1 John 7-16 and Luke 11:5-13
(Quoted scripture is New International Version)
‘I the Lord do not change.’ (Malachi 3:6) ‘My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger,’ (Hosea 11:8) ‘God is not man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.’ (Numbers 23:9) ‘When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.’ (Nineveh’s story in Jonah 3:10)
How do we reconcile these seemingly opposing views of whether God changes his mind? One verse says he does not change, another verse says he does. Which is it? When we pray, does it influence God?
This is the 3rd in the series, Prayer, Does It Make a Difference, based on Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference? Today we will explore the question, do our prayers change God’s mind?
Origen, an ancient Christian scholar said God is changeless. “First, if God foreknows what will come to be and if it must happen, then prayer is in vain. Second, if everything happens according to God’s will and if what He wills is fixed and none of the things He wills can be changed, then prayer is in vain.” Some people use this philosophy as a reason not to pray.
In Psalm 139:1-4 we read, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You
know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.”
If God has already ordained what will happen to us, and if he already knows what we are going to say and do, what difference does prayer make? How do we reconcile the changeless God described in the Bible with the responsive God also described in the bible?
C.S. Lewis was fascinated by the questions about the sovereignty of God and how he might listen and respond to our prayers. Lewis came to the conclusion of human history being as one “in which the scene and the general outline of the story is fixed by the author, but certain minor details are left for the actors to improvise. It may be a mystery why God should have allowed us to cause real events at all; but it is no odder that He should allow us to cause them by praying than by any other method.” Prayer is a designated instrument of God’s power, as real and as “natural” as any other power God may use. (page 137)
Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years. There was no one like him among the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. (2 Kings 18)
Then the prophet Isaiah came to him and said, “This is what the Lord says; Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, O Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him. “Go back and tell Hezekiah, — this is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says; I have heard your prayer and seen your tears, I will heal you.” (2 Kings 20:1-5, my emphasis)
Philip Yancey quotes contemporary theologian Clark Pinnok, who says, “Since God’s nature is love, God must be impressionable and sympathetic. Because God’s love never changes, God’s experience must change.” (page 134)
Gail bears witness to this. “If I ever doubt that God hears and responds to our prayers, I pull out my prayer journal. Reading it over, I’m simply amazed at how God worked in response to my prayers. I see a softening in my niece’s husband, an agnostic. I see transformation in the members of my small group, and spiritual awakening in my neighbors. I see growth in my own marriage. (page 135)
When I look back through the prayer journals I have kept over the years, I can see God has answered many of my prayers. Prayers for protection for my children and grandchildren. Prayers for healing of friends and family. Some of those healing have been when that person crossed over into the arms of Jesus, becoming free from pain and suffering. Rev. Wayne Sparks once told me, ‘Be careful when you pray for healing, complete healing for Christians comes when we go home to God.’
1 John 4 tells us that ‘God is love.’ God does not merely have love or feel love. God is love and is unable to not love. It is out of this love that God answers our prayers with what is best for us and for the people we are praying for.
How often and how long should we pray? Jesus tells us in Luke 11, after telling the parable of the persistent neighbor; we are to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead: Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:9-13)
The fact that God yields to man’s persistent petitions, responding to our prayers, is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of power. God likes to be asked. When our children ask us for something over and over again, it is a sign they are serious about it and willing to come to us in humility and ask, over and over again. It is the same with God. When we come to God in humble prayer, we acknowledge He can provide what we are praying for. We acknowledge that God is God and we are not! God wants us to keep praying, keep asking, seeking, knocking. When we are persistent in our prayers, we are building a relationship with God. History is a test of faith, and the correct response to that test is persistent prayer. (page 148)
Philip Yancey writes, “Persistent prayer keeps bringing God and me together, with important benefits. As I pour out my soul to God, I get it off my chest, so to speak, unloading some of my burden to One who can handle it better. –What I learn from spending time with God then better equips me to discern what God wants to do on earth, as well as my role in that plan.” (page 152) The real value of persistent prayer is not so much that we get what we want as that we become the person we should be. (page 153)
At the Ontonagon Christian Centre Thursday evening, a man gave part of his testimony of faith. He and his sister were traveling to western Minnesota on icy winter roads, when the car coming toward them began to swerve. The result was a multiple vehicle accident. The man’s car was split in half.
His mother, who was in another town, was prompted by the Holy Spirit to pray for her son and daughter. She stopped what she was doing and began to pray with the people she was with, pray for her children’s safety.
The man found himself under the split in half car without a scratch on him. His sister was found a little way away with a concussion. People in the other vehicles in the accident were taken to the hospital with broken bones and serious injuries. One of the people involved had to be cut from his car by the jaws of life.
Did prayer make a difference? You bet it did! Would the son and daughter have been injured more seriously if mom had not prayed for them? I believe so! James 5:16 tells us, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
I believe our prayers can change God’s mind. Why would Jesus encourage us to ask, seek, knock, and be persistent in prayer, if they did not?
If you have kept a prayer journal, I encourage you to go back and read some of the prayers you prayed. You may find those prayers were answered, some in the way you desired, and some in the way that was best for you or for the person you prayed for. If you don’t keep a prayer journal, I encourage you to begin one. It will make a difference in your spiritual growth.
Next week we will address the language of prayer. What words to say and how to say them. Have we been praying the right way? We’ll see.
Pastor Rosemary DeHut
References: Yancey, Philip (2006). Prayer: does it make any difference? Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan