Q&A: Does Prayer REALLY Change Things?

Does Prayer REALLY Change Things?

Question

I know God ordains us to pray. I also understand about predestination. How is prayer supposed to change or affect life if God predestines everything? Prayer seems to be mostly for us, but will God change the outcome if we pray?

Answer


I'm sure we can agree that there are many examples in the Bible where people pray, and in response God changes the circumstances of their lives. God even changes his own [b]providential[/b] plans with regard to people who pray (e.g. 2 Kings 20:1-7; Amos 7:1-6), even though he does not change his [b]eternal[/b] decree. It also directly states that things are predestined (e.g., Eph. 1:11). Right off the bat we know that these two ideas must be compatible. So, the answer can't be that eternal decree is not binding, nor can it be that prayer doesn't change God. But how?

Think about planning a wedding. The bride and groom agree to marry each other. They set a date. They plan the ceremony, the reception, the flowers, the vows, etc. God's eternal decrees are a bit like these agreements and plans, except that when God plans a wedding nothing goes wrong. Anyway, let's focus on the vows: the bride and groom select vows. They don't take these vows when they select them. Rather, they select vows that represent what they plan to think, feel, say and do at the time of their wedding. They plan to say that they love each other, they plan still to be in love on their wedding day, they plan to commit their lives to one another in a marriage covenant. But they can only [b]plan[/b] these things. They cannot actually [b]do[/b] them until the wedding happens.

And the relationship between God's eternal decrees (like predestination) and his providence (like responding to prayer) is similar to this. By his eternal decree, God makes [b]plans[/b] about what he will think, feel, say and do. Then, he creates the world and begins to interact with it. During those interactions, he actually [b]does[/b] what he has planned. He actually thinks. He actually feels. He actually speaks.

Now, what about prayer? Well, among other things that God plans, he plans to be moved by prayer, and to change his mind in response to prayer. So, when we actually pray, he is actually moved emotionally, so that he no longer wants to do one thing, and so that he wants to do another thing instead. And he actually changes his mind, so that he actually does the other thing. Planning wedding vows in advance does not make those vows disingenuous when we actually make them. In the same way, planning to change our mind doesn't make that change of mind any less real when we actually do it.

So, yes, God does change the outcome when we pray. He doesn't change his eternal decree. But he does change what had previously been his providential course of action.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.