What is the purpose of praying? Can we change God’s mind with our requests? Today, R.C. Sproul explains why we should bring our petitions to our sovereign and all-knowing Lord.
Does prayer change God’s mind? The simple answer to that question is, of course not. Nothing could be more absurd than to think for one second that your prayers would change God’s mind. If you think about it for a minute, what could you possibly contribute to God’s thinking that would incline Him to change His mind? I mean, the idea is, here He has a plan that He’s going to set in motion until suddenly He gains new information about the situation from you. And He says, “Whoops, I better change my plans here because I’ve just learned something that I didn’t know before.”
Now, there are theologians who really believe that God is constantly learning things and is at the mercy of the information you give Him. I don’t think that’s Christian theology, but it is one of those views out there. And the other thing would be that God has a plan and He’s about to execute it. And it’s not that He needs more information to change His mind, but that the plan that He has designed is a poor one. It’s either an evil one or a foolish one, until He gets the benefit of your counsel and you persuade Him to cease and desist from His plan of wickedness or of stupidity. And as a result of your great insight, the deity changes His mind. Now, I’m speaking as a fool here, which is not hard. This is character-acting.
And yet there are times when the Bible speaks as if God’s mind has changed, where it says Moses intercedes or so on, and God relents. And then in the didactic portions of Scripture, however, we are warned that God is not a man that He should repent or that He should relent, and that this is simply an anthropomorphic expression that is describing God in human terms when it speaks of His changing His mind.
But the thing is, that having said that, we obviously don’t change God’s mind in that crass sense of adding information or intelligence that He lacks. The real question is, does prayer matter? Does prayer change things? And there the answer is, of course it does. God uses means to accomplish His ends, and some of those means include prayer. And again, we are invited to participate and to be used of God as means to His ends whereby He works through the prayers of His people. And we were told that the fervent effectual prayer of a righteous man not just avails a little bit, but avails much.
When I got off the plane here, there was some confusion at your airport because of this construction business, and I was supposed to meet somebody to pick me up. And I got lost and had to take a bus and all this business that took an hour before I finally hooked up with the person. And in the process I lost something. I had a computer case, but it didn’t have a computer in it. I wish I would’ve had a computer in it, but it had all my data that I’ve been working on and analyzing for the last seven years at Ligonier and I had no backups for it. And to replace, I couldn’t have replaced it all, but to even get a semblance of what it was would’ve taken me at least two hundred hours of my time.
So I’m frantically on the phone to the airport and to the lost and found, and they’re looking all over the place and they can’t find it. And there’s this dear lady there named Annie. And after I’d called all day on Thursday, she said, “Now Dr. Sproul, don’t you despair now.” She said, “This may take time.” She says, “You call me back tomorrow.” And I said to Vesta, I said, “What are the odds of a computer case being left at an airport and getting returned?” I said, “One hundred to one.” I said, “The only hope we have here is prayer.”
So as a last ditch effort to measure, we appealed to the providence of God. And I called back to Ligonier, called the office, and I talked to our staff. I told them what happened. They know how attached I am to this material. And they said, “We’ll pray, R.C.” And so I had all people in the world praying for this. Called back yesterday morning, 11:15, talked to Annie. I said, “Annie, Annie.” She says, “Dr. Sproul, I found it.”
I said, “God answers prayer.” From the foundation of the world, God knew I was going to lose that thing. He ordained that I was going to lose it. And He ordained that I was going to find it. And He ordained that I was going to pray. And He determined from all eternity to work through the secondary cause of my prayer to bring about the primary cause of His rescuing me from this calamity, so that I might give Him the glory.