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R.C. Sproul on the Question: “Does Prayer Change God’s Mind?”

21 Nov

We’ve been taught that prayer changes things. In view of God’s sovereignty, what is the role of prayer in a Christian’s life?

 

First of all, we need to establish that it is the sovereign God who not only invites us but commands us to pray. Prayer is a duty, and as we perform that duty, one thing for sure is going to be changed, and that is us. To live a life of prayer is to live a life of obedience to God.

Also, we must understand that there is more to prayer than intercession and supplication. When the disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray,” they saw a connection between the power of Jesus and the impact of his ministry and the time he spent in prayer. Obviously, the Son of God felt that prayer was a very valuable enterprise because he gave himself to it so deeply and passionately. But I was surprised that he answered the question by saying, “Here’s how you ought to pray,” and gave them the Lord’s Prayer. I would have expected Jesus to answer that question a different way: “You want to know how to pray? Read the Psalms,” because there you see inspired prayer.

The Spirit himself, who helps us to pray, inspired the prayers that are recorded in the Psalms. When I read the Psalms, I read intercession and I read supplication, but overwhelmingly what I read is a preoccupation with adoration, with thanksgiving, and with confession.

Take those elements of prayer, and what happens to a person who learns how to adore God? That person is changed. What happens to a person who learns how to express his gratitude to God? That person will now become more and more aware of the hand of Providence in his life and will grow in his sense of gratitude toward God. What happens to the person who spends time confessing his sins? He keeps in front of his mind the holiness of God and the necessity of keeping short accounts with God.

But can our requests change God’s sovereign plan? Of course not. When God sovereignly declares that he is going to do something, all of the prayers in the world aren’t going to change God’s mind. But God not only ordains ends, he also ordains means to those ends, and part of the process he uses to bring his sovereign will to pass are the prayers of his people. And so we are to pray.

Question adapted from the section on Prayer by R.C. Sproul. Now, That’s a Good Question! Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.

About Dr. R.C. Sproul

R.C. Sproul has taught theology to hundreds of thousands of people through books, radio, audiotapes, videotapes, seminars, sermons, seminary classes and other forums.

Sproul has written approximately sixty books (and counting). In addition to many volumes designed to teach theology, apologetics, and ethics to laymen through expository prose, he has written a novel, a biography, and several childrens books. He has also edited several volumes, including a festschrift for John H. Gerstner, a seminary textbook, and the New Geneva Study Bible. He has written one of the top classics of the 20th century – The Holiness of God; and perhaps the best book to explain God’s sovereignty in our salvation for laymen entitled Chosen by God.

Sproul founded Ligonier Ministries in 1971, a teaching ministry to assist the church in nurturing believers and equipping them for the ministries to which God has called them. Ligonier sponsors a radio program, “Renewing Your Mind,” which features Sproul and is broadcast nationally, five days a week.

Ligonier Ministries sponsors several seminars each year, the largest one in Orlando every winter. Ligonier publishes a monthly periodical, Tabletalk, and has its own web site (http://www.gospelcom.net).

Sproul has taught theology and apologetics at several seminaries. He earned a B.A. degree from Westminster College, a B.D. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and a Drs. from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America.

In 1994 Christianity Today asked a select list of “critics,” “What theologian or biblical scholar has most shaped your Christian life?” Third on the list (and the only American in the top four) was R.C. Sproul.

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9 responses to “R.C. Sproul on the Question: “Does Prayer Change God’s Mind?”

  1. RT

    February 10, 2014 at 12:22 am

    Hi,
    Thanks for this article. Without even carefuly reading the Bible, I thought that with the basic teaching of Hod’s sovereignty, I always grew up thinking exactly what was written in the article. However, as I continue studying the Bible, I find it hard to explain to myself the many times David tried to “negotiate” with God convincing Him to not punish His people when they disobeyed. Or King Hezekiah praying hard that God may give him 15 more years to live when He has previously received a message from God that he will die (if Hezekiah accepted this prophecy, would he still have received the additional 15 yrs and not die as prophesied? Or was he really meant/ordained to pray bitterly about it and there is zero chance that he would have accepted the prophecy so that God’s plan will come to pass by means of his prayer)?

    And more importantly, before crucifixion, why did Jesus pray to his Father if it is possible to let the cup pass from Him? Indeed, He then followed this by saying, “not as I will but as You will.” However, Jesus, who knew the very heart and nature of God, if He knew that this cup has been permanently ordained to happen, why did he somehow try or take the chance to ask if it can pass from him?

    Very eager to receive a response. Thank you. Blessings!

     
  2. RT

    February 10, 2014 at 12:45 am

    Hi,

    Sorry for flooding your page. I made a couple mistakes in my previous comment so here’s the edited one so we can scrap the first two. Thanks!

    Thanks for this article. I thought that with the basic teaching of God’s sovereignty, I always grew up thinking exactly what was written here. However, as I continue studying the Bible, I find it hard to explain to myself the many times Moses tried to “negotiate” with God convincing Him to not punish His people when they disobeyed. Or King Hezekiah praying hard that God may give him more years to live when He has previously received a message from God that he will die (if Hezekiah accepted this prophecy, would he still have received the additional 15 yrs and not die as prophesied? Or was he really meant/ordained to pray bitterly about it and there is zero chance that he would have accepted the prophecy so that God’s plan will come to pass by means of his prayer)?

    And more importantly, before crucifixion, why did Jesus pray to his Father if it is possible to let the cup pass from Him? Indeed, He then followed this by saying, “not as I will but as You will.” However, Jesus, who knew the very heart and nature of God, if He knew that this cup has been permanently ordained to happen, why did he somehow try or take the chance to ask if it can pass from him?

    Very eager to receive a response. Thank you. Blessings!

     
    • lifecoach4God

      February 10, 2014 at 8:07 am

      Good observations and questions. In all three situations you bring up with Moses, Hezekiah and Jesus. They are similar. They all reflect human helplessness and weakness in their situations (including Jesus – because he suffered in his humanity). We never know how God is going to bring about His sovereign purposes and yet we are told to “seek, ask, and knock”. In The NT we have parables aught by Jesus about persistant prayer. Ultimately it’s a mystery how God uses our prayers and how He answers them according to His sovereign will. We can’t change His minds, but I think what often happens in prayer is that our requests conform to His will – sometimes even subconsciously. Prayer and people’s salvation are very similar. God has chosen in eternity past who will be saved – but in the process of our prayers for the lost – oftentimes it is our actions and the means of other believers that God uses to bring those individuals to Himself. Human means and actions are all significant. Even as Joseph said to his brothers “What you meant for evil, God meant for good” (Genesis 50). That’s why the apostle Paul said in Romans 8:28 that all things work together for good for those who love God, who have been called according to His purpose.” The bad and the good actions of all mankind are ultimately used in the behind the scenes tapestry of life for our good and God’s glory. All we know is that we are commanded to pray and to evangelize – but the means and results are ultimately determined by the sovereign plan of God in eternity past. Fro, the anthropomorphic/human side we see Moses’, Hezekiah’s, and Jesus’ struggling with God – but from the Divine soveriegn side we see God working out the results for their good and His glory – this is always the case for all of His children.

       
  3. RT

    February 10, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Hi Lifecoach,
    Appreciate your answer.
    Sometimes, it brings me to frustration knowing that no amount of tears and prayers will ever convince God to save some loved ones if they weren’t chosen by God to begin with.. But thanks to this new insight. It gives me hope. That the fact that I am stirred and compelled to persistently pray for them might just mean they were indeed chosen by God to be saved and that my prayers are a part of God’s means for their salvation. Of course, I can never be sure until it is revealed, but it still gives me hope! And my task is to continue praying for them and witnessing to them.. And just see how God’s plan unfolds.
    Thanks!

     
    • lifecoach4God

      February 10, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      There was an unconverted Jewish man in a church where I pastored whose wife prayed for him for 50 years before He believed that Jesus was the Messiah and repented and put his trust in Him to save him. From a human perspective it came through prayer, the witness and testimony of friends, and a humble and gosdly wife’s patience and perseverance. Her husband came to Chirst over a devade ago in his late 70’s. He is now 88 and is one of the strongest and hungriest Christians I know. In God’s timing and providence He saved this man through the means of prayer, and His people, but in eternity past this man was chosen by God in His perfect time. We don’t know who the elect are – but through the means of the proclamation of the Word, love, and prayers that’s how all people ultimately come to Christ. Charles Spurgeon put it this way, A man was walking through a doorway, and above the entrance was a sign that read: “Whoseover will may come.” As he walked through the doorway and looked back, another sign above the entrance on that side read: “I chose you before the foundations of the earth were created.” I hope this encourages you! David

       
  4. BEATRICE

    February 26, 2015 at 2:45 am

    WONDERFUL REVELATION. I HAD THE SAME QUESTION IF OUR PRAYERS CAN ACTUALLY CHANGE THE MIND OF GOD. THANK YOU

     
  5. BEATRICE

    February 26, 2015 at 2:53 am

    When we pray, is it right to be focused on the issue that we are praying for?

     
    • lifecoach4God

      February 26, 2015 at 3:03 pm

      Hello Beatrice, It seems that in both Matthew 6 (known as “The Lord’s Prayer” – the model that Jesus laid out for the disciples to pray) and in John 17 (the Real Lord’s Prayer – what Jesus prayed for) – we have a primary focus on the Lord’s Will and glory to be carried out. I think we need to focus on God’s will being done and the acceptance of whatever His purposes and plans are for our requests…In prayer (a means of sanctification) we are conformed and transformed to the image of Christ – become more in tune with His will for us and others to be done on earth.

       

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