The power to pray is one of the great blessings given by God to the church. On our knees in prayer is where we converse with the God of the universe. Just like any relationship, though, our relationship with God must be nurtured. Through prayer we begin to know God better as His Word forms and guides our times of communion with Him. Furthermore, prayer is a vital part of how God helps us understand ourselves better. This one-on-one time with God, then, is formative in our lives as He directs us through the process of growing in Christlikeness.
This aspect of prayer where God works change in us is too often neglected in the prayer life of Christians. The typical mode of prayer is to take our list of petitions before God and plead for His intervention. Surely our petitions are not too big for God, nor are they too petty for Him to consider, but there must be more to our time of prayer. In Tim Keller’s recent book, Prayer, he addresses this concern. Keller wrote, “Though prayer is a kind of artillery that changes the circumstances of the world, it is as much or even more about changing our own understanding and attitude toward those circumstances” (31).
Make no mistake, prayer powerfully changes circumstances in the world. God is pleased to answer our petitions in many cases. However, the mature Christian understands that God, for His own sovereign purposes, does not respond to every prayer in the way we desire. That’s okay; God always does what is right and good. While our circumstance may not always change through our prayer, our attitude should be transformed every time. Many times the more important part of our prayer is not that God grant a change in circumstance, but that He helps us see how the circumstance can be formative in our Christian life.
If God never allowed His children to endure difficult times, He would be impeding our sanctification. Believe it or not, we need God to say “no” to our prayers sometimes so that we can grow in faith. In this I am reminded of a quote from Bruce Ware that says, “God is more concerned with our character than with our comfort, with our holiness rather than our happiness.” The next time you go before God in prayer, seek a change in your attitude toward the circumstance more that you seek a change in your circumstance. You just might find yourself growing in godliness through the process.