Prayer: Change

Prayer: Change

This morning, we’re going to begin a journey learning more about prayer.  Prayer is really quite simple.  Prayer is simply speaking with God.  It’s how we communicate with Him.  It is an incredible privilege and an awe-invoking honor to think that the God who spoke and created the vastness of the universe desires to not only personally hear us, but that He also desires to personally respond to us.

Just as communication is one of the foundations of our earthly relationships, it is also a foundational basic to having a healthy, life-transforming relationship with God.  A prayerless Christian is no Christian at all! 

Our focus this morning is how prayer brings about change. 

When we pray, things change.  As a result of prayer, our circumstances can miraculously change, our future can be redirected, our perspective and hearts can be corrected, and so much more!

Rightfully so, our emphasis when we pray is often for God to change ourselves or our circumstances.  We want to see God’s will done in and through our lives.  As Jesus taught us to pray, we want to see God’s kingdom come and His will be done here on earth even as it is in Heaven.

We pray and believe for God’s word to come to pass in our lives and for every one of our needs and the needs of those around us met and fulfilled by God’s promises.  We’ll go more into this later on through this journey.

Something that we may not often take time to consider is how our prayers and our lives affect God.  We have an understanding of how our choices impact those around us in an earthly sense.  We know how we can have a positive or negative affect on those around us and especially how we have been affected by the choices of others.

It may come as a surprise to some of us to think about the reality that our lives affect God in any way.  We may think that our lives are small and insignificant in comparison to an infinite and eternal God.  However, there aren’t too many pages of the Bible that we can turn to that don’t reveal this reality.  We read accounts of how not only God intervened in our history working through the lives of individuals to bring about change here on the earth, but also how individual people made an impact on God.

It’s true that God is unchanging.

Hebrews 13:8

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

James 1:17

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Malachi 3:6

I the Lord do not change.

Numbers 23:19 (Balaam)/1 Samuel 15:29 (Samuel)

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?

However, this speaks more to His nature and His character.  God is unchanging, but a quick glance around at His creation reveals that although nothing is technically new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), it is in a constant state of change.  As the great Disney princess Pocohontas said, “You can’t step in the same river twice. The water’s always changing, always flowing.”  The sun rises and sets every day, but every sunrise and sunset is unique and different.

The way that God brought about the military victories for His people in the Old Testament had a very unique and unexpected battle plan every time.  The method that Jesus healed people during His earthly ministry in the flesh was different just about every time.  God is constant and unchanging, but He is also creative and always doing a new thing in a new way!

When we pray, communicate with God, it is not only us who are affected by God as He answers us, it is also God as He hears us. 

2 Kings 20:1-6

1 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

God said that Hezekiah is to put his house in order because his is going to die and will not recover. 

God doesn’t lie.  God doesn’t speak and then not act.  God does not change His mind like us humans, right?

2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

God does not lie, does not speak and then not act, does not change His mind.  That is not His nature nor His character.  God is a god of integrity.  However, when we pray, we affect God.  We affect God.

God is not a liar, but He is compassionate. 

God is not a liar, but He is gracious and merciful. 

God is not a liar, but He is abounding in love and faithfulness.

When we pray, God hears!

4 Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: 5 “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple 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. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’”

We have a tendency to build up walls of black and white doctrines of absolutes.  Granted, there are several black and white absolutes that we can build our doctrine and theology upon.  However, we must use the counsel of the whole word of God when doing so. 

We can’t build a doctrine that God will never, ever change His mind based on the earlier scriptures because there are just way, way too many examples found throughout God’s word where God decided to do something, then His people prayed or repented, and then God changed His mind.  God’s character and nature do not change, but as a result of this, His mind and plans will change.  In fact, He even said this, Himself:

Jeremiah 18:7-10

7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

When we pray, God hears our prayer and it affects Him!

After the exodus from Egypt, God met with Moses and He said:

Exodus 32:9-14

9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

We see this consistency in God’s nature and character that causes Him to change His response to individuals even in the flesh in Jesus’ ministry:

Matthew 15:21-28

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

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In our human, fallen natured, stinking thinking, we believe that to argue with God and to reason with Him is arrogant and downright wrong.  However, when we have a relationship with God, we get to know His character and nature.  When we appeal to God’s constant nature in prayer, He will often change His mind.

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This is not a manipulative attempt to bend the will of God to meet ours, it is in reality making an appeal to the will of God when we pray in this way.  It is acknowledging that He is compassionate and merciful and forgiving and also revealing our faith that He can and will save and heal and provide for and deliver us.

There are so many examples of how God responded favorably to this type of faith-filled plea made in prayer.  However, there is one that comes to mind where God stuck with His decision.

Ultimately, we must trust in God to judge rightly and to respond in the best way even if we don’t understand or agree with it.  We can and should boldly approach God in persistent prayer in agreement with His nature and character, but we still ultimately must submit to His will.  We find such an account here:

1 Samuel 15:10-26

10 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.

12 Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.”

13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

16 “Enough!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”

“Tell me,” Saul replied.

17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ 19 Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?”

20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

22 But Samuel replied:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices

    as much as in obeying the Lord?

To obey is better than sacrifice,

    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,

    and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.

Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,

    he has rejected you as king.”

24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. 25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.”

26 But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!”

Although Samuel cried out to God all night and continued the rest of his life to mourn for Saul, God never changed His mind about rejecting Saul as king over Israel.  Knowing the nature and character of God, it is likely because Saul never completely turned back to the Lord.  God’s rejection of Saul was just honoring Saul’s choice to first reject God.  It is also very likely that God felt about Saul the same way that Samuel did.

As we continue learning about prayer and the transforming power that it possesses, remember that prayer affects God just as much as it does us, our circumstances, and others.  When we pray, God hears our prayer and it affects Him!