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Can Our Prayers Change Other People?

All of us have been there.  A loved one is doing things that aren’t healthy either for them or others.  They’re inflicting unnecessary pain on themselves and on you.  And you—along with everyone else—can see so clearly how and what they need to change.

This is the kind of situation that someone who left a heartfelt comment for me on this site is in.  Struggling with how to pray about it, they posed a great question: If God has given us free will, can our prayers really change other people?  In other words, if free will is so central to God’s purpose in creating us, why would He then undermine that freedom—even when the change is so clearly positive—by answering our prayers to change others?

Indeed, this person’s prayer for their loved one couldn’t be better, at least from a Christian perspective.  They want the ultimate good for them; for them to have faith, to know the transforming love of Christ.  Hence, the conflict. 

Obviously, God desires nothing more than this (ultimate good) for each and every one of us. 

But, just as obviously, He won’t violate our free will. 

This means it’s safe to say that, barring anything that would interfere with our free will, God is already doing everything in His power to bring about this ultimate good.  It’s not as if our prayers are what it takes to convince God to do more!  And it’s not as if He will override someone else’s free will just because we pray that He would change them—even if He agrees it would be better for them!  This would violate the very freedom He respects—at tremendous cost to Himself—so supremely.

In fact, it is His perfect will is that we have this freedom—in the hope, of course, that we will genuinely choose to respond to His love.  In the meantime, without impinging on our freedom, He is doing everything possible—from subtle influences to grabbing our attention in dramatic ways—to pursue and woo us.

So, what’s the point of praying for others?

C.S. Lewis once suggested a reason I think is, with some modification, basically right—and, more importantly, faithful to scripture.  He pointed out that if the Christian worldview is true, then we are both material and spiritual beings.  So, we should expect that an unseen, spiritual reality permeates everything we experience, a reality which, although invisible, is just as real as the material. 

We should also expect that, with regard to our relationships to one another, this spiritual reality behaves similarly.  By God’s design, we are just as interdependent and interconnected spiritually as we are materially.  By God’s design, in an unseen and spiritual—but no less real—way, our prayers can affect others just as tangible gestures of love do.   

Our prayers don’t change God—He is already doing all He can to draw people freely to Himself.  They don’t change others—that would violate their free will.  Instead, God uses them to communicate our love and concern spiritually.  God uses them to touch people’s hearts in profound ways. 

This doesn’t coerce others to do anything they don’t want to do.  Rather, it communicates our love, which, like any communication of love, is efficacious—it causes its effect.  When someone tells you they love you, it does something to you.  It has a real impact on you.  If you want it to, it can change your life.  The same with prayer. 

Whenever we pray for someone else, God immediately unites our love for them with His, allowing us to cooperate in real and significant ways with His grand plan of salvation.  He lets Himself be moved by our prayers—which is totally consistent with His desire to be in real relationship with us.

And because our prayers—which work in the spiritual realm—are not bound by space and time, they can affect people throughout the world, even across the centuries. 

How cool is that!  We can communicate our love in profoundly real ways to people across the globe who have no idea who we are; we can pray across time, for people past, present, and future. 

This may all sound good to you.  But you may be wondering, beyond Lewis’ conjecture and my elaboration, what evidence is there that it’s true? 

In next week’s blog, I’ll share two pieces of evidence—one scientific, one more anecdotal—that suggest it is.

In the meantime, know that there is indeed good reason to think your prayers for other people do matter. 

There is good reason to think that God uses them to bring about His ultimate good.

Do you pray for others?  Why or why not?  Share your comments on the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website.  Please “Like” our Facebook page and subscribe to our YouTube channel also.  Thank you!  I really appreciate all the continued support you’ve been giving me!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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