Prayer Changes Things (Sproul)

God uses our prayers as a means to his ends. Our prayers are not pointless; they fit in with God’s sovereign providence and plan. There is mystery here to be sure. We are finite creatures and many of God’s ways and thoughts are far, far beyond us. But the Bible does teach that God hears and answers our prayers. R. C. Sproul discussed this well in his book called Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow.

We pray not only because it is our duty and our privilege, but also because prayer is a powerful means by which God brings His will to pass.

Does prayer change things? We must answer with a resounding “Yes.” Prayer changes us and prayer changes things. James 5:13–18 teaches us:

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

This passage teaches that “the fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” To “avail much” means to make a significant impact. This prayer is effective. It has real power.

Thus, prayer is a means that God uses to bring about His intended ends. Just as God uses the preaching of the gospel as the power unto salvation, so He uses the power of prayer to bring about redemption. Our prayers cannot force God to do anything, but He uses them as His own instruments to bring about His will.

Monica, the mother of Augustine, was a devout Christian woman. When Augustine was a young man, he was unconverted and wayward, and Monica grieved deeply over his unbridled sin. Monica prayed with tears every day for his conversion. On one occasion, she visited her pastor, the famous Archbishop Ambrose of Milan, looking for comfort and some assurance that her prayers were not in vain. Ambrose sought to comfort her with a rhetorical question: “Monica, could a child of so many tears possibly be lost?”

The answer Ambrose intended to his question was “No.” He assumed that any child whose mother prayed for him so faithfully would come into a state of grace eventually. I disagree. The tearful prayers of a grieving mother do not guarantee her child’s conversion. However, the probability of it is high, at least high enough to provide great comfort. I might preach with passion and tears, only to see no one converted, but I know that in the final analysis God’s Word will not return to Him void. In like manner, the prayers of His people are never wasted. Prayer works, and that is a tremendous incentive to pray.

 R. C. Sproul, 5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2008), 47–49.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015