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Should we pray for things we know will not change in this life?

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Should we pray for things we know will not change in this life?
Posted on May 18, 2021  - By Dr. Scott Shiffer

Is there any point in praying for things we know will not change in this life? When I say grace before a meal, for example, I always remember those who go hungry, as my parents taught me to as a child. It truly burdens my heart to think of so many who do not have a single square meal a day. And yet, of late, I feel like a hypocrite when I pray this. 

Some things, we know, are just not going to change in this life. There will always be people dying of hunger. What exactly is the intent of a prayer that asks God to be with those who go hungry everyday? We know this is not going to change anytime soon. 

Likewise, with those who are victims of oppression, rape, abuse — the statistics are overwhelming. It seems futile to pray for the state of these things in the world at large, when we know there’s no fixing this brokenness till He returns. Is there perhaps a different prayer I should be praying instead?

Prayer is an important part of the Christian life. Scripture tells us that prayers are powerful and effective. In some cases in the Bible, the prayers of people lead God to stay His hand of judgment or to bring healing, etc. 

For many years, theologians and philosophers have been trying to determine whether prayer is for our benefit and change, or whether it actually moves God to act or allow things to play out differently than they were intended.

I would argue that while God clearly hears and understands our prayers (even using the Holy Spirit to intercede for us when we do not have the right words in our minds), He frequently uses prayer for our benefit. When we voice issues and struggles we have in life to God, His Spirit often convicts us and sometimes even helps us to change our perspective on the matters we are praying about. 

Our prayers also often motivate us to change our own actions and behaviours in a way that allows God to work in us to accomplish things for His kingdom. Prayer is important enough that even Jesus prays for believers.

God frequently uses prayer for our benefit

A misguided prayer?

In our churches and communities of faith, we often pray for one another. Sometimes, we pray for financial struggles or needs; other times, we pray for needs related to health concerns. We also pray for the lost and for opportunities to share our faith.

Prayer is all about communion with God. We should desire to walk daily in a prayerful manner where the line of communication between us and God is always open. Quick prayers even help us re-align our thoughts and actions with God’s moral will and calling for our lives.

But as you mention above, there are things we know will always be as they are. The poor will always be with us. The oppressed will always be with us. The consequences of living in a sinful world will always overwhelm us.

The Bible never tells us that life will be easy. What it does tell us is that God walks with us in the midst of our suffering. So, praying for all the hungry to have food, or praying for all those who are victims of abuse to be set free, or for all abusers to stop oppressing and hurting others may be a bit misguided. 

Praying for God to return and right all wrongs that are a result of sin being in the world might be a better suited prayer for those kinds of broad conversations, but I think a better approach would be modifying how we approach these topics.

Instead of praying for those without food to no longer go hungry, I would encourage you to pray for God to give their spirits strength in the midst of their earthly struggles. But I would not stop there.

Call to action

Prayer is also a call to action. Obviously most of us cannot feed everyone we encounter who is hungry — but perhaps we can look for opportunities to help meet the needs of others who are in our path. 

I work in Dallas, Texas, where there are a large number of homeless people. On occasion if I have the opportunity, I will give someone food or clothes. I know another person who has a separate bank account used just to give to those who are in need of help with paying bills, getting clothes or food if they have lost a job, or if they incur a large medical expense, etc.

As people who pray, we must also be people of action. In America, there have been a number of shootings in the past 20 years. Every time a mass shooting occurs, people comment about praying for others. In our culture, there is a growing amount of disdain for those who say they will pray for gun violence, but who seem to be doing little to try and help stop it. 

We can’t just pray for people or situations and then do nothing about it. Prayer is a conversation between us and God, but it is also a call to action. Prayer brings convictions and those convictions lead to making real life choices.

We can’t just pray for people or situations and then do nothing about it. Prayer is also a call to action

Put in the work

Sometimes, we say prayers for others to try and make ourselves feel better. If we are not actively helping others, praying for them seems to be less about a true desire to provide aid and more about just helping us feel better without actually doing any work.

  • If we pray for the lost, we should also be looking for opportunities to share our faith. 
  • If we pray for victims of abuse, we should look for opportunities to help victims (whether they be in our neighbourhood, at our churches, or in our places of employment). 
  • If we pray for those without food, we should look for ways to help the hungry be fed (volunteering in a soup kitchen, taking a box of food to a family to help with a few meals, taking sandwiches to the homeless, etc). 
  • If we pray for gun violence, we should call on our elected officials to support common sense laws that would help prevent people from legally purchasing firearms if they have criminal records, mental health concerns, or red flags on their social media accounts). 
  • If we pray for people whose homes have been damaged in storms, we should support or volunteer to go with groups that help communities rebuild after disasters. 
  • If we pray for the sick, we should trust God with the outcome, but also walk alongside those who are in need of healing to provide support where we can as listeners, encouragers, etc.

In summary, some things will not change on a global scale, but we should be a people of prayer and action. This means that, as we pray for significant global issues, we also get involved and do what we can to aid those we are praying for with the resources, time, and abilities with which we have been gifted.

Dr. Scott Shiffer

About Dr. Scott Shiffer

Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Faith and Culture Now, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations, including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for many years. Scott is married and has four children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges every day.



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