We continued our Got Questions? series this week at Wednesday Night Worship, and it was really a great night. We covered a tough topic but it went really well and I give God all the glory. We began the night with a really sweet time of worship that included the songs "Hosanna-Praise is Rising (Baloche/Brown), My Glorious (Delirious), Starry Night (Chris August), and Our God (Chris Tomlin). Afterward we dove right in and got a great response from the students.
The question for the night that we had drawn out of the box the previous week was "Can we change God's mind with our prayer?". This is definitely a tough question to handle and people fall on both ends of the spectrum. We went through our 4 questions in order to grasp a rounded view then determine a solid Biblical answer.
What does the world say?
Most everyone agreed that the world in general believes that the answer to this question is yes. It was even discussed that people believe that if they complete their checklist of doing good deeds for God that He will honor their requests.
What do we think?
I asked the students if this is a question they had ever asked and what was their first general thoughts. They were split in half on who had considered this before and who had not. Some good discussion began that showed that us that we can have our own opinions, but must dig deep into the Bible to determine a solid view.
What does the Bible say?
In order to determine an answer we looked at several attributes of God in order to get a small understand of His nature.
1) God is Immutable- This means that God is unchanging (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17). God's character and nature always remain the same. All change of character implies imperfection. To say that God changes means that He was imperfect before and that the change is for the better. God cannot change for the better because He is already perfect.
2) God is Righteous- This means that God always does what is right (Psalm 119:142). Included in this is the fact that God always answers our prayers the right way, maybe just not always the way we want.
3) God is Omnipotent- This means that God is all-powerful (Matthew 19:26). No person or thing can control God (Daniel 4:35). He always does according to His will and not our own. God is under no obligation to anyone (Romans 9:15-16).
4) God is Omniscient- This means that God is all-knowing (Psalm 147:5, Psalm 139:4-6). God knows everything about us. He knows what choices we will make in life, but He also knows all possible outcomes of any of our choices. This does not mean that God's foreknowledge is causative. There is no denial in free-will.
5) God does not repent (Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29)- The word repent means to change your mind, turn away from sin. First of all, since God cannot sin, there is no need for Him to ever repent. But when we look at this subject and the question of whether or not we can change God's mind with our prayers, some people say that the Bible has contradictions which is completely untrue. If we first look at Exodus 32:14 as one example, it appears that the prayer of Moses changed God's mind on the judgement He would take out on the Israelites. However this is a great example of where you cannot take one verse out of context, and that you must also study the Bible and not simply read it. If we look at the Hebrew language that the Old Testament was written in, the word for repent is naham. When this word is applied to humans it means to change your mind and turn away from sin. On the other hand when it is applied to God it means to relent, to grieve, to feel deep emotion (to sigh). We have probably all grieved at some point in our life and have had a deep sigh involved with that. What this means is that in this moment, God is deeply grieved over the sins of His people, and when they turn away from their sin and repent, He embarks on another course of action. In these instance it isn't that God changed His mind, but that people changed and turned away from their sin. This is the case in Exodus. The Israelites turn from their sin that opposed God. I cannot read this and think that Moses actually changed God's mind. To say that would be to say that Moses knew better than God in the situation. If we believe that God is perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing, and unchanging then we can't say that He changed His mind as in the way we change our minds. We change our minds when we see a better solution and that is not what happened in the mind of God in this moment.
How does this apply to our lives?
For those who believe that the purpose of prayer is to change God's mind, they would then ask why they should ever pray. Here are the reasons we pray:
1) Jesus commanded us to pray and modeled prayer for us (Matthew 6:5-7). Jesus didn't say "if you pray", or "if you feel like praying". Instead He said numerous times "when you pray". Jesus didn't try to change the mind of God when He prayed in the Garden in Luke 22:42. If anyone could have changed God's mind it would have been Jesus.
2) You can't have a relationship with God if you don't pray.
3) The purpose of pray is not to change God, but to change us. We should go into prayer with the desire for God to change our hearts and work in our lives. A good indication that we are unwilling to change is that we stop praying.