OK, I guess the time has come to answer the question. Does prayer actually change events that occur in this world? I guess what we are really asking is, since God is sovereign and His will is going to be done, can we change His mind? Do our prayers affect what He does?
Well, if you remember what we looked at in part one of this series, we can see that only prayers that are "according to His will" are going to actually happen. So what we should be praying for, are things that are in His will. That leads us to continually seek to know His will and partner with Him in that will. I would much prefer that the omniscient, omnipotent, loving God change my mind than for me, with my limited knowledge and often selfish heart, change His.
I think where the confusion comes in is that in some events in the bible, it appears that man can get God to change His mind. The first one that comes to mind is in Genesis 18. The Lord tells Abraham that the sin in Sodom and Gomorrah is so great that He is going to destroy them. Abraham brings his petition to God to not sweep away the righteous with the wicked. He did not want to see his nephew Lot and his family destroyed with the wicked. It looks as though God changes His mind and says that if he can find even 10 righteous people in the city, He would spare it.
Then there is the remarkable account in Exodus 32. God is so angry with Israel; He tells Moses that He is going to destroy them. But Moses pleads with God and it says in verse 14 that, "The Lord relented and did not bring on His people the disaster He had threatened." So, did Moses' prayer actually change God's mind and change what would have taken place? Or is it that God used the situation to bring Moses to the place that he would plead for the lives of the same people that he had been so angry with earlier.(See Ex 16:20 and 17: 1-6)
I think I will pull a Fox News on you and say "I report, you decide." I do know that God's sovereign will is ultimately going to be accomplished. For some reason, He allows us to be involved in accomplishing His purposes. I don't think that we can really change God's mind, even though at times it may seem to look that way. We know that God is omniscient. That means He knows all there is to know. There is nothing for Him to learn, especially from us! We are told in scripture to pray continually, bringing our petitions and requests to Him. (Php 4:6) But Matthew 6:8 tells us that your father knows your needs before you ask. He then gives us our prayer model in the next few verses. It is no coincidence that He includes the phrase "Your kingdom come, your will be done". Once again, this should be the goal of our prayers, that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
One of the most interesting incidents concerning prayer in the Old Testament is a situation that happened with King Hezekiah. We are told in 2nd Kings, chapter 20 that Isaiah the prophet told Hezekiah to put his house in order because the illness he had was going to lead to his death, that he would not recover. Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, asking him to remember how he had walked before him with wholehearted devotion and served him faithfully, which was true. God spoke to Isaiah and told him to tell Hezekiah that he would be healed and that he would be granted fifteen more years of life. However, God said that he would do it in order to deliver Jerusalem from the King of Assyria and that it was for His sake and the sake of His servant David.
Now, many people teach that Hezekiah should not have prayed to be healed because during that period of fifteen years, he had a son, Manasseh, who became King when Hezekiah died. Manasseh was a terrible ruler and led the people back into idolatry and other detestable practices including human sacrifice. However, when you read the verses, Hezekiah never specifically asked to be healed. It may have been in his heart, but that is not what was spoken and even though Manasseh was evil, he was in the line of David, which God had said would be preserved all the way to the birth of Jesus. I don't know if all this has helped or just confused you even more, but the major point is that God's sovereign will was once again accomplished.
Let's look at a New Testament example of "answered prayer." In the book of Acts, chapter 12, Peter had been put in prison by King Herod. In verse 5 it says that the church was earnestly praying for him. Well, God miraculously delivers Peter, using an angel to rescue him. When Peter got out, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, where people were praying (presumably for his release). When he got there, at first they didn't believe it was him! So much for their unwavering faith, but again their prayers worked in conjunction with God's plan. I believe that sometimes God just waits for us to pray for that which He is already going to do. After all, He knows when and if we are going to pray in His will.
Can you see why theologians have discussed the mysteries of prayer down through the ages? It is both a wonderful and amazing mystery. The main thing we should keep in mind is that when we pray, we are following the instructions given to us in God's word. Eph 6:18 says "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests."
GAME PLAN: I strongly recommend that you go to www.livingtruthcorona.org click on sermons and listen to Pastor Brian Richard's message on praying in the Spirit. You will be blessed!
God bless you as you continue to grow in the knowledge and grace of the Lord. Coach