Q&A: Predestination v. Prayer

Predestination v. Prayer

Question

I have prayed for a long time that my grown-up children will somehow come to faith in Christ. As God predestines who will come to faith, should I go on praying about this? If God wants this to happen, then it will happen in his own good time, but maybe he has not preordained their salvation. Can prayer change his mind?

Answer

You certainly should continue to pray for your children. As odd as it may sound in light of predestination, prayer really is effective.

There are two doctrines that it is often hard to balance. The first is the doctrine of God's eternal decrees; the second is the doctrine of providence. The Bible teaches that God's eternal decrees, such as predestination, are immutable. God's eternal decrees, which he made before he created the world, are immutable. They can never be altered. If someone is predestined to salvation, that person will not fail to be saved, and if that person is not predestined to be saved, that person will never be saved.

But here on earth we almost never know what God's eternal decrees are before they are fulfilled. Most of the time, we only know what God eternally decreed by looking at what has already happened. Since God decrees everything that happens, so we can clearly see his decrees after they have come to pass. God's eternal decrees are, for the most part, secret. They can offer us assurance and hope in many cases, such as when we evangelize. We know that God will not fail to save his own, and that we have no power to compel anyone to be saved. This helps us not to feel guilty when someone rejects our gospel presentations, and to hope for them no matter how hardened they may seem.

Generally speaking, though, the Bible instructs us to live our lives with our eyes focused primarily on the doctrine of providence. Providence is God's governance of creation, it is his interaction with creation in time and space. When we compare it to God's eternal decrees, it helps to think of providence as one perspective on God's relationship to the world, and eternal decree as another perspective. They both describe the same things, but from different points of view. For example, whereas nothing ever changes God's mind about his eternal decrees, God changes his mind all the time from the perspective of providence.

Consider the example of Moses when God said that he was going to destroy the Israelites because of their sin (Exod. 32:9-10). Moses interceded on behalf of Israel, that is, he prayed for them (Exod. 32:11-13). In response, God changed his mind and did not destroy Israel (Exod. 32:14). From the perspective of his eternal decree, God ordained that he would want to destroy Israel, he ordained that Moses would intercede, and he ordained that when Moses interceded he would change his mind and not destroy Israel (note that God ordained that Moses' prayer would be the means by which God brought to pass his eternal decree to change his mind). But Moses didn't know any of this ahead of time. He was living in the perspective of providence, and from his eyes from this perspective, God really did change his mind -- he was planning one thing, and then he changed his mind and planned something else instead.

There is another biblical example that relates pretty closely to your situation. It's found in Luke 18:1-8, and it's commonly called the Parable of the Unrighteous Judge. Jesus told that story to show that at all times people ought to pray and not lose heart. Now, he was thinking primarily of praying for protection and deliverance from those who persecute us, but his point applies to other prayers as well. In that parable, a widow petitions the unrighteous judge constantly, until finally the unrighteous judge gives her protection simply to stop her contant requests. Jesus then makes the point that God is righteous, so he is much more likely to respond to our righteous petitions than the unrighteous judge would be. If even the unrighteous judge finally did the right thing because of the woman's petitions, imagine how much more likely God will be to answer the righteous prayers of his children!

There is another doctrine worth noting here too, and that is that God loves believers, and he often does good things for the children of believers because of his love for their parents. For example, God blessed Isaac for the sake of his father Abraham (Gen. 26:24), and he chose the nation of Israel because he loved their ancestors (Deut. 4:37). Since you are a believer, God loves you too, and that makes him more likely to answer your prayer to save your children.

Also, I mentioned a moment ago when discussion Exodus 32 that God had ordained not only that he would relent from destroying Israel, but also the means by which his mind would be changed, namely Moses' intercession. In fact, most things that God ordains he ordains to happen by particular means and mechanisms. It may well be that God has ordained that the thing that will inspire him to save your children will be your diligent intercessory prayers on their behalf.

So then, yes, you are right that if God has predestined your children to salvation they will be saved. But that is not quite the same thing as saying that they will be saved no matter what. Rather, it is to say that they will be saved by the means that God has ordained to save them, such as intercessory prayer, evangelization, etc. From the perspective of providence, God will do it in the time he has set to do it. But from the perspective of providence, your prayers may speed the process.

In short, don't stop praying! It does make a difference. It influences God's actions in providence, and may serve as his ordained means to bring your children to faith.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

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