The title is the question I was asked to answer for a blog my friends at Winona State University run. This was a question asked by a student at Winona. There are several questions like this one and they asked different people to tackle the questions…doing their best to answer them. I was chosen to answer this light question on prayer (insert sarcasm). This was the answer I submitted them. I am open to discuss…
DOES PRAYER CHANGE GOD MINDS?
In January of 2009 I was rocked with the news my wonderful sister Penny had been diagnosed with a rare form of cervical cancer. There were only 22 recorded cases of this cancer at the time and the prognosis wasn’t favorable. Upon this news I cried out to God like many of the Psalmists did thousands of years ago. I prayed similar prayers to God like David & Moses did:
“God – hear my cry for help. Heal my sister Penny! She is way too young and has four beautiful children. This is an injustice! Save her from this wretched disease!”
These types of prayers continued on for weeks as Penny began chemotherapy and radiation, but then the theological questions started creeping in. Questions like:
• Does God already know what is going to happen?
• Will my prayers change anything?
• Should I even be asking God to heal Penny or should I simply pray “Your will be done”?
• Is Penny’s future determined yet and will my prayers help God make up His mind?
From January of 2009 until February of 2010 when Penny lost her battle with cancer I prayed for healing, even though these questions plagued my thoughts. And to be completely honest with you today, there is still a part of me that is haunted by these questions. But one thing I know is that it is acceptable to ask God questions. God is confident enough in Himself for us to ask these tough theological questions. Asking questions leads us to understanding and a greater dependence and trust in God.
Volumes upon volumes of books have been written on prayer. There is no way I can adequately answer a question like, “Does prayer change Gods mind?” in one simple blog entry. Questions like this should be discussed multiple times over many pots of coffee and cookies (me likey cookies!) but I live in Bloomington, MN and I assume you, the reader of this blog, are currently living at or near Winona State University. So my hope is that this entry gets you thinking and possibly raises more questions for you. I pray this post is honest and faithful to the Biblical text. I will check the responses to see if further questions are asked and I will do my best to address as many of these questions as I possibly can.
So let me get back to the original question – “Does prayer change God’s mind?” Ready for my answer? Here it is – “I don’t know”. I honestly and truly don’t know. This question raises so many questions nut just about prayer, but also subjects like God’s sovereignty, open theism, etc. I am not nearly adequate or interested enough to write about these immensely deep topics here. I have discussed these subjects with people until all parties involved were blue in the face, but at the end of these conversations there were always questions people couldn’t definitively answer regardless of which side they fell on.
I think the important question to answer here is – “Why pray?” If we are unsure whether or not prayer changes God’s mind is there any real purpose to having an ongoing conversation with God (what prayer really is) anyway? Since I am taking the time to write this entry I am assuming you know that I believe: we absolutely should pray. Prayer is vitally important to our lives as followers of Jesus. Prayer in the spiritual sense is as important as breathing is in the physical sense. If we do not pray, our spiritual lives will suffer immensely. Prayer is a primary vehicle for our walk with God growing on this earth.
So why pray? Let’s let Jesus answer…
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” – Matthew 6:9-13
These words of Jesus were spoken during what we call the “Sermon on the Mount” recorded for us in Matthew 5-7. This teaching of Jesus is the longest recorded one we have. Many call this teaching the core of Jesus’ Kingdom proclamation as Jesus explains in these verses the very essence of what it means to follow him. In the middle of this teaching Jesus spoke the above words regarding prayer.
“This, then, is HOW (my emphasis) you should pray” – Notice Jesus assumes these followers are praying. He doesn’t say, “If you get the chance to pray”, or “If you think it is important enough to pray”. NO…Jesus simply says, “this is how you should pray.” Jesus knew and emphasized the importance for every child of God to pray.
“Our Father in heaven” – Jesus says when we pray we should address God as “Father”. How awesome is that! When we talk with God we are privileged enough to call him “Father”! Paul wrote in Romans that we can call him “Abba” or in the English “Daddy”. From the start of Jesus’ model prayer he is beginning to unwrap the purpose of prayer – Prayer is a chance for us (God’s children) to talk with our Father. I am a father of three beautiful little girls. Nothing gives me greater joy than talking and spending time with my kids. God desires to talk with you too!
“Hallowed be your name” – This Father of ours is not like our earthly father. Our Father in Heaven is “hallowed” or “sanctified”, or “holy” or “highly venerated”. He is all knowing, all-powerful, all majestic, amazing, wonderful, and like no other!
“Your Kingdom come, your will be done” – Prayer allows us to reconfigure our lives with the purposes, plans, and strategies of God. Prayer is a chance for us to say to our Father – “What you desire trumps what I desire. Your plans and ambitions are greater than my ambitions and dreams. I submit my life to your will. I trust that what you will accomplish is much more magnificent than what I can accomplish on my own.”
“Give us today our daily bread” – We should depend on God for all things…including our daily provisions. When we ask God for our “daily bread” we learn to trust our Father more. We loosen the stranglehold on our personal lives and we invite our Father into every aspect of who we are and what we do. Our faith become increasingly holistic and less compartmentalized when we lean on our Father for everything.
“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” – We are in need of the forgiveness of God and our Father provided that forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus. All of our past, present, and future sins are taken care of. Prayer allows us to live and breathe in the forgiveness of God without the condemnation of our enemy. Prayer also assists us in forgiving those who have wronged us. We must release them from their transgressions against us and release ourselves from bitterness, rage, and hatred.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” – Prayer to our Father enables us to stand firm against our enemy as we resist the darkness of his ways. Just as any earthly Father desires to protect his children from evil, God desires to give us freedom and victory over the evil in our lives.
In this prayer I see Jesus saying to those original listeners – Prayer is vital because it is your conversation with your Father. When you talk, meditate, and focus on God the Father (prayer), you develop a sense of trust, love, and connection with him as Father.
So back to the original question – “Does prayer change God’s mind?” I think the more important thought is this – Prayer changes you! I know when I pray, my heart changes. I love my Father more and I trust Him despite the horrendous things that could be going on in my life.
I am continuing to learn and grow in prayer, but what I learned as I prayed for my sister Penny during her fight with cancer is this – My Heavenly Father wanted me to talk with Him about it. He wanted me to talk about all of it. So I prayed to Him daily and said something similar to this:
“Father, I know you care about Penny because you are her Father and you care for her much more than I could ever begin to know. Father I can’t begin to understand all of what you desire to do in and through Penny and our family as she battles this disease. Father I desire for your will to be done in this situation. God I know that when you created the earth it was created free from disease and death. We brought death and destruction into your wonderful earth when we sinned. Thank you for initiating your redemptive plan to allow us access to you as Father…ultimately through Jesus. Father I honestly don’t know what will happen with Penny. I don’t know if you will heal her, if you know if you will heal her, of if you may change your mind. But I do know this – you care about Penny and regardless if she is healed on this earth she, as will I, spend all of eternity with you. Father, I ask you to heal her though. Do a miraculous work in her body for her sake and for your glory. God give Penny everything she needs today. Provide her the strength and patience to endure. Give her the perspective to see your hand in her life. And Father, protect her from the enemy! This disease is attacking Penny’s physical body but she can have victory over the evil one and resist the attack of her soul. In the name of Jesus I refute the enemy’s ways and tactics upon her soul. May she cling to you and know that you are good no matter what. I pray these things in the name of Jesus, Amen.”
As I mentioned in the beginning of this entry the reality is I can’t fully answer all of the ramifications of this question in one post (or in one book or a set of books for that matter). But I hope this was at a minimum somewhat helpful. If you have questions, post them here and you will hear back from me in the near future. And if you are ever in the cities, let’s get that coffee and cookies!
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