Does Prayer Change God’s Mind?
By M. Ashley Evans
Prayer is a vital aspect of the Christian’s daily walk with Christ and essential for our journey on the road of progressive sanctification. R.C. Sproul calls prayer the “secret of holiness.” Prayer urges our obedience to Christ and helps us to desire to be more obedient. Scripture clearly commands us to pray, always.
“Pray without ceasing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17
“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words, and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27
We can take comfort knowing that the Holy Spirit also prays for us. Even when we don’t know how we should pray, or when our prayers are full of mistakes – the Holy Spirit is interceding for us to the Father, and according to the will of the Father.
God knows everything and is completely Sovereign over all things, even what we are going to say when we pray. What a privilege it is then to be able to speak personally to the God who created everything and holds the entire universe together. Knowing that God is omniscient even over our prayers should increase our adoration of Him.
Exodus 32:14 “So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.”
Amos 7:3 “The Lord changed His mind about this. ‘It shall not be,’ said the Lord.”
There are about 12 places throughout the Word of God that explain God changing His mind about something He was about to do. There are two other places that mention God repenting of something He had done. To repent means to turn away from. In the New Testament, we see the word repent is used in connotation with turning from sin. Does this then imply that God did something He regretted – that He made a mistake? Absolutely not.
Psalm 110:4 “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”
1 Samuel 15:29 “Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.”
We can see from these two passages – and numerous others – that God says that He does not change. God is Immutable. Many unbelievers are quick to cry out, “Contradiction!! There are indeed contradictions found in the Bible!”
It is passages like these that make it so vitally important that Christians study proper Biblical Hermeneutics. We have to look at the context of the passage, know to whom the author is addressing, the literary form that the passage is written in, and what is happening historically. One literary form we need to familiarize ourselves with is Anthropomorphic Language.
Anthropomorphisms are used when God is describing Himself to us in relatable, human-like descriptions. We know that God the Father has no form. He is a Spirit (John 4:24.) So, when we see passages that describe God’s eyes, or His hand, or the “shadow of his wings”, we can know that God does not actually have eyes, hands or wings. This is very similar to a father cooing and using baby talk to his newborn. He is trying to express himself in relatable words.
The Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, not only desires for us to commune with Him through prayer but has bent down to express Himself to us in what almost amounts to baby-talk. Our minds can not comprehend Him in His fullness – we can’t begin to even grasp a fraction of His fullness. So He has chosen to describe Himself in the near petty, human-like descriptions, so that we may somewhat grasp who He is in a relatable way. These anthropomorphic expressions should cause us to praise God and to be humbled at His splendor and mercy.
“When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.” Jonah 3:10
When we see a passage where it looks like God repented, relented, or changed His mind we need to examine it in light of scripture, and with a proper Biblical hermeneutic. When we do this, we can see these passages are in light of judgment. God is expressing a change of attitude. Not that the repentance of the people in question have caught Him off guard, or that someone’s prayer has been a nag and He is giving in to quieten the annoyance. Quite the contrary. God knew from eternity past what was going to happen, everything is happening exactly as He has decreed it would, and He knew that at that point in history it was more fitting for Him to express that description of His character than it was previously.
Here in Jonah, the Hebrew word used is nacham. This is frequently translated “relent” or “repent.” It can also mean “comforted.” So we can understand this passage to mean that God has eased up on His judgment upon the people because it was fitting in time that He should.
Prayer Changes Things
There is a delicate and mysterious balance between God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility/Freedom. They are not in conflict with one another, rather, they are two sides of the same coin. God is completely Sovereign, yet He has said that man is free – but that man has a responsibility. Man is not autonomous, he still has to operate within the will of God.
We pray then, out of obedience and adoration. We pray also because we believe that God changes things in accordance with His will. Most often, prayer changes us. Prayer is key to aligning our hearts to yearning after the will of God. Prayer will soften our hearts and strengthen our desire to obey Christ.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” James 5:16
“This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” 1 John 5:14
“You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” James 4:2b-3
But what does it avail? How can a God who is completely sovereign allow prayer to change things? What does the motive of our heart have to do with making requests to God? How does this all fit in with His sovereignty?
“The King’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Proverbs 21:1
Brother Burk Parsons, the pastor at St. Andrews once said, “If prayer actually changed God's mind, I would quit praying.” Who are we, the fallible, mortal humans who think that we actually know what is best in the situation – so much so that we pour out our requests to God and often find ourselves angry that He didn't answer our prayers the way we wanted? God is holy, and infinite in His wisdom. The Lord is the King of all His creation. He is completely Sovereign, even over our hearts. He has ordained what will happen – and even ordained the words in our prayers.
Think of a time that you prayed for God to change your circumstance. God had decreed that very day would and very situation would occur. He predestined the very state of your heart that day and used prayer to bend your heart to His Will and fill your heart with the desire to be obedient even in the way you pray. He predestined that very day to change the circumstances in answer to your prayer.
So, does prayer change God’s mind? Not by any means. Does prayer change things? Yes! Absolutely!
Check out our podcast episode on Prayer in the Christian Life here: https://strivingforeternity.org/prayer-and-the-christian-life/