This leads to a very old question: Does prayer influence God? No question has been discussed more, or more earnestly. Skeptical men of fine scientific training have with great positiveness said |no.| And Christian men of scholarly training and strong faith have with equal positiveness said |yes.| Strange to say both have been right. Not right in all their statements, nor right in all their beliefs, nor right in all their processes of thinking, but right in their ultimate conclusions as represented by these short words, |no,| and |yes.| Prayer does not influence God. Prayer surely does influence God. It does not influence His purpose. It does influence His action. Everything that ever has been prayed for, of course I mean every right thing, God has already purposed to do. But He does nothing without our consent. He has been hindered in His purposes by our lack of willingness. When we learn His purposes and make them our prayers we are giving Him the opportunity to act. It is a double opportunity: manward and Satanward. We are willing. Our willingness checkmates Satan's opposition. It opens the path to God and rids it of the obstacles. And so the road is cleared for the free action already planned.
The further question of nature's laws being sometimes set aside is wholly a secondary matter. Nature's laws are merely God's habit of action in handling secondary forces. They involve no purpose of God. His purposes are regarding moral issues. That the sun shall stay a bit longer than usual over a certain part of the earth is a mere detail with God. It does not affect His power for the whole affair is under His finger. It does not affect His purpose for that as concerning far more serious matters. The emergencies of earth wrought by sin necessitate just such incidents, that the great purpose of God for man shall be accomplished.
Emergencies change all habits of action, divine and human. They are the real test of power. If a man throw down the bundle he is carrying and make a quick wild dash out into the middle of the street, dropping his hat on the way, and grasp convulsively for something on the ground when no cause appears for such action we would quickly conclude that the proper place for him is an asylum. But if a little toddling child is almost under the horse's hoofs, or the trolley car, no one thinks of criticising, but instead admires his courage, and quick action, and breathlessly watches for the result. Emergencies call for special action. They should control actions, where they exist. Emergencies explain action, and explain satisfactorily what nothing else could explain.
The world is in a great emergency through sin. Only as that tremendous fact grips us shall we be men of prayer, and men of action up to the limit of the need, and to the limit of the possibilities. Only as that intense fact is kept in mind shall we begin to understand God's actions in history, and in our personal experiences. The greatest event of earth, the cross, was an emergency action.
The fact that prayer does not make any change in God's thought or purpose, reveals His marvellous love in a very tender way.
Suppose I want something very much and need as well as want. And I go to God and ask for it. And suppose He is reluctant about giving: had not thought about giving me that thing; and rather hesitates. But I am insistent, and plead and persist and by and by God is impressed with my earnestness, and sees that I really need the thing, and answers my prayer, and gives me what I ask. Is not that a loving God so to listen and yield to my plea? Surely. How many times just such an instance has taken place between a child and his father, or mother. And the child thinks to himself, |How loving father is; he has given me the thing I asked for.|
But suppose God is thinking about me all the time, and planning, with love-plans for me, and longing to give me much that He has. Yet in His wisdom He does not give because I do not know my own need, and have not opened my hand to receive, yes, and, further yet, likely as not, not knowing my need I might abuse, or misuse, or fail to use, something given before I had felt the need of it. And now I come to see and feel that need and come and ask and He, delighted with the change in me, eagerly gives. Tell me, is not that a very much more loving God than the other conception suggests? The truth is that is God. Jesus says, |Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask.| And He is a Father. And with God the word father means mother too. Then what He knows we need He has already planned to give. The great question for me then in praying for some personal thing is this: Do I know what He knows I need? Am I thinking about what He is thinking about for me?
And then remember that God is so much more in His loving planning than the wisest, most loving father we know. Does a mother think into her child's needs, the food, and clothing and the extras too, the luxuries? That is God, only He is more loving and wiser than the best of us. I have sometimes thought this: that if God were to say to me: |I want to give you something as a special love-gift; an extra because I love you: what would you like to have?| Do you know I have thought I would say, |Dear God, you choose. I choose what you choose.| He is thinking about me. He knows what I am thinking of, and what I would most enjoy, and He is such a lover-God that He would choose something Just a bit finer than I would think. I might be thinking of a dollar, but likely as not He is thinking of a double eagle. I am thinking of blackberries, big, juicy blackberries, but really I do not know what blackberries are beside the sort He knows and would choose for me. That is our God. Prayer does not and cannot change the purpose of such a God. For every right and good thing we might ask for He has already planned to give us. But prayer does change the action of God. Because He cannot give against our wills, and our willingness as expressed by our asking gives Him the opportunity to do as He has already planned.