I was recently asked if it is futile to pray for things that will not change like oppression, hunger, poverty, for all the lost to become Christians, and evil in the world to stop. To answer this, we need to first make sure we have a proper understanding of what prayer is and how it works.
Prayer is having conversation with God. We converse by giving him honor and praise, thanking him for what he has done in our life and in the world, and bringing our concerns and needs before him. It also involves listening for him to answer through conviction in our hearts or conviction in our hearts as we read his word and seek advice from others.
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 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 behaviors 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 today.
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 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 during our suffering. Praying for all the hungry to have food, or praying for all those who are victims of abuse to be set free, even praying 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.
Prayer is also a call to action.
Obviously, most of us cannot just 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 many homeless people. On occasion if I have opportunity, I will give someone food or clothes. I know another person who has a separate bank account just for using it to give to those who need help paying their bills, getting clothes, or food if they have lost a job or incur a large medical expense, etc.
As people who pray, we must also be people of action. In America there have been an overwhelming 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 cannot just pray for people or situations and then do nothing about it. Prayer brings convictions and those convictions lead to making real-life decisions and taking real-life actions.
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 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 neighborhood, 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 criminal records, mental health concerns, or red flag issues in 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 need healing to provide support where we can as listeners, encouragers, etc. We can even accompany others to medical appointments.
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.