Do we really have some kind of control over circumstances by our prayers?

Exactly how do our prayers “influence” God to act if he is a God who never changes (Malachi 3:6)?

This post begins a three-part series on how our prayers align with God’s meticulous sovereignty. To set the stage, Part 1 sharpens our focus by drawing some boundaries around how we think about prayer. Part 2 offers reflections on divine providence as it pertains to human activity and sets forth a definition for God’s providence. Finally, Part 3 will draw out some practical implications from these observations.

Thinking about Prayer

  1. Prayer, at its most basic level, is an expression of our dependence upon God.
  2. Our purpose in prayer is to glorify God by seeing him actively accomplish his will here on earth. God, not us, must be the center focus of all our prayers and it is his will and not our own that we must pursue.
  3. Submission and solitude are essential ingredients in Jesus’ prayer life and should be in ours.
  4. Our intention in prayer should be that we recognize how God is working in and through circumstances, rather than merely change them.
  5. Thankfulness for God’s movement in the lives of our brothers and sisters allows us the opportunity to see God’s work in others and helps us avoid self-absorption.
  6. Prayer for knowing God better, gaining special insight into our eternal hope, and for power to live for God’s glory should govern all other requests.
  7. When we pray, we should emphasize a growing love for one another, pure and blameless living, and all that accommodates our maturity in Christ.
  8. A depth of insight into the limitless dimensions of Christ’s love for us can only be gained by prayer.
  9. God is more interested in us than in what we want and he occasionally denies our requests so that his glory and our good will be optimal.

How do these “boundaries” strike you? Are there others you would add or ones here that you would modify?

Go to Part 2.
I’m indebted to the following resources for many of these observations:
Providence and Prayer, The Providence of God by Paul Helm, and A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson.


  1. Paul,

    Nice start. The only thing that struck me on a second reading is that I might change the wording in #6. You state

    6.Prayer for knowing God better, gaining special insight into our eternal hope, and for power to live for God’s glory should eclipse all other requests.

    The word “eclipse” caught me. Perhaps a better word would be “govern.” Though I’m probably reading too much into eclipse.

    Also, I might add/modify #4 with something along the lines that our prayers would be for us to “recognize” how God is working in and through circumstances. You’re absolutely right that we too often think of change of circumstances as the only possible answer to paryer

    I look forward to your next two installments.

  2. Oops. Sorry about the typo. Not too many answers to “paryer.” I did mean “prayer.” But you probably figured that out.

  3. Thanks Louis. I completely agree that “eclipse” is a bit strong and “govern” sets a certain hierarchy in place that does not exclude other concerns in our prayers. Thanks for the good “word!”

    And, “recognize” how God is working in and through circumstances is equally important.

    Sincerely appreciate you taking the time to reflect and contribute here!

  4. Cute. I figured the Spirit’s intercession includes copy edits, too! ‘->

  5. Sometimes we have not because we ask not; sometimes we have not because we ask amiss. (James 4:2, 3). That is, prayer changes things — primarily us. By prayer we learn to go to God and to ask for the right things in the right way. It’s not that we change Him, but that by prayer He changes us. By prayer we learn better to think God’s thoughts and to desire God’s ends. By prayer, God has granted us the dignity of growing to be more like Him and of becoming causes in our own destiny. Prayer is transformative because, regarding us and God, it is relational.

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