Does prayer change God’s mind?
This is a question every believer should wrestle with at some point. Here is why: We know that the Bible tells us to pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17; 2 Chronicles 7:14). We also know that God is all-powerful, He does not change, and He has determined the events of history (Isaiah 46:9-10; Malachi 3:16). Therefore, when we put these two thoughts together we begin to wrestle with two ideas that may seem contradictory. We could conclude “If God already knows what is going to happen before it happens, why should we pray? Are we going to change the events of history?” On the other hand we might think, “If God tells us to pray, and God answers prayer then somehow prayer must matter even if God has determined the beginning form the end.”
Through the rest of our time we will offer three primary theological points as it relates to prayer. After we lay a theological framework, we will define why we should prayer by answering the question “does prayer change God’s mind?”
#1 God does not react to our prayers but does act upon our prayers
The reason God does not and can not react to our prayers is because our actions and prayers do not take God by surprise. For example, if someone were to jump out from behind a building and scare you, you would react to it in some way. If you were driving down a road and saw someone in need, you would react by helping or ignoring the situation. As humans we react to the events of a day because we are cannot predict the future. However, God knows the future. Therefore, he doesn’t react but rather acts according to his desires. Therefore, when we pray God doesn’t react to our prayers as if our prayers surprise him, but rather choose to act through our prayers to respond to us and bring him glory (2 Chronicles 7:14). I will elaborate more in on this in point three but for now recognize that God doesn’t react but act. When we realize we worship a loving and all powerful God who does not react but acts this should bring us comfort. Why? Because this loving God already knows what you need before you can anticipate the need. He is not surprised by your circumstances even if it may shock you. God is already resting in your past, present and future and God is on your side. (PS 107:1; Psalm 23)
#2 God works through the prayers of His people
(James 5:16). God desires for his people to pray according to his will (1 John 5:14). Our prayers should be according to God’s desires because God wants to answer your prayers to meet needs according to his glory. God is glorified when his people pray according to His will, He answers, and we should acknowledge his hand as he meets us in our need.
#3 God permits us to react to the world as he acts in the world
According to his sovereign hand he uses our reactions to bring himself glory as he acts (Acts 8:28; Phil 4:13; 1 Corinthians 10:31). I will admit this is the most difficult topic to comprehend because we cannot fully grasp the mind of God. However, just because you cannot fully comprehend the mind of God, does not make this thought less true. God is so big that he can use our actions according to His good will and glory. God is so powerful that he can take the worst of circumstances and use them for His purpose. God does know and determine all of history and God chooses to use the actions of man to bring about his plan in history. Because God is so big he can use the power of your free will to work everything out according to His will. I don’t think God needed to dictate that he die on a cross. I think it is possible that God knew that man would choose to crucify him on a cross. Therefor, in the past He predicted and prophesied his future death on a cross knowing that man’s choice of rejection and hatred toward Him would place Him on a cross. God did not need to dictate man’s response but rather used man’s actions for his good and glory. Joseph reminded us of this thought in his life story that culminated in Genesis 50:20. Man does things that are bad but God uses it for his glory.
Does prayer change God’s mind? NO, but he still answers our prayers. God is not surprised by our prayers, He does not react, He acts. God wants to use you to bring himself glory (James 5:16). God wants you to pray according to His will (1 John 5:14). As we pray, He is so big that he can take the prayers of man and work them into his eternal plan for his goodness and glory. This is called the concurrence of God. Concurrence is the word theologians use to identify where the will of God converges with the will of man. We cannot comprehend exactly how God allows the free will of into His eternal purpose. God is big enough to use us and He ultimately determine the future.
Let me leave you with this final thought. It is true that God hears your prayers and uses your prayers for his glory, and it is also true that God wants your prayers. He wants to hear from you because he cares about you and loves you. Prayer is a gift and a privilege. God didn’t have to allow us the opportunity to talk to him, but he does. He didn’t have to respond to you in prayer, but he does. You will not change his mind in prayer, but then again did you really want to? I don’t think anyone wants a God that reacts. This means he doesn’t know the future. We surprise him. Rather I think we can find comfort in a God who acts. We find comfort in a God who loves us so much that he wants to hear from us and use our prayers according to his good will (Ps. 56:8,10-11).