I was preaching this morning on Nehemiah 4. In the course of what I had to say I pointed to verse 9, which reads "We prayed to our God and posted a guard..." The context is that Nehemiah has inspired the citizens of Jerusalem to begin repairing and rebuilding the walls of the city, but they are facing strong opposition, and threats from those who want the venture stopped. It's only natural for God's people, when faced with that sort of opposition, to turn to God in prayer, but the second half of the verse is key for me.
Prayer, as I understand it, is not so much about telling God what we want but about finding out what God wants. Look at Abraham's 'Dutch Auction' with God over Sodom & Gomorrah: that wasn't about Abraham trying to change God's mind, but about God helping Abraham to understand something about the holiness of God, and what God expects from his people. Prayer changes things, but more often than not those things that are changed are the minds and motives and priorities of those praying.
They needed priests: they prayed... and answered a call to ministry.
They were concerned about the conditions of the poor: they prayed... and campaigned for fair trade.
They were worried about the shut-ins: they prayed... and called in to see them.
They needed protection: they prayed... and posted a guard.
Sometimes the answers to our prayers are in our own hands.