Can We Change God’s Mind with Prayer? A Bible Study

by Robert Driskell on August 29, 2013 · Print Print · Email Email

The Bible instructs us to pray. In fact, in the New Testament we are told to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). The Christian life is a life that is to be lived in constant communication with God. We read that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful (James 5:16). Nevertheless, the question is often asked, “Do my prayers really change God’s mind?” Let us look at this question and try to answer it from the Bible.

God is omniscient

The Bible indicates that God is omniscient. Omniscient means ‘all-knowing’. God knows everything; what was, what is, and what will be. Because of this, we know that God already knows what we need, and even what we are going to pray about. Therefore, we can conclude that our prayers do not surprise God. It cannot be said that God intended to do thus and such but, as a result of our prayers, He decides to do something different. [A discussion of God’s foreknowledge, election, and predestination are beyond the scope of this article]

However, God does respond to our prayers. Our interaction with Him affects His actions. He has told us, in His Word, how He will react to certain actions and attitudes of ours; and our prayers reveal what our attitudes are. When we come to Him in prayer, we are exhibiting our reliance and trust in Him. And, just as an earthly father wants the best for his children who come to him in dependence, so God relates to His children who come to Him dependently.

The ‘real’ question

Many times, the real question behind the question, “Can we change God’s mind with prayer?” is “Do I, and my prayers, matter to God?” We want to know if God cares about us enough to pay attention to our prayers. Jesus asserts that God loves His children even more than earthly fathers love their children (Matthew 7:10-11). God loves us more than the most loving human father ever has or ever will.

God gives us some conditions that must be met in order for us to be in the right condition to have our prayers answered:

  • our prayers must be grounded in faith in God (Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24);
  • we must ask in Jesus’ name (John 16:24);
  • we must ask with the right motives (James 4:3);
  • we must be persistent in our dependence on God (Matthew 7:8; Luke 1:10);
  • we must keep His commandments and obey Him (I John 3:22); and
  • our prayers must be in accordance with His will (I John 5:14).

This may seem like a lot of things to do and remember in order for God to answer our prayers, but they are all wrapped up in the one commandment Jesus said is above all others, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:37 ESV; cf. Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). When this is the condition of our heart, all the conditions for answered prayer are met.

When we are truly submitted to Jesus, and His Lordship, our relationship with Him will be such that He hears and answers our prayers as a loving father would answer the requests of his children, whom he loves dearly. David Platt, in his book Follow Me, compares the believer’s submission with the submission of earthly children to their earthly father,

“If my kids were to say me, ‘Dad, this week, we will do whatever you think is best for us,’ how do you think I would respond? Would I make their week miserable? Certainly not. I would honor their trust in me by leading them toward whatever is best for them. Now I’m not perfect, and I don’t know what’s best for my children 100 percent of the time. But God does. He is a perfect Father, and he makes no mistakes. He desires our good more than we do. So shouldn’t we gladly surrender our will to his? This is what it means to be a disciple” ( p. 130).

Whose mind is changed?

Most often, it is we who are changed when we come to God in prayer.

Most often, it is we who are changed when we come to God in prayer.

Often, when we come to God to ask Him for something, we have already decided what it is that we need. Too often, we pray to God to get Him to see things our way and to join the plan that we have envisioned. However, quite often, God uses these times to teach us that He knows what is best for us. He will gently change our minds to see things His way, so that we end up participating in His plan. Most often, it is we who are changed when we come to God in prayer.

The Prayer of Repentance

However, there is a special prayer that completely changes one’s relationship with God. The Bible tells us clearly that, when anyone prays the prayer of repentance and becomes a follower of Jesus, God relates to that person in a very different way than He did while they were unrepentant sinners in rebellion to Him. Whereas before they were under God’s wrath and judgment, after they confess their sins and repent, they are forgiven and are no longer under His condemnation (Romans 8:1). Nevertheless, this does not indicate that God changed His mind; rather, He simply responded just as He promised He would when anyone confesses and repents of their sin and turns to Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Have you confessed your sins and repented of them? It will be the most important prayer you’ve ever prayed.

Conclusion

Since God is omniscient (all-knowing) it cannot be said that, from His point of view, He ever ‘changes His mind’. Nevertheless, we are not omniscient, we know that God loves us, and we are instructed to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In this way, we are always communicating with God and, as long as we are living as He wants us to, we can be confident that He hears our prayers and acts on them. The most important aspect of our prayer lives is to make sure that, in everything, we are living for Him and His glory. So, does God change His mind? No…but He does respond to our prayers as a loving father responds to his children’s needs and requests…only better.

Take a look at this article about prayers:

10 Awesome Bible Verses About the Power of Prayer

Resources – The Holy Bible, English Standard Version “Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” Platt, David. Follow Me. Tyndale, 2013. YouTube video “On My Knees” by Jaci Velasquez.



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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Patti Driskell August 29, 2013 at 8:58 am

Great article. Thank you for reminding of this. I do need to trust God for everything, he knows what is best for me.

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Robert August 29, 2013 at 11:47 am

You are so absolutely right, my better half.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Ken August 29, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Help me understand… If God knows everything that will be… what’s the point of everything that was or is? In other words… if God knows who will be saved and who will not be saved, what’s the point of worrying about it? God not knowing the unknowable is not a problem theologically… Saying that God knows the unknowable is a problem theologically. Similarly… Does God get everything He wants… and doesn’t God want everyone to be saved?

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Jack Wellman August 30, 2013 at 10:40 am

Hello Ken. Not being the author of this fine work, maybe I can say this. We know God desires that none perish (2 Pet 3:9).

Why pray then? Jesus commanded us to pray, that’s enough for me. Jesus giving the Lord’s prayer said to pray like this and then gave the template in the Lord’s Prayer and Jesus told the disciples “When you pray do not pray like the hypocrites…etc.” He said WHEN not if.

We come to God with our specific requests, and we have God’s promise that our prayers are not in vain, even if we do not receive specifically what we asked for (Matthew 6:6; Romans 8:26-27). He has promised that when we ask for things that are in accordance with His will, He will give us what we ask for (1 John 5:14-15). Sometimes He delays His answers according to His wisdom and for our benefit. In these situations, we are to be diligent and persistent in prayer (Matthew 7:7; Luke 18:1-8). Prayer should not be seen as our means of getting God to do our will on earth, but rather as a means of getting God’s will done on earth. God’s wisdom far exceeds our own.

God wants everyone to be saved but people have free will and anyone who chooses to believe may be saved (John 3:16-18) but God will not force people to go to heaven. They must want to come willingly.

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Robert August 30, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Ken,
Thank you for reading and commenting. I will attempt to answer your questions as fully as possible.

First, you wrote: “If God knows everything that will be… what’s the point of everything that was or is?” Simply put, the point of everything is God. Being the Creator, Sustainer, Savior, etc. means that He is fully worthy of our worship, and He is the ‘point’ of everything. He does not have to answer to us or answer every question that we may have. He even told us that we would not understand everything about Him or His ways, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV).

You also wrote: “if God knows who will be saved and who will not be saved, what’s the point of worrying about it?” God’s knowledge does not determine our destiny. He has provided the way for us to be saved (the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus), but we must choose whether to put our faith in Him or not So, just because God knows who will be saved and who will not, does not remove our responsibility to respond to His loving offer of salvation.

The ‘knowable/unknowable’ discussion is a waste of time, much like the question of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. We have enough information to make decisions that affect our eternal destination, we shouldn’t foolishly waste our time and energy on futile speculation (I Timothy 1:3-5).

You finished with: “Does God get everything He wants… and doesn’t God want everyone to be saved?” The Bible does say that God wants everyone to be saved, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:3-4 ESV). Nevertheless, God has also set the conditions by which one can be saved, “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9-10 ESV).

Ken, I hope the answers I’ve given will help you in your search for truth. Please feel free to comment further if you’d like. God bless you.

Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Jack Wellman August 29, 2013 at 10:08 pm

I agree with Patti…great article from a godly man who I love like a brother. I believe you hit this spot on brother…I do think prayer changes us and your friendship has changed me too.

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Robert August 30, 2013 at 12:14 pm
David September 1, 2013 at 1:33 pm

didnt God change His mind in the wilderness when Moses interceded and asked God to blot out his [Moses] name fro, the book of life rather than break His promise to Abraham?

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Jack Wellman September 1, 2013 at 5:12 pm

David, does God change His mind? No, God does not change his mind and I am glad for He probably would have changed His mind about saving me! It is not in an eternal sense that He changes anything. However, we do see verses in the Bible that imply he does – in a temporal sense. We have to understand that God has revealed himself to us in what we call anthropomorphic revelation. This means that he has lowered himself to our level and speaks to us in a manner that is consistent with our understanding so that we can understand, having finite minds, what He is saying (from the infinite mind of God). The Book of Life in the Old Testament was about the physical life and not the same book, even different language or words used in the Greek Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old & New Testament) as in the New Testament, precisely in Revelation. We must understand that God knew that Moses would say this and decided ahead of time what He would say. God is sovereign. Who can fathom His mind…so He speaks to us in words that finite human minds can wrap around from the mind that no human can discover.

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David September 2, 2013 at 2:12 am

I`m not sure I agree, but we both love God, have accepted Christ, and are a part of His body [the Church].
Peace and love, David
P,S, at the moment thinking of the wonderful hymn “When I survey the wondrous cross“

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Robert September 2, 2013 at 8:52 am

Hi David,
Thank you for reading and commenting, brother. I would like to add one thing to Jack’s comment earlier. I think the event that you were talking about (Moses) is simply another example of God reacting to our response to Him. Many, if not all, God’s promises are conditional; for example, when we come to Him in dependence He reacts differently than if we are rebelling in disobedience. I don’t think the Bible teaches that God changes His mind as much as it teaches He changes His course of action depending, many times, on our responses to Him. God bless you, David.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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David September 3, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Thank you brother Robert. Very good answer. Never thought of it that way.
Blessings

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John Harris (UK) September 9, 2013 at 4:29 am

May I respectfully suggest that the above discussion has got a little off the point and bogged down in the details of the mechanics rather than the overriding principle. God’s mind like everything else about Him is perfect so if it were to change it would become less than perfect. Impossible! I think we often forget that prayer should be a two way communication and we need to listen as much, or more, than we speak. A man who has a child who meekly accepts everything his father says and does what he is told without comment or question cannot be said to have a great relationship. Surely the joy of having children is in their involvement in your life, in their wanting to know the whys and wherefores. Gradually you explain to your child the reasons for your actions and train him to be a good member of society. Prayer, listening as well as speaking, is that training to be a good member of God’s kingdom. Perhaps not many of us would claim to be there yet but our aim must be like Paul to “have the mind of Christ”. “Pray without ceasing” might be interpreted as “Be involved in God’s work all the time”.

with every blessing,
JOHN

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Robert September 9, 2013 at 7:19 am

John,
Thank you for reading and commenting. Your analogy of prayer is spot on. Prayer cannot be reduced to a mere set of steps to be carried out, it is a relationship (as you say) that must be cultivated constantly. Thank you for your insight into this vital part of being a follower of Jesus. God bless you, brother.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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DocReits November 4, 2013 at 11:54 pm

Hey Robert, Jack and John,

Good discussion. I like your thought Robert that God’s promises are conditional. What is a conditional promise one might wonder? It goes like this, “If A, then B. If not A, then not B”.

A really great Scripture reference for this, stated in a nice concise manner is found in Jer 18. Here the nation of Israel is being reminded that God is the potter and they are the clay, not vice versa…After this reminder God speaks through Jeremiah and says,

“The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.”(Jer 18: 7-10)

So does God change His mind here? No. He sets up (If/Then)conditions for His mercy or His wrath. The choice is ours. My prayer is that everyone will say along with Joshua, “As for me and my house, We will serve The Lord” (Josh 24:15). IF we do, THEN we will have eternal life, whereas IF not, THEN not. God remains constant in this equation(unchanging), the dependent variable is “us”.

Blessings!

DocReits

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Robert November 5, 2013 at 6:54 am

You are absolutely right, Doc.
I think that the root of our problems in this world is that we too often forget the potter/clay relationship and, as you said, we tend to invert it and live by the belief that, since we are believers, God exists to serve us instead of the other way around. Thank you for sharing your insights on this site, I’m sure they are a blessing to many who read them.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Chris D August 17, 2014 at 5:57 am

I see a lot of circular reasoning here. Gods ways are unknowable in their totality, but most of his ways are revealed to us in scripture. To answer everything with “well, the clay pot is made a clay pot by its creator, if it doesn’t like it, then too bad” argument is baseless and counter to the spreading of the gospel. We are told to be like the Boreans, to diligently study and uncover many of the hidden secrets God put forth to confound the worldly wise. God does not change his mind when he has come to a conclusion, however, him being omniscient explains how our prayer does have impact. He knew before stating “Light, be” everything from beginning to end. Our prayers were known beforehand, and God sometimes sets his plans in motion to coincide with said prayer. When you understand the concept of God living outside of time and seeing all events connected like links in a chain fence, God remains unknowable, but to some degree understandable. It also helps one to understand the concept of the Elect. Free will decisions help God to formulate His plan accordingly, whereas changing God’s mind is utterly impossible.

Thomas Aquinus, perhaps the Churches greatest theologian and philosopher put it like this. “We pray not in order to change the divine disposition but for the sake of acquiring by petitionary prayer what God has disposed to be achieved by prayer.”

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DocReits August 17, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Hi Chris,

I agree with you that God is outside of time and that does help with the whole “election” debate. I also like the way you described God knowing our prayers “beforehand”. In my strange moments I pray for events that have already happened in the past, like for a loved one’s salvation, whom I wonder if they were saved. They have died. If God is outside of time He should be able to “look forward” in time, seeing my prayers occurring in our future(His present) and will have, God willing, answered them in our past. Strange, right?

I do disagree with your statement that, “God does not change his mind when he has come to a conclusion”. You might wish to set me straight regarding your intent of the word “conclusion”, but there are numerous accounts in the Bible where God did change His mind, as you might remember.

Just a few good examples include the story of Jonah and how God relented or changed His mind about their destruction. He told Jonah that He had planned to destroy the city and everything within it, for their evil. The people repented in sack cloth and ashes, including the King, and cried out to God for forgiveness and God changed His mind regarding the destruction of the city and its people.

Moses on so many occasions , stood between God and the Israelite’s, as an intercessor in prayer on behalf of the people, reminding God that these were His peculiar people, a chosen people, dedicated unto His service. God relented, and changed His mind, regarding their destruction, because of Moses’s intercessory prayer.

Read again from Jeremiah, as I posted above,

“The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.”(Jer 18: 7-10)

This just all proves that we have Free Will, for if we did not then our prayers would not be able to change or influence anything. God constrains Himself, though Sovereign, and allows Himself, through His own Will, to allow humankind to alter His Hand, within the body of His ultimate plan and purposes for the world.

IOW, God’s will is going to be accomplished as you said, and that Will has already been determined, before the foundation of the world. We are a part of that plan presently, and have already influenced and impacted that plan for eternity as we pray today.

Blessings,

DocReits

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