Prayer: relationship over request
Can you pray about things that have already happened?
For example: If I have a job interview at 11am, I might ask you to pray that I'll be calm and clear at that time. You might be keen to do it, but forget all about it until 12, when my interview is over and done with.
So: if you pray at 12, still not knowing the outcome of the interview, will God treat your request 'retrospectively'? Is he able to answer the prayer, even though the time has passed?
This question actually came up in a theological discussion I had a few days ago. (Amongst other things we were talking about God, sovereignty, time, omniscience and guidance, but those topics might provide fuel for additional blog entries, so I'll leave it there.)
My take on the whole thing is that the question itself is irrelevent because it highlights a flawed view of prayer. Its focus is on the request, whereas the real key to prayer is the relationship.
I see it from the view of a parent/child relationship.
My little daughter loves biscuits for morning tea. I love to give them to her because they make her happy. But I also want to teach her to ask me for them, rather than just giving them out. Getting her to make the request teaches her that we are in a relationship. It's good for her to be able to acknowledge her own desires, and as well, acknowledge my part in caring for her and fulfilling those desires.
Typically, at morning tea time, she'll come to me and say, "Mum, could I please have a biscuit?". I'll say, "Sure, here you are," and give it to her.
Now on the odd occasion, she might come in a little late, or forget to ask. Sometimes, I'll beat her to it, putting her biscuit in a plate on the table, all ready for her. I am pleased to do it, because I know our relationship is such that she would normally ask and acknowledge me because her heart is turned towards me.
So with prayer: the technicalities of the requests we make of God are almost irrelevent. What is more important is whether our hearts are turned towards God.
Is it our habit to turn to God, to articulate our requests and desires, and to acknowledge God's care and generosity to us? Is it our delight to ask and to thank and to remember him in everything?
If the relationship is there, thinking about the specific requests and the answers to those requests becomes nit-picking, cold and artificial.