David Brainerd observed, “The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God. It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best.”
The answer to the question “Does prayer make a difference?” is definitely, “Yes!”. But let’s consider how and why the Bible teaches us that prayer matters so much.
On one hand, the Bible teaches that God is working everything according to his own will. Paul says in Ephesians 1:11 that “we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” This is a comprehensive statement. There is nothing God is not working together to culminate in his own perfect purposes.
There is nothing God is not working together to culminate in his own perfect purposes.
What wonderful comfort this is, especially when we can’t see how anything at the moment seems to be good, much less perfect. The circumstances themselves may be terrible, tragic, a painful reminder of the sin-cursed state of this world — but God’s purposes are perfect and he is working “all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
in Isaiah 46:9-10, God reveals that “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’.”
One of the attributes of God is in immutability; he is unchangeable. God does not change his mind, reconsider his plans, get frustrated or discouraged. God declared the end from the beginning, and there was no one there to advise Him in the beginning! He needs no counselor in order to determine how to run his universe.
On the other hand, God has expressed that his will is for us to pray. The Bible is incessant, undivided, and crystal clear in its commands and encouragements to prayer.
“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
“Continue steadfastly in prayer” (Colossians 4:2).
“I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:3).
“The Lord is near to all who call on him” (Psalm 145:18).
And of course Jesus provides the strongest teaching on perseverance in prayer in the New Testament (Luke 11:1-8; 18:1-7).
As R.C. Sproul observes, “One might pray and not be a Christian, but one cannot be a Christian and not pray. Romans 8:15 tells us that the spiritual adoption that has made us sons of God causes us to cry out in verbal expressions: ‘Abba, Father!’ Prayer is the Christian what breath is to life.”
This leads us to the correlating truth that the same God who appoints the end also appoints the means. The Bible is just as incessant, undivided, and crystal clear in connecting prayer with results, and lack of prayer with lack of results.
Jesus puts it plainly in Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Open doors are only promised to those who knock, answers only to those who ask, finding only to those who seek their treasure in God through Christ.
Open doors are only promised to those who knock.
This point is made even more plain by James’ negative statement “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). And perhaps the most explicit statement in all of Scripture, that prayer does indeed make a difference is James’ assertion that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).
This, then, points us back to God, the gospel, and our dependence. Along with all these commands and encouragements to pray, we find this insurmountable roadblock to effective prayer: “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Prayer without faith is utterly useless. Yet, where does faith come from? “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
The righteousness we need in order to prevail in prayer comes only through our Savior Jesus Christ.
The faith that is needed in order to please God, and effectively pray, is provided by God’s grace. And whereas James explicitly states that the prayer of a righteous man avails powerfully, Peter reminds us of where our righteousness must come from, as he writes “to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). Even our righteous actions and righteous prayers are the overflow of the cross in our lives: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
The faith we need in order to please God in prayer comes from God by grace. The righteousness we need in order to prevail in prayer comes only through our Savior Jesus Christ.
So does prayer change things? Yes, but only because God is changing us to begin with, by grace through faith.