Prayer Changes Things

By Paul Hayden

Prayer for the Christian is the most wonderful thing imaginable. The concept that we miserable creatures can have a real, living relationship with the one true living God who not only created us in the first place, but upholds and arranges all things in His providence, is quite overwhelming. Why should the Almighty, ever-living God bother with each and every one of us? We’re not only tiny, but we’re sinful creatures, continually letting Him down. But He still encourages us to pray to Him. To cast all our care upon Him. What a great comfort it is to know God cares for His people and listens to them:

Psalms 34:15

The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.

Atheists have no such concept as prayer at all. They think they can sort everything out by themselves without God. They’re welcome to try, but they won’t get very far. And to every other religion in the world, prayer is no more than simple recitation. Set words, maybe with set actions, in an empty ritual. No real, living communication at all. That is so sad. To see otherwise devout people going through the motions of some ritual they have learned, and thinking that some deity, somewhere, is somehow impressed with it.

And the saddest thing of all is that there are so many people who call themselves Christian who have exactly the same attitude to prayer. Mechanically going through their church’s liturgy without thinking, believing that it’s pleasing to God. Merely reciting the Lord’s Prayer superstitiously, thinking that’s real prayer, and it isn’t. The Lord’s Prayer was only given as a template for real prayer using our own words: 

Matthew 6:9

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven.....

But even many true Christians, with a proper attitude to prayer still don’t quite understand what it’s all about. We often hear the phrase, “Prayer changes things,” but do we really think about what that phrase actually means?

When we use this phrase, we usually mean that the ever-living, almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth, will actually change His mind about something if we pray about it hard enough and persuade Him differently. What a terrible thing to believe!

God ordains all things to His greatest glory, and has ordained exactly what will happen from the foundation of the world. We can’t possibly change His mind on anything, because He knows exactly what He is going to do in every situation. He doesn’t need us to tell Him what to do. In any case, we have absolutely no idea, in any particular circumstance, what the best thing to do is anyway, even though we might think we do.

And of course, we have the confidence to know that the Lord always does what’s best for His people 

Romans 8:28

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

If God did change His mind every time someone prayed, what a terrible life this would be. Everything would depend on who prays the hardest, I suppose. If even one thing in this world depended on us, we would become so proud and arrogant about ourselves and our own ability to influence God.

God cannot and does not repent. 

Numbers 23:19

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?


There are places in Scripture where it is said that God repented. If you want a list of them, here they are:


Genesis 6:6

And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.


Exodus 32:14

And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.


Judges 2:18

It repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them.


1 Samuel 15:35

The LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.


2 Samuel 24:6

And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand.


1 Chronicles 21:15

And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand.


Psalm 106:45

And he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies.


Jeremiah 15:6

Thou hast forsaken me, saith the LORD, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary with repenting.


Jeremiah 26:19

Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear the LORD, and besought the LORD, and the LORD repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them?


Hosea 11:8

How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.


Joel 2:13

And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.


Amos 7:3 

The LORD repented for this: It shall not be, saith the LORD.


Amos 7:6 

The LORD repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord GOD.


Jonah 3:10

And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.


In all these cases, God is not changing His mind. Neither is He acknowledging a mistake and correcting Himself. He is always in control of what is going to happen. The word “repent” is used in these passages simply to try to accommodate us. For example, God may see certain people repent, so it is said that He “repents” from the punishment He would have given them if they had not repented. But He knew they were going to repent anyway. Or God sees the wickedness in men, and it is said that God “repented” that He made them, but His making them was never a mistake. In every case, He knows full well what’s going on, because He planned everything that was going to happen in the first place.

So, we must understand that God is not at our beck and call, every time we decide to pray for something. That’s not how prayer works at all.

God always knows what is best, and we don’t. Let us start there. We can’t change His mind in any way, and it would be a terrible thing if we could. We need to change our way of thinking, God never needs to change His. And this is the key to what prayer actually is. 

Prayer does change things. But it is never God’s mind that is changed as to what He intends to do. The sole purpose of prayer is to change us. It changes our minds, from what we think is right, into an understanding of what God knows is right.

To better illustrate this, let’s take an example. Let’s suppose that Aunt Bessie is sick and in a hospital bed. We pray for her recovery. That’s the right thing to do. It’s good to do that. It’s right to pray for the saving of life, that’s the essence of the sixth commandment. 

But, after we have been praying for some time about Aunt Bessie, let us suppose that God sees fit to take her away, and she dies. What do we think then? Well, there are one of two attitudes we could take:

We could shake our fist in God’s face and say, “I hate you God, for taking her away. You can’t answer prayer.” 

Or, we could say, 


Luke 22:42

Not my will, but thine, be done.


Job 1:21

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.


The Christian’s attitude should be the latter, in which case, we are having our minds changed away from our own will, to fit in with the will of God. 

And that is exactly what God wants us to learn to do. That is exactly why God ordained prayer in the first place. Prayer is a mechanism which God has given us to wean us off desiring our own will all the time, and to get us into line with His will. Only then can we truly understand Christ when He said:


John 14:13

And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

John sums it up clearly:


1 John 5:14-15

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.


The more we come to understand the Lord’s will, and learn to accept it in every circumstance, the more set apart for His work we can become. This is the Christian life.


1 Thessalonians 4:3

For this is the will of God, even your sanctification.