Can Prayer Change God’s Mind?
Let’s suppose you want something to happen and the odds aren’t good. For instance, you want a certain job, but aren’t really qualified. Or maybe your husband has just been diagnosed with a serious illness and you can’t imagine how you would survive if he doesn’t recover. How about the situation where you’re “in love” with a woman at the office and want to ask her out on a date, but you think she’s out of your league. If you’re a person of faith, you hit your knees and try to convince God to make it happen. When things don’t seem to be working out, you begin to pray more and more, hoping to change his mind. This begs the question – can prayer actually change God’s mind?
Abraham Bargains With The Lord
You don’t need to be a Scripture scholar to know that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were living in a way that didn’t please the Lord. Realizing that God was on the verge of obliterating them, Abraham stepped in (Genesis 18:16-33) and interceded on their behalf:
“Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous people in the city; would you really sweep away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people within it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to kill the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike! Far be it from you! Should not the judge of all the world do what is just?”
Judging by the Lord’s response, Abraham’s bargaining seemed to be effective:
The LORD replied: If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.
Realizing that maybe fifty was too high of a number (these people were really in bad shape!), Abraham decided to lower the bar a little and the Lord seemed to go along with him:
“What if there are five less than fifty righteous people? Will you destroy the whole city because of those five?” I will not destroy it, he answered, if I find forty-five there.”
Upon further consideration, Abraham realized that finding forty-five good people in Sodom wouldn’t be easy, so he asked God to consider forty, then thirty, then twenty, then ten. The Lord responded as follows:
For the sake of the ten, he replied, I will not destroy it.
That Abraham really knew how to drive a hard bargain, right? Before he started negotiating, the Lord was prepared to wipe out the residents of Sodom. Now, they would be spared if only ten good people could be found. Did Abraham’s intercession cause God to change his mind?
God Doesn’t Change
Because God is God, he doesn’t change. If he could change, he wouldn’t be God. All of the negotiating in the world isn’t going to change God’s mind and make him do what we want. He will always do what’s best. In the end, Sodom and Gomorrah did indeed get destroyed. Wait a minute, you might ask. What was up with all that negotiating? If God is going to do what he wants, why should we even bother to pray?
Just because you can’t change God’s mind doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pray. We are never going to figure out exactly how prayer works, but we do know that Jesus told us to ask for what we need. It would be a mistake to conclude that Abraham’s prayer didn’t bear fruit. Because of their conversation, Abraham discovered just how far God was willing to bend over backwards in showing mercy. Also, take note of the fact that he stopped pressing the Lord when he got down to ten people. Why? Maybe because he now understood that the the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah had no intention of reforming.
Abraham’s prayer might not have changed God, but I think it’s safe to say it changed him. Don’t stop praying.