Does God Change His Mind When We Pray? — Erica Barthalow

“But once he has made his decision, who can change his mind? Whatever he wants to do, he does. So he will do to me whatever he has planned. He controls my destiny.” Job 23:13-14

This verse perfectly illustrates why I, at times, have had a hard time praying. Do my prayers really matter? If God has already made up his mind, am I just wasting my breath? Am I just praying into the wind?

He’s the God who writes in stone (Ex. 31:18). He didn’t do that because it was the only thing available to him, he did it because he wasn’t changing his mind. So, why bother to pray when the Bible says “He is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (Numbers 23:19 emphasis added)

“He’s the God who writes in stone. He didn’t do that because it was the only thing available to him, he did it because he wasn’t changing his mind.”

While I’m grateful and reassured by the fact that we don’t serve a capricious, any-way-the-wind-blows God, he is solid and trustworthy, because of these passages I’ve often wondered if the prayers I pray sway him at all. Isn’t he just going to do what he wants anyway?

These are questions I’ve wrestled with for years. The Bible tells us to pray, and Jesus illustrated what an important discipline it is for a believer, but I still had these nagging questions at the back of my mind.

Until one day I came across this statement from Lysa TerKeurst in her devotional for the First 5 app’s study of Numbers 23. She said, “Anytime God changes direction in the Bible, it’s in response to human behavior change (repentance) or in response to human intercession/prayer.”

Let’s unpack that, shall we? As Lysa’s quote indicated, God does alter his course for two important reasons: 1) in response to our prayers, and 2) to acknowledge a change in our behavior.

One of my favorite examples of this is Abraham pleading with God to save any righteous person living in Sodom and Gomorrah. God proves himself to be exceedingly merciful and kind, agreeing to spare the city if he can find even ten righteous people in it.

Aside from the fact that Jesus tells us to pray (which is a great reason), he also tells us that our prayers are powerful and that God listens and acts on them.

Luke 18:1 says, “One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up…”

Matthew 7: 7-8 says, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

And James tells us that, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (5:16)

When was the last time you spent intentional, devoted time to repentance and confession in your prayer time? I know this is something I don’t do often enough. Yet, when I do it, it’s so powerful.

When I look at the Lord’s prayer found in Matthew 6, I notice that the bulk of Jesus’s words, over 60%, are focused on confession and forgiveness. Confession is something we’re not great at anymore (unless you’re Catholic). The world tells us we don’t need to apologize or admit that we fall short. Do you feel that? We’re bombarded with the message, “You’re enough, just the way you are.” But I know I’m not enough, and if my only hope for the future is my own sufficiency, I’m doomed. That’s why I need Jesus. That’s why you need Jesus. Because we’re not enough. Only he is enough. And that’s great news!

Confession and repentance moves the heart of God. It’s a powerful example of God changing his mind. When we repent and turn from sin, we are no longer bound for destruction but salvation!

While it’s true that we’re never going to bend God’s will and actions to align with ours if our prayers are not in line with his will, it seems quite clear from these examples that God is actually quite responsive to the cries of his children.

If you’re feeling frustrated and discouraged because it seems like God isn’t answering your prayers, try praying for him to mold your heart to desire what he desires. And perhaps spend a little time in repentance and confession. You’ll find it so cleansing and freeing. He will answer those prayers every time!

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