Q. Since God operates outside of time, can we pray for something after it’s happened to any effect?
A. This is a difficult question to comprehend, let alone to answer! The assertion that God operates outside of time could be broadened to say that He exists outside of time. Time is a uniquely human experience pertaining to our planet. For God, every single moment of history, from the beginning of existence until the end of time are as one eternal moment in His sight.
The interesting thing about prayer, therefore, is that not only does God know the outcome of all things remaining unseen to us, but He also knows all that we will pray for. As a result, we can never imagine that our prayers “change God’s mind” about anything, despite what some passages of Scripture seem to suggest (that’s for another conversation…). Nor can we say that God would ever turn back time in answer to our prayers. So what effect do our prayers actually have?
First of all, prayer – particularly prayers of petition or intercession – function such that we beseech God to channel His grace towards a particular need. This is what we call actual grace because it affects our lives in what appears to be moments in time. For this reason, we sometimes speak about prayers “being answered” because there is a positive outcome for what we have been praying.
Secondly, the end of prayer is not that we would move God’s heart, but that it would move our hearts. We pray not because God needs us to; God inspires us to pray because He knows that we need to. Prayer disposes us to His will, makes us receptive to grace, and keeps us in communication with Him. To the point of the question, therefore, praying for something to happen after it has already happened would seem rather pointless. However, praying in thanksgiving for something after it has happened allows that positive outcome we have experienced to continue to reap fruit in our lives by: continuing to dispose us to God’s will, making us receptive to grace, and keeping us in communication with Him.