“Does Prayer Cause God to Change His Mind?”
When I was eight I asked my parents for the things and pleasures desirable to an eight year old: an expanded train track for my electric train set, a model rocketry kit, a third frosted donut…
My strategy was quite basic. Let’s call it the ‘Ask Mom and Dad’ strategy. It went like this… I would approach my parents and say something like this: “Mom, dad, can I have a ______?” Sheer genius in its simplicity!
I don’t think I ever evaluated this approach, I simply used it and accepted the results whether favorable or unfavorable. I don’t think I ever posed such question to myself as “Does the ‘Ask Mom and Dad’ strategy work?” But one thing I understood clearly was that NOT using the strategy surely did NOT ‘work!’ Asking was the way to go alright, because a sometimes “Yes” was better than a never “Yes”.
Eventually I understood that the ‘unfavorable results’ were not due to some failure in my strategy, but resulted from the greater love and superior wisdom of my parents regarding what was best for me. Sometimes what was best for me was not some ‘fad’ toy or sugary treat, but another pair of ‘husky’ play pants, or (ugh) a plate of broccoli!
Well, you see where I’m going with this. Yes, God responds to our prayers, but He also responds to His unchanging Nature. God is good, all-wise and all-loving, and these qualities do not change. Both old and new testaments underscore this:
“I the Lord do not change.” (Mal. 3:6)
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb. 13:8)
We must also remember that God exists In Eternity, outside of time. Time is but another of His creations (Gen. 1:3-5). This fact is important when we talk about cause and effect in relation to God – specifically, “Does God respond to our prayers?”
Let’s look at Jonah. We all know the story: Jonah ran from God because he did not want to pronounce judgment on the Ninevites. Not that he cared for the Ninevites, but he knew the Nature of God. He knew that the Ninevites would repent, and God, being merciful, would relent… not sending judgment upon them after all. Jonah wanted to avoid giving this message and then in the end look stupid because his predicted judgment did not happen! Talk about ego!
Anyway, after the whole episode with the whale, Jonah delivers the message and indeed the people repent and God responds just as Jonah knew He would.
“When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10, NLT)
Here we see the immutable (unchanging) Nature of God responding to the sincere repentance of man. Key to understanding this is to focus on the Word “When.” Let me ask you this, WHEN DID this all-knowing God “see what they had done”? Was there ever a “time” this eternal God did NOT see the response of the Ninevites?
Big thoughts indeed, but perhaps we can begin to see that, Yes indeed, “the earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:16) But prayer is not a strategy that one ‘uses’ to get God to perform for you. Rather, it is our communication with a loving heavenly Father Who is all-wise and has our best interests always at the forefront of His thoughts — and He is seeking fellowship with us!
Let me repeat what I stated earlier: Yes, God responds to our prayers, but He also responds according to His good, all-wise, all-loving, and unchanging Nature.
The “how” and “when” of all this may be beyond our ability to understand, but He has given us this curious yet reassuring promise,
“Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” (Isa. 65:24)
Got question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.