How Do Our Prayers Change God’s Actions?

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If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and unchanging, what real influence can our prayers possibly have on Him? In other words, can our prayers really change God’s mind? That’s the dilemma some people have with the very idea of prayer, let alone practicing it. It touches on the larger paradox of God’s sovereignty and human agency.

While this is a fascinating philosophical question that might keep seminary students debating matters of predestination and free will, it is not a problem recognized by Scripture. Our modern minds get snagged on an either/or scenario—either our prayers change God and He is not immutable, or they don’t change God and prayer is pointless.

“Prayer is how the co-laboring of God and humanity happens.”

The ancient authors of the Bible, however, saw it differently. While modern minds frame the issue as either/or, ancients were more comfortable with the mystery of both/and. For example, the apostle Paul says we ought to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you” (Phil. 2:12–13). Our modern way of thinking wants to reply, “Wait, Paul. Who is doing the work? Is it me or God?” But that isn’t a question he is the least bit interested in answering, because it isn’t a question a pre-modern person would ask.

The same indifference applies to prayer. Scripture rejects our question, “Is God sovereign or do our prayers make a difference?” and instead affirms that God is sovereign and our prayers make a difference. How does this work exactly? I haven’t a clue. What I do know is that God desires to manifest Himself and His reign over the world through us and with us.

We are called to co-labor with Him, and we are invited— even commanded—to make our requests known to God in prayer. Prayer is how the co-laboring of God and humanity happens. In a mystery beyond my understanding, our will and God’s will are mingled just as His Spirit and our spirit abide together in the stillness of prayer.

(Read more in Philippians 2:12-13; Romans 8:26-27)

For Further Reading:

What if Jesus Was Serious … About Prayer?

by Skye Jethani

Good things come to those who believe . . . right? People like to say, “Prayer works.” But what does that mean? Prayer works for...

book cover for What if Jesus Was Serious … About Prayer?