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Does prayer change God's mind

Since God is omnipotent and his will is His will, does petitioning really change his mind? How? Why?

Robin's Response

Wow, this is a big question. One that it would take a whole book to answer! There are some parts of God that are unchangeable (he doesn’t lie, he is eternal, he is love, his desire is for all men to be saved), but others that are changeable–his responsiveness to our prayers, to our lives (he is grieved when we refuse to repent and may decide to discipline us; likewise, if we repent, he may withdraw his planned discipline).

The Bible is very clear that God sometimes changes his mind (Exodus 32:12-14, Jonah 3:10, 4:12, Jeremiah 18:7-10, Hosea 11:8-9). In my way of thinking, although closely related, God’s mind and his will aren’t exactly the same thing. God’s will is intricately tied to his wisdom and foresight. He can far better foresee and predict the outcome of our actions than we. He knows what’s best for us. His will, for instance, is that we keep ourselves clean from sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:3), that we give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:8), and that we do good even when persecuted (1 Peter 2:15). The closer we come to renewing our minds, and becoming living sacrifices, the closer we come to understanding his will for us (Romans 12:1-2).

A study of God’s character makes it obvious that he is moved by our requests and moved by our circumstances. He responds emotionally and in action to what happens to us; in fact, he is deeply affected by us. Think of all of the scriptures that talk about God as a parent. God as a husband. God doesn’t sit back and let his “will” play out. Rather, like a parent or husband, he has set himself as a participant in the human drama of our lives.

Perhaps that is one reason why God urges us continually to pray. Prayer isn’t just a form we go through so that we’ll know we are dependent on God, but rather an interaction with the living God, in which he hears and responds. Think of Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18 (she changed the judge’s mind with her many pleas for justice).

Here’s a quote from a book I’m reading (The Openness of God, Pinnock & Others, p. 7) that does a beautiful job of summing this up:

“The Christian life involves a genuine interaction between God and human beings. We respond to God’s gracious initiatives and God responds to our responses…and on it goes. God takes risks in this give-or-take relationship, yet he is endlessly resourceful and competent in working towards his ultimate goals. Sometimes God alone decides how to accomplish these goals. On other occasions, God works with human decisions, adapting his own plans to fit the changing situation.”

My heart’s desire is to live is such a way that takes me closer (one small step at a time) to understanding God’s good and perfect will. But I know even in my weakness, insecurity, and fear that he hears and works. And even if my spiritual discernment is weak, the spirit works interceding in my prayers, in accordance with God’s will (Romans 8:27). Most of all, I pray confidently, knowing that my petitions are heard and acted on by a gracious and loving Father.


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