A young woman looks up at an indigo-colored night sky full of stars.

5 ways to pray for lasting change

As Christians committed to working for a more just world, we at World Vision believe that lasting change is possible. But we also know it’s very rarely simple. In so many areas of life — personal, social, political — transformation can be a long and sometimes arduous journey, punctuated by unexpected setbacks. But our faith tells us that God works through even the messiest of processes to make all things new — including our very selves. “We all … are being transformed into his image,” says 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV). As Paul makes clear with his choice of verb tense, it doesn’t happen all at once.

Whether you’re longing for change in your own life, in the life of a loved one, or in the world more broadly, prayer is one way in which you can be part of the transformative work God is doing. Here are a few ideas to get you started — and keep you going — as you pray for lasting change.

Start with lament.

When we pray about something that needs to change — whether it’s an injustice in the world or a problem in our own lives — it can be tempting to jump immediately to supplication. But before asking God to fix something, take a moment to be honest about how things are now. In other words, don’t overlook the important — and biblical — place of lament. One of the most common types of prayer in the Bible, lament is an expression of pain, grief, or confusion in the face of present circumstances. It’s a chance to be vulnerable before God in all our human limitations and uncertainties. In fact, laments often take the form of a question — Why? How long? — as when Jesus prays the words of Psalm 22 from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, NIV). When we bring our pain — or that of the world — to God in lament, that in itself is an act of faith in the One who hears our cries.

Biblical scholar N.T. Wright explains how lament can help us pray when our vision of how things should be is at odds with how things actually are. In these cases, he says, sometimes to pray can be simply “to hold the vision and the reality side by side as we groan with the groaning of all creation, and as the Spirit groans within us so that the new creation may come to birth.” This biblical metaphor draws on two distinct meanings of “groan”: a cry of pain and the specific action the Holy Spirit takes to intercede on our behalf. So in this view, lament is not just an outlet for our emotions; it’s also instrumental to change because it allows us to participate with the Spirit in praying for a new creation.

Pray for disruption.

It’s quite possibly the last thing anyone would want to pray for: That God would disrupt the status quo. That things would fall apart. But, in the words of author Richard Rohr, that’s often precisely when transformation happens: “not when something new begins but when something old falls apart.” Think of Jesus’ disciples. It was only after their hopes about the Messiah were shattered by His death on the cross that they were able to begin to understand that He was doing something new, and completely transformative, in His resurrection.

When we’re struggling to make a change in our own lives, sometimes it’s because we’re unwilling or unable to let go of what’s familiar — a relationship, a habit, an old way of doing things — whether it’s working or not. In reality, we may never be ready to see God making a new way forward unless we have no other choice. So if lasting change is feeling out of reach, try praying that God would dismantle what is, in truth, already broken. Have faith that God’s grace accompanies you through the disruption of the old — and that He is already building something new. Ask for the strength to follow Him into that new place.

“See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”

Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

Ask for support through the long haul.

Because transformation is a process rather than a one-time event, in addition to praying for hearts and minds to be changed at the outset, pray as well for practical, long-term support for ongoing change. In humanitarian work, for example, the miracle of striking water is only the first step in a community’s transformative journey toward clean water access. After the drilling is done and the pipes have been laid, change is sustained only when community members and leaders have the resources to protect water sources, promote good hygiene, and ensure water system maintenance.

Similarly, sustaining progress on a personal level requires the often-unglamorous work of following a daily plan, identifying setbacks, and committing to improvement — and all of this requires practical support. Perhaps God has given you the will to make a change, but you need financial resources, a way to carve out time for a new commitment, or someone to offer accountability: Boldly ask God to provide. If you’re praying for lasting change on a global level, particularly in the humanitarian sector, pray for critically needed funding, for legislation that supports progress, for people to carry out the work, and for the daily bread of encouragement for all those who serve.

Pray for renewed mindsets.

When Paul urges the Christians in Rome, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2, NIV), he’s suggesting that true transformation requires a shift not only in our behaviors but in our very ways of thinking. As mental health counselors know well, it can be virtually impossible to change a behavior without first addressing the conscious and unconscious thought patterns behind it. Some of our deep-seated beliefs about ourselves — our worth, what we’re capable of, our place in the world — can even keep us from believing that change is possible.

So when you’re praying for lasting change, whether for yourself or for the world at large, pray that God would renew minds, revealing entrenched ways of thinking that hold us back. And because the culture we live in shapes so many of our conscious and unconscious beliefs according to “the pattern of this world,” consider also praying for the artists and storytellers among us. Ask that God would gift them with a clear, prophetic vision of people as God sees them — beloved and worthy. Pray that their art would reflect this truth, counter harmful lies, and help to renew our cultural imagination.

Pray through your actions.

Prayer is incomplete unless it includes action. Consider Paul’s encouragement to believers to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, ESV). This is, on its surface, an impossible task — unless it means that everything we do, our deeds as well as our words, can count as prayer. As you pray for something to change, trust the Holy Spirit will move you to act in some way. Be listening for those nudges. What actions is God leading you to, big or small, to support the change you’re praying for? Offer them as an “amen” — a continuation and affirmation of your prayer.

Here are just a few ideas of actions that could affirm your prayer for lasting change:

    • Use your voice to advocate for legislation that affects the issue God has placed on your heart.
    • Volunteer with a local organization to foster change in your own community.
    • Commit to a regular donation, however small, as a form of reliable, ongoing support for the lasting change you’re praying for. (If you’re looking for ideas, check out World Vision’s new opportunity to subscribe to world change.)
    • Sponsor a child to invest in a long-term, community-based model of transformation.

As you take practical steps like these, be mindful of the Spirit working in and through you — both for your own transformation and for that of the world.

Photo above by Jon Warren/© 2023 World Vision. “I feel when I wake up in the morning, whatever I am doing will change my life tomorrow,” says Phoebe, 17, in Kenya. Read how her community has been transformed.