Can we change God’s mind? The Bible tells us that God is all-knowing, that He has plans, and that He does not change His mind. Yet, it also tells us that prayer moves God’s heart. What kind of impact does prayer have, and how does God work in it? I think three things are important to understand here:
- God’s plans are perfect
- Prayer is effective
- God values perseverance
(1) GOD’S PLANS ARE PERFECT
Numbers 23:19 says:
“God is not a man, that He should lie,
or a son of man, that He should repent.
Has He said, and will not do?
Or has He spoken, and He will not make it good.”
This is in the context of Balak of Moab asking Balaam to curse the people Israel. Balaam prophesies of God’s favour upon them instead, and in this case, tells Balak that God does not change His mind, but is true to His promise, and is indeed for Israel. Think of God’s promise to Israel – that they would be His people and that through them, all nations would be blessed. That promise stands unchanged through generations, battles, exile, and even carries on into eternity.
On a wider scale, God has a plan for creation, and a plan for humanity. We see the prophets speak of it in visions, and we see it described in Revelation. Romans 8:18-30 speaks about the expectation of creation waiting for the revealing of the sons of God, and the hope that will be fulfilled at Christ’s return. Verses 26-28 (below) show how the Spirit works in us according to the will of God. From the beginning, He created man in His likeness, to have authority over the earth, and to walk in intimacy with Him. This plan has never changed.
“Likewise the Spirit also helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the heart knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
While God has perfect plans, and is fully capable for carrying them out, He enjoys our input. In the garden of Eden, God brought his creation to Adam and waited to see what he would name each one. Throughout the Bible, God gives tasks to various people – He allows them to walk out lives in obedience to His ways and to see the fruit of their choices. Prayer is one clear way in which we can work with God!
(2) PRAYER IS EFFECTIVE
One of the things I see highlighted in First and Second Kings is the consequence of choosing to turn to God. The kings of Israel and Judah, their accomplishments and their failings, are all recorded one after the other. Furthermore, each king is described as either walking in the ways of the Lord, or committing evil in the eyes of the Lord. In these short accounts of Israel and Judah’s kings, we see the working of God’s justice and mercy, as well as the consequences of worshipping idols instead of God. Consider the following examples.
King Ahab is one of the most notorious kings in the Bible. Yet in 1 Kings, we see an interesting turn of events. 1 Kings 21:27-29 documents Ahab’s response to God’s righteous judgement of his ways, and God’s response to how Ahab humbles himself.
“So it was, when Ahab heard these words, that he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his body, and fasted and lay in sackcloth, and went about mourning. And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, ‘See how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring this calamity in his days. In the days of his son I will bring the calamity of his house.”
Even king Ahab, despite all the evil he had done, experienced God’s mercy when he humbled himself. It is never too late to turn to God.
King Ahaz, conversely, is given an opportunity to call upon God and spurns it. Isaiah, God’s prophet, came to Ahaz to inform him that the Lord would deliver him from the hand of his enemies. The Lord tells Ahaz that he may ask for a sign from the Lord – “either in the depth or in the height above.” However, Ahaz declines saying, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!” [Isaiah 7:10-11] God does not change his plan to save the kingdom of Judah, but he does rebuke King Ahaz for his pride and unbelief. King Ahaz missed a chance to experience something amazing, something which God wanted to share with him.
King Hezekiah experienced God’s power many times when he humbled himself before God. He humbled himself when Sennacherib, King of Assyria came against him, and the Lord delivered him from his enemies. He humbled himself for the pride of his heart and the wrath of the Lord was averted [2 Chronicles 21:20-26]. His decisions to humble himself before God not only affected himself, but it affected a whole nation.
There are so many examples of how prayer moves God’s heart, but I have only explored a couple of examples in the book of Kings here.
(3) GOD VALUES PERSEVERENCE
Perseverance is another godly characteristic highlighted all throughout the Bible. We are called to persevere in hope, in faith, in prayer, in suffering and in love. When we pray, perseverance is needed not just in how much we pray, but in the way that we pray. What is our attitude in prayer? When Israel prayed and offered sacrifices while living in disobedience, and the Pharisees prayed in self-righteousness, they cried out to no avail. Yet, in even just a brief moment of turning to God, eyes were opened to see God’s perfect plan. James 5:16 says “…The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” The passage mentions praying in faith for the sick, in humility for one another, and describes the fruit of Elijah’s earnest prayers. Romans 12:11-12 gives us this reminder to be “…not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer..” Ephesians 6:18 includes prayer in its description of the full armour of God – “…praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints…”
The parable of the persistent widow gives us even more perspective [Luke 18:1-8]. It tells the story of a widow who persisted in asking an unjust judge of the city for justice from her adversary. At first, the judge ignores her. However, wearied by her insistence, the unjust judge gives in and avenges her. The Lord says,
“Hear what the unjust judge said…And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on earth?”
This parable was spoken in the context of Jesus telling the Pharisees about the coming Kingdom. He is coming back soon to set up His everlasting kingdom and He reminds us that we should not lose heart. As we persevere in hope for His kingdom, we can also persevere in the daily battles we face – battles for people to know God, battles to live in the fullness of God, battles to overcome any adversary and doubt on earth. I do not think there is anything too small to bring to God in prayer, nor is there anything too big to share with Him. God knows us completely and He cares for us. Let us have faith in Him.
What is our attitude when it comes to thinking about “giving it up”? Do we assume that God will just give us what we think we want? Do we think He just doesn’t care about certain issues? I believe God cares, He has the best answer, and He wants us to be involved. I believe He is a God who answers when we call, that He hears us and understands all our dreams, anxieties and desires. I want to come boldly to the throne of grace, to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need [Hebrews 4:14-16].