Steve Manskar at his blog, Wesleyan Leadership, wrote recently on prayer. He began by recounting the scene in the film Shadowlands where C.S. Lewis speaks to colleagues about his wife’s recent battle with cancer. It’s a beautiful scene and gives a profound statement on what Lewis believes about prayer: ‘In these many days of prayer at Joy’s bedside I have learned that my prayers do not change God; God changes me.’ Steve Manskar writes:
This scene has stayed with me over the years because it helps me understand more fully the nature and purpose of prayer. It also tells us about the importance of practice and what happens when we live with a practice over time.
Prayer is a means of grace. A “means of grace” is a practice, ritual, place, or object that provides access to grace, which is the power and presence of God. Prayer is a practice that opens our hearts to the power of God’s love that heals and forms our character, damaged by sin, into the image of Christ. In prayer we become available to God and God’s love.
I really don’t have a problem with what Rev. Manskar writes. I would actually say I agree with him. My practice sometimes is a view prayer as something as just me talking to God. If I am honest, probably the dryness in my prayer life is where I move away from opening myself to God and letting that be the only thing that matters.
Still there’s something that bothers me:
If my wife or one of my children were ill in hospital with little hope from doctors, I would not be praying that God would change me.
OK, maybe it isn’t proper to say that I am asking God to change, but I would certainly want something to change. If I ended up losing someone I love, I can’t say that I would be praising God for the way I have been changed. I remember someone whose father had died when they were young who told me that she had grown has a person and been made stronger – but she’d rather have her father back.
I can’t help but feel that however right C.S. Lewis (and Rev. Manskar) are, I sometimes wonder if it’s a little bit of a downgrading of prayer to turn and say that the main point is for God’s love to poured into us. Not because I think that’s not sufficient, but I always hear this in the context of this Shadowlands story. There seems to be a little bit of, ‘Well, if the person we pray for isn’t healed, then really that’s not what prayer is about.’ It doesn’t seem to convey the ‘cheekiness’ of Abraham bargaining with God or Moses telling God not to destroy the Israelites.
There seems a bit of a need for balance. On the same day as I read the above, Eddie Arthur, being the bible translator that he is, writes about our word choice in talking about praying for others. Eddie’s point only overlaps with Rev. Manskar’s and as far as I am aware, the two don’t know each other. Eddie writes:
I’ve always been slightly uneasy about the statement that prayer changes things. As far as I can see, prayer doesn’t change things; God changes things in answer to the prayers. It might seem a bit of a picky thing to say, but it is important. God is Sovereign and he chooses to act in response to our prayers – it isn’t that our prayers have some sort of magic property in and of themselves to change things. I suppose there is a sense in which the act of praying does change the person doing the praying, but that is rather a special case.
I like what Eddie says as well. Does it have to negate what Rev. Manskar says? I would be interested in hearing from anyone else on their thoughts. Yes, I want a life overflowing with God’s healing love in my soul, but I also want to know that I can beat down the doors of heaven should someone I love be in trouble and not have to stop and think about how this will change me.