Hello, and welcome back (for many, this may be your first time here) to Michael Dawson Online. It has been over 5 years since I have last posted. I am not sure that this is going to be a regular thing, but I did write something yesterday that I wanted a more public place to share it through, so, here it is.
On Monday I received an email concerning the sermon I preached on Sunday. In the email was a questions about a comment I made about Moses being one of the few who was actually able to change the mind of God. The question went along the lines of ... "If our prayers can't change the mind of God, and if we can only pray in His will, then doesn't that make our prayers somewhat pointless."
This was a terrific question ... and one I am sure several others may have had. The problem with what I shared Sunday was two fold. First, it was a sermon on prayer in a series on the Minor Prophets. In one sermon on prayer, we are unable to answer or discuss every aspect of prayer. Second, what I said about Moses, was my attempt to correct a problem I saw in my sermon during my rehearsal on Sunday morning. I recognized that one of my points that was printed in the bulletin, and would be on screen, left an area for questions to be asked. What I said about Moses was my attempt on the fly to flesh out a problem I myself saw. Obviously, I didn't have time between the rehearsal and the actual preaching of the sermon to flesh it out more fully. The response you read below is a much better attempt to explain what I was trying to correct on the fly.
I think we are in agreement that prayer is a conversation between us and God. I also believe that the type of prayers you are specifically referencing are prayers of intercession, where we are asking God to move and work in a particular situation. And from what you asked, you believe that we are supposed to ask according to His will, but, if everything is already decided, then, are our prayers pointless?
It is true that we only get a few instances of God "changing" His mind due to the prayers of man. We see it in Exodus 31:14 when Moses pleads with God, and God relents from ending the Israelites and starting over with Moses. You might say that God changed his mind when he regretted making Saul king in 1 Samuel 15:11. My own question with that is this ... is that a change of mind or an expression of sorrow that the man He made king turned out the way he did? I personally am not sure. I do know this, either way, God does not appear to be content with Saul as king. But, there is a distinction that must be made with these two moments in Scripture ... these are both decisions God has made that He is changing His mind on. God had already decided and announced to Moses that He was going to start over with Moses, so, Moses was able to change His mind. God had already established Saul as king, and as He watched Him, He regretted that decision. I think that is an important distinction to make. Thus, this might be why it is rare that God changes His mind.
I would like to flesh out this following thought a little more ... is everything we do, something already predestined to happen, and if so, does that make prayer pointless? My short answer to that is I am convinced that God has not predestined nor has He preordained every detail of how the world works and functions, and that our prayers do matter. In some situations and in some specific moments, I do believe God does preordain how something is going to happen. I think we see that best in Jesus. The world He worked to establish at just the right time (Galatians 4:4) was perfect for the birth of Christ. He determined long before, that Christ would die upon a tree/cross, that He would be virgin born, that He would be born in Bethlehem. Matthew reminds us in his gospel on many occasions that Jesus' actions were fulfilling prophecy. We could argue, and find agreement in both arguments, that God preordained some of the events in the life of Christ, and that God knew, via foreknowledge, of what was going to happen. I would imagine, there was a little of both at work in the life of Christ and the predictive prophecies that came centuries before. However, while God had foreknowledge, I am convinced God did orchestrate the world to be primed for the coming of the Messiah and for the Gospel to spread easily.
However, I am of the opinion that the majority of the time God does not operate in complete control of this world and all that happens. What I mean is that God can and does have complete control ... and can intervene any time He wants or chooses to, but the majority of the time He chooses to allow the world to function by the natural laws He established for the world to work. I also believe that He allows us the free will to make good and bad decisions. If God were controlling everything, then that would mean the bad choices, the violence, the rapes, the thefts that we wake up to daily on our news sources, would be happening at the hand of God. While God can intervene anytime He chooses, I am convinced that God allows free will and the natural laws to guide the day to day workings of our world.
So, that brings me back to prayer. If God does not preordain and guide and direct everything that happens in our world, then I don't believe He has predestined everything to happen. Thus, His mind on a given situation may not be made up. If that is the case, and I believe it to be true (Although I am not convinced that the words and sentences I have chosen are adequate nor clear enough to express my understanding.), then we have the ability to go to God and earnestly ask Him to work and move in a particular situation, and that our prayers are not pointless. We are given examples in Acts of the church coming together seeking God's direction and involvement in various situations. We find one of these moments in Acts 12:5. Peter had been arrested, so the church came together and earnestly prayed to God for him. They believed that their prayer had power, and had the ability to influence God's involvement in Peter's situation. That night, God acted in favor of the church, sent an angel and miraculously brought Peter out of the jail.
Now, the question could be asked ... is this something God was already planning to do, or did He do so in response to the prayers of the church? I don't know, and the text doesn't tell us why God did what He did in respect to the prayers of the people. However, we do have a few occasions in Scripture where God reacted based on the prayers and cries of the people. In Exodus 3:7-10, God tells Moses that He has heard the cries of the Israelites in slavery, and is responding to their suffering, and sending Moses to set them free from Egypt. God heard their cries, and responded to their cries. In 1 Samuel 1:10-11 Hannah prayed in deep anguish for a son, and then in 1:19-20, God remembered Hannah, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. Hannah cried out to God in prayer, and God heard her prayers and granted her request. So clearly, we see in Scripture that people prayed to God with requests and God moved. In the case of Peter, we don't know if it was God's will to release Peter, or if was in reaction to the prayers of the church, but with the Israelites and Hannah, we see that God did more than just hear the prayers of His children, He reacted based on the prayers of His children.
It is important to note that God's action was within His will. All three examples I shared certainly had the larger picture of God's movement in the world at play ... In Exodus, God was rescuing the nation He had built from slavery, so they could come one step closer to their mission of Jesus. The same could be said of 1 Samuel, Samuel became a prophet and leader of the nation of Israel, leading them to follow God and establish themselves as a nation. Peter was an Apostle and a key figure in the early church. Now, just because these were "important" moments in God's major movements in the world, doesn't mean our prayers and requests are unimportant and His will doesn't matter. It still does.
I think the biggest part of praying in His will is our submission to Him. His will may not be our will, and the answer He gives us may not be what we want. That is when we must submit to His will and trust that it is right. I loved the loving father analogy you gave. Sometimes in love, I tell my children no. It's not because I am unloving, it's because I am, and I know things they don't, like running out into the street is not safe. Our willingness to pray in God's will, reveals the heart in which we pray. If we fail to pray in God's will, we begin demanding our wants. When we pray in His will, we are submitting to His authority and leadership in our lives and thus in our requests.
So, to sum this up, I do believe we can have influence over God. The moments that Scripture tells us that God changed His mind or had regret, seem to moments where God had already made a decision. I am convinced in many situations God is allowing the world to function by natural law and free will, thus, our prayers of intercession invite Him to work in our lives. Our decision to pray in His will reveals the heart and submission to Him in which we pray. Thus, I would conclude that our prayers are not pointless, but powerful to evoke God's involvement in our lives
You can watch the service and the sermon below.