Do You Believe Prayer Changes God’s Mind?

This week someone in my church asked, “I don’t get prayer. What’s the point?”

I immediately shot back, “Prayer changes God’s mind.”

Puzzled, she asked for clarification.

“Listen,” I said. “Prayer does lots of things.”

I told her that I believed…

  • Prayer aligns our will with God’s.
  • Prayer brings us closer to him.
  • Prayer allows us to spend time with our heavenly Father.

Then I finished by saying, “All of these things are incredibly important, and are tremendous privileges of prayer. But at its core, when you reduce prayer down to its essence, in addition to the things I just listed, the main reason we pray is to change God’s mind.”

Do you agree with that?

Most think that the central part of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about homosexuality and God’s judgment on human wickedness. I contend that while that is obviously a key part of the story, what precedes it in Genesis 18:17-33 sets up what the story is really all about:

17 Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing —to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”

“If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”

29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”

He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”

30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”

He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”

He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”

32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

33 When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.

The overarching point of the entire Sodom and Gomorrah narrative is about prayer, and how God responds to it.

And my point today is simple: I believe this.

God changes his mind in response to our prayers.

Period.

Do you?

Brian loves helping Christians live thoughtful, courageous lives. He's a popular blogger, author, and pastor at Christ's Church of the Valley in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.vandyke Scott VanDyke

    My question is how can I get my congregation to ask me great questions so I can write interesting blogs about it? Thanks, Brian!

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      Hysterical! Great hearing from you Scott.

  • Dave Underwood

    To change someone’s mind don’t we have to give them information they don’t have? What information can we give God in prayer to make Him say, “Wow, I never thought about it like that.”? Does that make prayer unimportant? No, God has planned His action with all the information which includes the prayers He knows we will offer. From our perspective it appears we have changed the mind of God. Just my opinion. Brian your book on Hell makes great reading on the eliptical machine at the gym. I feel the pain.

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      I don’t think it implies giving them information they don’t have. Like when our kids ask us if they can do something. Etc. Right?
      Hey…you’re welcome for the elliptical help! It also cures insomnia too ☺.

  • Steve Brooke

    Jesus pretty clearly teaches that prayer does just that – it changes/urges God’s mind – in Luke 11:5-10 and 18:1-8… It’s a great reminder and motivation to pray, pray, pray! If I didn’t believe this aspect of prayer, I’d have that same temptation to give up on it too. Thanks for helping her out!

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      Thanks Steve. I love those passages in Luke.

  • Jon Leist

    Brian – please read “The PAPA Prayer” by Larry Crabb.  I think it examines many of these questions very thoughtfully.  I was especially interested in the discussion of the story Jesus told about the persistent old woman.  Interesting to consider what this story means.  Was Jesus saying that God needs us to pester Him until He becomes annoyed and tired, before He will act on our behalf?

  • Chris Bacus

    Just beginning to teach Jonah on Wednesdays here (so, of course, I’m learning the most). A (the?) major theme is Jonah wishing that God would *not* change His mind about destroying the hated Assyrians. But God sent Jonah to them so that they would repent and ask God to change His mind and not destroy them. So not only does He change His mind in answer to their repentance/appeal for mercy, but God’s prophet gets ticked off that God is willing to change His mind in response to their plea!

  • Sam

    I think we’d have to answer this question with a qualified “sometimes”. Without trying to count them all, I’d guess that for every prayer in the Bible that seems to have changed God’s mind, we could find one that didn’t.  Even in the exchange cited here, the answer, “Yes, prayer changed God’s mind” has to be given a “Well, maybe.” God’s intent was to destroy the cities. Abraham’s intent was to save them. God’s original intent was fulfilled, in spite of His concessions to Abraham.

  • Dennis

    I believe, but cannot comprehend, that God exists outside the universe of our space-time experience, i.e. space & time are part of God’s creation so He’s transcendent above them.   So, in the context of this belief which I cannot comprehend, I find the question about God changing his mind to be irrelevant or meaningless from God’s perspective as he knows our future interaction with Him with as much or more certainty as we know our past interactions with Him.

    • Chris

       Dennis, Having become less certain about God’s relationship to time, I wonder if you could help me: What compels you to assert that time is a thing that’s been created by God, and that He is transcendent above it (i.e., exists outside of it)? Of course, I’ve heard this all of my life, but have lately found the evidence for this assertion to be less than intellectually satisfying. But you’re likely aware of data about which I’m not familiar. (I hope this doesn’t constitute a hijack of the thread here.) 

      • Dennis

        I don’t want to hijack the thread either, so in a nutshell the compelling reason for me taking the position I have is based on Einstein’s theory of General Relativity and how gravity affects both time and space.  If you want to see a more complete answer or engage on this topic, you’re welcome to comment here:  
        http://elenburg.blogspot.com/2012/05/does-prayer-change-gods-mind.html

  • http://twitter.com/SethBouchelle Seth Bouchelle

    I’ll  be honest in saying that I don’t. It seems to me that most of our modern prayer practices treat God as some kind of Genie or wish-machine whom, if we believe hard enough or live rightly enough, will bend His will to our own. I see the examples of intercession or petition in scripture, but it just feels so manipulative and unrelational in practice.

    I generally would boil down the “core of prayer” as the sharing in the presence of God: being in God’s presence, learning to listen to and discern His will, moving beyond objective notions of who God is to experience Him first hand–the more contemplative tradition. I wrote a post about this myself recently and would love to hear your push back, thanks for the thoughtful blog:
    http://www.emptyoration.com/2011/08/philosophy-theology/miscommunication-iv-faith-as-the-force/ 

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      Thanks Seth! I’ll check out your post.

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