Principle 1 Pray for Change

This principle may be so self-evident that it seems trite even to say it. It's like a throwaway line, an obligatory statement all Christian authors or pastors must make to assure their audience that they're one of the faithful. Or maybe it's one of those things Christian publishers automatically include in their practical resources lest the resources seem too secular. Whatever the reason, it's little more than stating the obvious, right?

But humor me. Let me say it anyway, just to get it on the record: Prayer changes things. It's the starting point for influence. We shouldn't go charging ahead independently and self-sufficiently but, instead, co-labor with God to persuade people. After all, God does the changing. We're merely the instruments he's using to effect the change.

In fact, Scripture says that "in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God" (Phil. 4:6). In everything. That includes our attempts to influence people and circumstances. And it's modeled throughout the Bible. There are countless examples.

The patriarchs prayed for change. Genesis says, for example, that "Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female slaves" (Gen. 20:17).

Moses prayed for change. When God had heard enough complaining from his people, he sent fire to surround their camp. But Moses "prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down" (Num. 11:2).

The prophets prayed for change. A lot. Jeremiah prayed so much that one time God even insisted he stop interceding for the people of Judah, apparently so that God's plans would go forward! (Jer. 7:16).

Jesus himself teaches us to pray for change. He says, "Keep asking, and it will be given to you."

The psalmists prayed for change—to be restored in their relationship with God (e.g., Ps. 51), to be healed (e.g., Ps. 6), for safety (e.g., Ps. 57), and even that God would strike down their enemies (e.g., Ps. 109).

Jabez prayed for a change in the size of his territory—that God would "extend my border"—and Scripture says that "God granted his request" (1 Chron. 4:10).

Jesus' brother James tells us directly to pray for change, explaining that "you do not have because you do not ask" (James 4:2) and that a prayer offered in faith can make a sick person well (James 5:13-15).

Most instructively, Jesus himself teaches us to pray for change. He says, "Keep asking, and it will be given to you" (Matt. 7:7). He tells his disciples, "Anything you ask the Father in My name, He will give you" (John 16:23). He modeled the principle, too, praying that God would transform us into the kind of people who would draw many to him (see John 17:21).

If it's so clear that prayer changes things, and if so many of us Christians desire change, why do so few of us have a healthy and active prayer life?

All of these prayers—and so many others in the Bible—are prayers to influence people and circumstances. Indeed, prayer changes things. But here's the problem: if it's so clear that prayer changes things, and if so many of us Christians desire change in ourselves and others, why do so few Christians have a healthy and active prayer life?

A Quick Confession

OK, confession time: My question comes from uncomfortable firsthand experience with the problem. Please don't misunderstand me: I believe that every verse cited above is true. I believe that they come from God himself, through inspired writers of his choosing. Still, though I'm a Christian and even a teacher of Christians, I've wrestled for years with this question of whether prayer changes things. And here's the kicker: the more Christians I talk to at the heart level, the more I realize that I'm not alone. In fact, those of us who struggle with the nature of prayer may even be in the majority.

I've seen some studies that support my unscientific conclusions. But you may not need empirical evidence to relate to what I'm saying. Maybe you're wanting to ask this same question, or you know someone else who might be. If so, let's look together at a root cause of our disbelief—the reason we neglect to pray for change.