Can Prayer Change God’s Will?
- Kelly O'Dell Stanley Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2020 4 May
This is a complicated question. If, as Christians, we believe God’s will is perfect, then why would we want to change it, and isn’t it presumptuous to think that we could?
“As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30).
Besides, we serve a God who does not change (Malachi 3:6), and the Bible tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). In Numbers 23:19-20, Balaam spoke this message from the Lord: “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it.”
So can we change God’s will?
I think when most of us ask this question, we’re really wondering if prayer will change things—will God intervene in a specific situation? Will he hear us when we pray? Is it worth the effort, or is it a waste of time? I do believe He hears every prayer; He aligns our will with His through time spent with Him in prayer, and that—all other consequences being equal, he might allow us one thing instead of another because he gives good gifts to his children. However, I don’t believe we can change God’s will.
But I do know one thing: even Jesus went to God asking that question, so we’re in good company.
Jesus Prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane
When he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before the Crucifixion, Jesus said, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). In other words, he basically said this, “Father, in my flesh, I really don’t want to do this. But in my heart, I know that you know best, and I will do whatever you say because of who you are and how much you love me.”
When we go to God and ask Him to change His will, a kind of exchange takes place—God begins to change our will to align with His. Soren Kirkegaard said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays,” which is supported through Scripture:
- Paul admonishes us in Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
- God promised the Israelites, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
How Prayer Changes Things
Time spent in prayer helps us grow closer to God. As we begin to grasp just who He is—how powerful and able and merciful and loving—we begin to become more like Him. As we seek His wisdom, we realize that He must know best. He does have a plan, and He knows the best possible outcome for each of us.
We learn, as the Psalmist did, that He hears us: “As for me, I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice” (Psalm 55:16-17).
Even so, you may still struggle about whether prayer will make any difference. I have trouble praying if I believe it won’t change the outcome of the situation I’m praying about.
Why Should We Pray?
In Matthew 7:11, Jesus says, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Our heavenly Father loves us and wants to give us gifts—not just any gifts, but good gifts. He’s already offered us forgiveness for our sins and eternal life with Him. He’s showered us with mercy and hope and peace. He’s given us the gift of prayer, which is the ability to communicate directly with the Lover of Our Souls. But I have to believe He also wants to keep giving us what we need—when it won’t harm us or otherwise affect the big picture.
There is a difference between the general will of God, which is His ultimate plan for us, and His will for specific people and situations. The first relates to our eternal life, and the latter relates to events that will not change our salvation.
Example of Answered Prayer
For instance, as I ran an errand the other day, a woman I know stuck her head out of her apartment because she needed help. She’d spent the majority of two days trying to update her phone and get the contacts and photos from an old device, and even though she was on the phone with people who could help, she couldn’t seem to get the right passwords typed in. In 15 minutes, I was able to walk through the steps and accomplish all that she needed. She had been praying for help and I showed up at just the right time. Could it be a coincidence? Sure. But she’s a praying woman, and I’m a person of faith. It may seem like a small thing, but she and I both believe God answered her prayer.
In the eternal kingdom, it didn’t matter whether I completed my errand later that night or squeezed it in earlier in the day, but the Lord cares about the things that matter to us. Her prayers may not have changed His ultimate will for either of our lives, but having her prayer answered removed her from a frustrating and time-wasting situation and reminded her that God still hears and answers prayer.
Prayer Evokes Connection with and Trust in God
Don’t let your uncertainty keep you from approaching God. Jesus knows the Father better than we ever will, and He went to Him daily. He knew, as we do, that prayer makes a difference—it keeps us believers connected to God and changes us.
God is good, and the Bible tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). We can safely trust in His good and perfect will and know that when we approach Him in prayer, He will begin to align our will with His.
Kelly O’Dell Stanley is the author of Praying Upside Down and Designed to Pray. A graphic designer who writes (or is it a writer who designs?), she’s also a redhead who’s pretty good at controlling her temper, a believer in doing everything to excess, and a professional wrestler of doubt and faith. She offers free monthly prayer prompt calendars at kellyostanley.com and calls small-town Indiana her home.
Photo Credit: Pexels/Joao Jesus