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Does Prayer Change Things?

Question:  If God knows the outcome of our lives, does prayer change things?

Christians praying in Goma, DR of Congo.

Christians praying in Goma, DR of Congo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Answer:  It is true God knows all things.  In theology it is said God is omniscient.  What that means is God knows all true propositions of the past, present, and future.  God knowing all things doesn’t mean He causes all things.  Let me illustrate this truth.  By simply knowing the past events of my wife’s actions today doesn’t mean I caused those events.  I know she went to the store, had a hair appointment, and made dinner for me.  You could say I have knowledge of her past free will actions.  In the same way God knowing the past, present, and future events doesn’t mean He causes them.  His knowledge of what we will do is based on our free will actions.

Since God is all knowing (omniscient) He cannot grow in knowledge.  Therefore, when we pray we don’t surprise God with new information.  He knew we were going to pray and what we were going to ask.  God can begin answering our prayers even before we pray them.

Here are some examples of an omniscient God answering prayer.

  • Genesis 25:21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived.”
  • In the Old Testament God judged David’s actions and Israel was punished for his sins.  We read that 70,000 Israelites died at the hand of an angel sent by God.  David prays for the plague to end and we read 2 Samuel 24:25, David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. Thus the LORD was moved by prayer for the land, and the plague was held back from Israel.”
  • The following is a great example of where the God of the universe responds to the prayers of Hezekiah and allows him to live 15 more years.  2 Kings 20:1-6 In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.’  2 Then he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, 3 ‘Remember now, O LORD, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight.’ And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 Before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 5 ‘Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David, I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.'”
  • In the Book of Acts a God-fearing military officer had his prayers answered by an angel of the Lord.  This angel sends Peter to Cornelius for the purpose of bringing the good news of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.  Acts 10:30-31 Cornelius said, ‘Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments,’ 31 and he *said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.’”  Cornelius and his men hear the Gospel and through the power of the Holy Spirit respond in faith.  God clearly answered his prayer!

When we pray we know God hears us and will answer our prayers.  We must remember that God will either fulfill our requests now or in the future or He will say no.  All our prayers will be answered in some way.  God is in control and will do what is right and good.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Tom Wright December 12, 2012, 8:26 pm

    Steve;
    This line of reasoning is puzzling. You say that God knows all, but doesn’t affect outcomes, but in your first example Isaac prays and his prayers are answered. Aren’t you contradicting yourself? Doesn’t “answering prayers” imply affecting an outcome?
    If God doesn’t affect outcomes, why pray?

  • Steve December 15, 2012, 6:01 am

    Tom,
    Sorry for the confusion. I am using “cause” in a determinist fashion. Determinism says that we have no free will and all our actions are caused by something. In this case I am arguing against God determining all our action because he knows what we will do. Just because God knows our future actions doesn’t mean He causes them. The person who asked was in essence saying, “If God knows all things then everything is determined (can’t be changed) therefore prayer is useless.” Does that make sense?

    My point was God knows our free will actions. One of our free will actions would be to pray. God knows ahead of time we are going to pray, He therefore can begin to answer even before we pray. Matthew writes about God knowing our needs ahead of time and providing for them: Matthew 6:31-32 “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”

    God does work in our lives all the time and has granted us free will. That is different from Him taking away our free will, as determinism teaches. If we have no freedom to act then what good is prayer. My point was we have free will to act and pray and God has the freedom to answer. God can affect outcomes by answering prayers because we have freedom to act and He doesn’t determine every action we take.

    Steve

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