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Does Prayer Change God’s Mind?

3. Our prayers are instrumental.

The text is clear: Without this prayer, God would have destroyed Israel. The prayer was instrumental in getting God to change his course of action. And that’s consistent with the pattern of prayer throughout Scripture. As I’ve heard it said, “Prayer moves the arm that moves the world.”

Now, many people might ask at this point, “Well, what if Moses had refused to pray? Would that mean that they would not have been saved, and would that mean that it was not God’s will to save them after all? And what does that mean if I fail to pray for something God wants me to pray for? Does that mean that the thing that I didn’t pray about wasn’t God’s will after all? Or would God have just gotten someone else to pray it?”

You may begin to feel your head aching. It’s understandable.

Those kinds of questions are the wrong ones to ask about these situations. Scripture never teaches us to think about the will of God that way.

The 19th-century Princeton theologian A.A. Hodge put it this way (my paraphrase): “Does God know the day you’ll die? Yes. Has he appointed that day? Yes. Can you do anything to change that day? No. Then why do you eat? To live. What happens if you don’t eat? You die. Then if you don’t eat, and die, then would that be the day that God had appointed for you to die?

Quit asking stupid questions and just eat. Eating is the pre-ordained way God has appointed for living.”

I imagine Hodge would say something similar to us today: Quit asking stupid questions and just pray.

You see, however impossible it is for our puny minds to understand, God has sovereignly placed us in certain situations for the express purpose of praying his promises and “changing his plans,” so to speak. He wants us to employ divine power to create a different destiny than the one everyone is heading to.

Your situation—the problems you are observing and the divinely appointed opportunities in them—are invitations to call God’s promises into effect.

Like Moses, God has “sent you down” into a family, a group of friends, a neighborhood. Some of you have looked around at your family and thought, “Why did God make me part of this family?” If nothing else, he put you there to pray.

You are placed where he wants you to be so you can obey and pray for the things he wants to do, to perceive the problem and believe the promise and release his power into the situation.

In light of that, there are two things that you need to be absolutely full of if you are going to be an effective pray-er: the Word and the Spirit. Because those are the two means God has given you to perceive the kingdom of God and the will of God.

God’s Word is not just a textbook to be learned but a book of promises to be claimed. Like Moses, we are supposed to say, “God, remember you said…” Don’t just read your way through Scripture. Pray your way through it.

And trust in the Spirit of God to guide you as you pray, to show you where and how to extend God’s kingdom. He is willing and waiting and wanting to answer!

This article originally appeared here.

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J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.