose of Prayer

Week One
The Purpose of Prayer

Practice a New Way of Praying

Pray this prayer every day for a week. Pray it slowly, taking time to consider each word and phrase. Each day, emphasize a different word or phrase. What new insights or understanding do you get as you saturate your heart and mind in this prayer? Make your observation specific to your own situations and concerns. What is God telling you?

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.—Psalm 25:4-5

Day One

I entrusted myself fully to the Master's teaching. I was committed to this journey, wherever it would take me. I was certain there were answers to the questions that perplexed me. The first question I had to understand was this: Can I change God through prayer? This presented a dilemma for my orderly mind because it seemed to have a pitfall either way. If I can change God, then He's not sovereign. If I can't change God, then what good is prayer?

I realized that in practice, I had prayed as if I could change God. I prayed as if I could open His eyes to new possibilities, awaken love or mercy in Him, or sway Him to my point of view. If I could just say the right words, I thought, or say them in the right order, or say them often enough, or say them with the right amount of fervor—somehow I could get God to do what I thought He should do. I felt that I had to convince God. I felt that I had to prove my need or give Him a reason to answer me. I approached prayer as if God were hoarding blessings and my role was to get Him to release them. It was a draining responsibility—to be clever enough to convince God. It caused my prayer life to be anxiety-driven, always wondering if I had been effective enough to win God over.

In retrospect, I giggle at how I approached God in prayer! As if God were waiting for me to make suggestions for Him to consider. As if, when I prayed, God said, "Why didn't I think of that? I wonder what other good ideas Jennifer might have for Me?" But at the beginning of my journey, I couldn't see anything else prayer would be for. If God already knows what He wants to do, why does He need my prayers?

Think about your prayer life. When you pray, what do you assume happens in heaven?

  1. God says, "What a great idea! I'll take that under advisement. Maybe—just maybe—if he can bring Me enough documentation or can make a strong enough case, I'll consider his idea."
  2. God says, "The majority of the requests on this matter are leaning in the other direction. I'll have to deny your request. I have to go with the majority."
  3. God says, "Someone else got here first."
  4. God says, "You've let Me down so many times. What makes you think I would give you anything you asked for? You don't deserve to have your prayers answered."
  5. None of the above.

What is your answer to this dilemma: Does prayer change God? If so, can He be sovereign? If not, why should I pray?

Practice a New Way of Praying

What is God saying to you?

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.—Psalm 25:4-5, emphasis mine


Day Two

In bringing me to an understanding of this dilemma, the starting place had to be the sovereignty of God. Scripture is clear that God is, has always been, and will always be sovereign. Sovereign is sovereign—any limitations on His sovereignty would mean that He is not sovereign.

To say that God is sovereign is to say that He is under no rule or authority outside Himself. His sovereignty is combined with His all-powerfulness. He not only has all authority, He has all power.

Read the following Scriptures and, in your own words, write what each says about God's sovereignty.

1 Chronicles 29:11-12

Daniel 4:35

Daniel 5:21

Psalm 115:3

Psalm 86:10

Deuteronomy 8:18

John 3:27

Proverbs 16:4

Romans 9:17

John 6:37

John 19:11

Job 42:2

Write out your understanding of the sovereignty of God.

Practice a New Way of Praying

What is God saying to you?

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.—Psalm 25:4-5, emphasis mine


Day Three

Does God change His mind? Does He ever rethink His position or second-guess His decree? Let's look at the clear words of Scripture:

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?—Numbers 23:19

He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.—1 Samuel 15:29

But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.—Psalm 33:11

Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.—Psalm 119:89

I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.—Ecclesiastes 3:14

Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked?—Ecclesiastes 7:13

For God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.—Romans 11:29

He does not take back his words.—Isaiah 31:2

The Word of God, from beginning to end, tells us that God is sovereign and that He is working according to a plan that has been in place since before the earth was formed. Nothing takes Him by surprise. He is never making things up as He goes along. He is never confronted with a situation He had not expected and planned for and woven into His sovereign and redemptive plan. As Isaiah stated, He does not take back His words.

Yet there are occasions in Scripture when it appears that God changed His mind in response to intercession. For example, in the story recorded in Exodus 32:9-14, the Israelites angered God by building a golden calf to worship. God declared that as a result of their idolatry, He would destroy them and make a great nation out of Moses. But Moses began to pray: "Turn from your fierce anger; relent (change your mind) and do not bring disaster on your people" (Exodus 32:12, parentheses added). How does the Scripture say that God responded to Moses' prayer? "Then the Lord relented and did not bring on His people the disaster He had threatened" (Exodus 32:14).

How can we reconcile the sovereign and unchangeable purposes of God with the intercession of His people? The question of God's sovereignty and man's will—both clearly taught in Scripture—continue to confuse many. Since both are taught in Scripture, both are fully true and they are fully true at the same time. See the appendixes of this book for a fuller treatment of this issue.

Did God change His mind? Let's set this passage into its context—the whole Word of God and all of history. The story is told from the earth's point of view. But you and I are not limited to the earth's point of view. We can see it from heaven's point of view. We can step back and get the big picture. From the earth, it looked as if Moses prayed and God changed His mind. But is that what really happened?

If God changed His mind in response to Moses' prayer, then was Moses more merciful than God? Was Moses wiser than God? Did Moses get God to cool His anger so that He wouldn't take an action He would ultimately regret? Shall we be grateful to Moses for restraining God?

Think about it. If the right argument can change God's mind, then how can His word stand firm in the heavens? How can His word endure when all else fades like the grass of the field?

Or is this the way it happened? God sees the sin of the nation of Israel and passes judgment on them—they will be destroyed. But Moses makes such a passionate plea on their behalf that God reevaluates. "Moses has a point," He reasons. "I hadn't thought about it that way. I'll change My mind and do as Moses has suggested."

Was it Moses? Was it Moses' character and persuasiveness that influenced God? If so, then Moses' prayers should always have been answered affirmatively, but they were not. In the instance reported by Moses in Deuteronomy 3:26, Moses says, "But because of you the Lord was angry with me, and would not listen to me. 'That is enough,' the Lord said. 'Do not speak to me anymore about this matter.'" Moses had tried to change God's mind about letting him enter the Promised Land, but he could not. The answer to this dilemma does not lie in Moses and his ability to pray well.

Is this not a true statement? If God can be influenced to change His mind, then His word cannot be trusted. Think about it. If the right argument can change God's mind, then how can His word stand firm in the heavens (Psalm 119:89)? How can His word endure when all else fades like the grass of the field (Isaiah 40:8)?

Write out your answers to these questions. For now, just answer with a simple yes or no. We'll continue to think through the whole issue.

Was Moses wiser and more merciful than God?

Did God rethink His position?

Did God surrender His sovereignty to Moses?

Did Moses change God's mind?

Practice a New Way of Praying

What is God saying to you?

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.—Psalm 25:4-5, emphasis mine


Day Four

We begin to see the truth when we compare two similar events that have different outcomes. One is found in Exodus 32, the passage we looked at yesterday. The other is found in Ezekiel 22.

Read Ezekiel 22:23-31 and answer the following questions:

Why was the nation of Judah in danger of receiving God's judgment?

What did God do "so [He] would not have to destroy it (Judah)?"

Examine the two situations side by side and you will see a parallel spiritual truth running through them. Notice the similarities in the two situations:

In both instances, the people had broken covenant with God.

Read Exodus 32:1-6. Israel broke covenant with God. Then read Ezekiel 22:23-29. Judah broke covenant with God.

In both instances, the people had earned God's judgment.

What is God's judgment? It is when God allows the consequences of sin to accrue to the sinner. God does not impose a new punishment for each offense. I am not saying that God does not punish. I am saying that sin has punishment built into it. When God defined judgment or punishment to Adam and Eve, He did not say, "If you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, I will kill you." He said, "You will die." The wages of sin is death. Sin brings death and punishment with it.

God's judgment occurs when God allows sin to have its full effect and does not intervene to circumvent the evil. Notice what God said about His actions toward Judah in Ezekiel 22:31: "bringing down on their own heads all they have done."

in both instances, God desired to intervene in the natural course of events and show mercy instead of judgment.

For the nation of Israel in Exodus 32, we know that God's heart desire was not to destroy the people, but to save them. How do we know? Look at the judgment the people had earned. God said to Moses, "I will destroy this nation and make a great nation out of you." Think about it. What if God had carried out the judgment? He would have destroyed the tribe that was to produce the Messiah! The Messiah was to come from the tribe of Judah, but Moses was from the tribe of Levi. God did not want judgment; He wanted to show mercy.

For the nation of Judah in Ezekiel 22, we know that God wanted to show mercy because He said, "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it."

In both cases, even though the people had earned judgment, God desired mercy.

When God wanted to intervene and change the natural course of events, what did He do? In both instances, He looked for an intercessor.

Read Exodus 32:7-10, God's call to Moses. Look at the elements of the call:

  1. Verse 7: God reminds Moses that He has placed the people into Moses' care. When He called the nation of Israel "your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt" instead of "My people, whom I brought up out of Egypt," what was He meaning to communicate? He was saying to Moses, "Moses, My people, whom I have entrusted to your care..."
  2. Verses 8-10: God tells Moses what the people have brought on themselves. He gives Moses a glimpse of where things are headed unless God intervenes. Isn't that what motivates us to intercede? Don't we first have to see the urgency? God called forth from Moses the great love for the people that God Himself had placed in Moses' heart.
  3. Verse 10b: God said to Moses, "I will destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation." We have to hear this statement in the context of the relationship between God and Moses. God and Moses had lived in such long intimacy that the heart of God had become the heart of Moses. The desires of God had become the desires of Moses. Moses did not see a good opportunity to exalt himself, but instead saw the destruction of God's eternal plan. God called on Moses' selfless love for the people and his loyalty to the eternal purposes of God. With these words, God called Moses into intercession.

Read Ezekiel 22:30. What does God clearly state? "I looked for a man." God looked for an intercessor for Judah.

Now the two instances take opposite turns.

When God looked for an intercessor for Israel, He found Moses.

When God looked for an intercessor for Judah, He found no one.

Israel received mercy. Judah received judgment.

Israel: Exodus 32 Judah: Ezekiel 22

Israel breaks covenant with

(Exodus 32:1-4)

Judah breaks covenant with

(Ezekiel 22:23-29)

Israel deserves judgment.

(Exodus 32:8)

Judah deserves judgment.

(Ezekiel 22:30)

God desires mercy.

(Genesis 49:10—God wants to
preserve Messiah's tribe)

God desires mercy.

(Ezekiel 22:30)

God seeks out an intercessor.

(Exodus 32:7-10)

God looks for an intercessor.

(Ezekiel 22:30)

God finds Moses.

(Exodus 32:11)

God finds no one.

(Ezekiel 22:30)

Israel receives mercy.

(Exodus 32:14)

Judah receives judgment.

(Ezekiel 22:31)

Moses did not change God's mind; He shared God's mind. He did not alter God's plan; He implemented God's plan. God's purposes were firmly rooted in Moses' heart and formed the basis for Moses' desires. When Moses spontaneously poured out his heart to God, God's desires were being expressed through Moses' lips. From a one-dimensional, earth-based point of view, it appeared that Moses had changed God's mind. Instead, through his intercession, Moses reflected God's love and redemptive purposes.

What God wants to do on the earth, He will do through intercessors. Prayer releases the will of God, bringing His will out of the spiritual realm and causing it to take effect in the material realm. Prayer opens the way for God to do what He longs to do. When God wants to change the course events will take on their own, He calls out an intercessor.

When God found no intercessor for Judah, the people suffered the full consequences of their actions. The different outcomes, mercy as opposed to judgment, hinged on the availability of an intercessor.

Two questions arise: (1) What if Moses had not been available to intercede? Would God's eternal plan have been thwarted? If that's the case, doesn't God's sovereignty hinge on man's obedience? (2) If God wanted to show mercy to Judah, but did not because there was no one to intercede, was God's sovereignty not limited by man's disobedience? To explore these questions, see the appendixes Man's Will/God's Sovereignty and Is God's Sovereignty Limited to Man's Obedience? found in the back of this book.

Prayer does not change God, but prayer does change the circumstances of earth. If we approach prayer as if God's mind needed to be changed, then aren't we starting out with the supposition that God is about to make a mistake? But if we understand that every thought and intention in the mind of God is good and righteous, then we will enthusiastically cooperate with Him, praying His power and provision onto the earth.

Note: There are several instances in Scripture when it appears that God changed His mind. To explore those in detail, see the article Does God Change His Mind? found in the appendixes of this book.

Did Moses change God's mind?

  1. Yes. God was swayed by Moses' reasoning and passion and decided to take Moses' suggestion.
  2. No. When Moses poured out his own deep desires, He was expressing the heart and mind of God.

What God wants to do on the earth, He will do through intercessors. When God wants to intervene and change the course events will take on their own, He searches out an intercessor upon whose heart He can place His own desires.

What is your reaction to the statement above?

I agree because:

I disagree because:

Practice a New Way of Praying

What is God saying to you?

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.—Psalm 25:4-5, emphasis mine


Day Five

Continue to look at Moses' praying life. How did it operate? What did his prayers accomplish?

One thing that you will learn in this course is that prayer is more than the words that come sandwiched between "Dear God" and "Amen." Prayer is an ongoing interaction between the material world and the spiritual world. It takes many forms. One of those forms is active, aggressive obedience to God's revealed will. Look at Moses' praying life when he led the Israelites out of Egypt and found himself caught between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea.

Read Exodus 14:15-18 and think through these questions:

When Moses found himself in this difficulty, was it a surprise to God?

Did God passively allow the situation, or did He actively engineer it? (Read Exodus 14:1-4.) What was His purpose?

Before Moses and the Israelites arrived at the Red Sea, did God already know what He was going to do to save them?

Did God do what He planned to do and wanted to do without Moses' active participation? Read Exodus 14:16 and 21-22.

When Moses found himself in this difficult situation, what was his role?

  1. To figure out how God could rescue them and suggest it to Him.
  2. To talk God into rescuing them.
  3. To figure out a way to get the people to the other side of the sea, where God wanted them.
  4. To respond in obedience to God's voice and let his praying life be the conduit to bring into the situation what God had always planned to do.

What is God's intent for prayer? The purpose of prayer is to release the power of God to accomplish the purposes of God. The purpose of prayer is to discover God's will, not obligate Him to do mine; to reflect God's mind, not change it. I could, through prayer, release God's power to bring about the best possible solution in every situation, because that is always God's desire. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jeremiah 29:11). Could I learn, like Moses, to make my heart available for God's purposes? Could I learn to trust His purposes more than my own perceptions?

Could I learn, like Moses, to make my heart available for God's purposes? Could I learn to trust His purposes more than my own perceptions?

My first step, finding a new purpose for prayer, would require an inner transformation. Changing my prayer focus from my own satisfaction and happiness to God's glory and eternal purposes would take a brand new heart. God has promised just such a drastic reorientation: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws" (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Before I desired such a thing, God had made it available. He had already promised to reproduce His heart in me, shaping my desires to match His. He promised to take my self-centered heart and fasten it on Him. And He worked in me until I desired to receive what He desired to give. "It is God who works in you to will... his good purpose" (Philippians 2:13).

Think about the following passage from one of my books, Heart's Cry: Principles of Prayer.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.—2 Corinthians 3:18

As you behold His glory, you are changed so that your heart is a reflection of His. His concerns are your concerns. His desires are your desires. His will is reflected in your prayers. In His presence, your prayer life becomes consistently powerful and effective. This is not because you now have more influence on Him, but because He now has more influence on you. The secret of prayer is not how to change God, but how to be changed by Him.

Practice a New Way of Praying

What is God saying to you?

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.—Psalm 25:4-5, emphasis mine


Week One Anniversary Thought

The first breakthrough understanding about prayer is that there is no recipe to follow, no "ten easy steps" to power in prayer. Power praying does not require that you master a skill, but that you pursue a present-tense relationship with the living and indwelling Jesus.

Prayer marked Jesus' life. Long, extended times of prayer. Spontaneous eruptions of prayer. Prayer in public, and with His disciples. Certainly Jesus, who only did and spoke what the Father showed Him, did not use prayer to argue, or beg, or try to change God's mind. Then why did Jesus pray? Why was prayer such a hallmark of His life that His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray like He prayed? If He wasn't giving God instructions, what was He doing when He rose up early to pray or spent all night in prayer?

I think we might get a hint from His time in Gethsemane, where some of His words are recorded and so we get a glimpse into the tenor of His interchange with the Father. We see Him synchronizing His heart with the Father's heart.

I think it works like this: I have many mobile electronic devices that I use to accomplish my daily tasks, or to entertain myself, or to stay in touch with others. I do most of my work on my main desktop computer, but then I need to transfer the work I've done, or the information I've added, or the files I've edited from my main computer to my mobile devices. How do I accomplish that? How do I get what is on the hard drive of my computer downloaded onto my mobile devices? I link the mobile device to the computer and a program is activated that automatically syncs my mobile device to my computer. What is on my computer is reproduced on my mobile device.

In His all-night prayer in Gethsemane, we see Jesus linking His heart to the Father's. Let me summarize the content of His recorded prayer in some new words. "Father, download Your will into my heart so that it overwrites any other desire. Download courageous faith that deletes fear. Synchronize My heart's desire to Yours."

What came from that heart-to-heart transaction? Observe the Jesus who emerges from His hours of agony. Courageous, forceful, marching out to meet His enemy rather than waiting to be taken. Handing Himself over to the purposes of the Father without reservation.

"The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!" (Mark 14:41-42).