An important distinction to understanding how much our faith affects an outcome is recognizing the difference between “change” and “control”. I believe God has given us the opportunity to change an outcome through our faith. But He has not given us the power to control outcomes. Let me explain the difference.
Exercising the faith required to change a situation is putting our complete trust in what God can do. It is having faith in God’s ability to miraculously move, and remedy, and redeem what needs changed. It is not a blind positive thinking approach that says if I believe something hard enough God is required to act.
This is where the idea of control comes in. We cannot control the Sovereign of the Universe. And thinking our faith can somehow boss God around is ludicrous. We are not calling the shots. We are not in control. We cannot demand a certain action on God’s part. So what can we do?
We do two things. (1) We believe by faith that God has the power to act and (2) we pray in faith asking Him to act. Our attitude in prayer is the measure of whether we are seeking to “change” or “control” by our faith. Proper prayer says, “God, You are in control and we humbly beg you to act.” And this prayer is infused with a biblical faith; believing that He hears our prayers, believing that He can act, and believing that He will act in some form or fashion.
In Luke 18, the parable of the persistent widow teaches us that God will act and act quickly. If you recall the story that Jesus told … A widow approaches an unrighteous judge demanding legal protection from an adversary. The judge ignores her request until she badgers him to the point of wearing him out. For her persistence alone, he hears her case and rules in her favor (Lk 18:1-8).
Now we often view the unrighteous judge as a picture of God. That is, we think this parable teaches that if we badger God enough, He will reluctantly hear and answer us. But it actually teaches just the opposite about God’s attitude toward us and our prayers.
Unlike most of Jesus’ parables, this one did not start with “The kingdom of God is like…” No, God is not like the judge. God is not compared to the judge. God stands in contrast to the judge. God is the opposite of the judge. We do not badger God with our persistent prayer. We honor God with our persistent prayer.
The parable closes with, “Will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly” (Lk 18:7-8a). God is contrasted with the judge. Rather than being an overbearing ogre, God is a loving Father whose heartbeat is to hear and answer our prayers.
Can we “control” outcomes? No, but I believe we can affect more than we commonly believe. The story of the persistent widow ends with, “However, when the Son of Man comes will He find this kind of faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8b). Our role is to respond to situations with the faith that God is asking us to use. And the practical upshot of all this, in my opinion, is that our faith can be world-changing and life-changing; for us and for others around us.