Pesky Problems with PrayerJune 15, 2019 Save Article
If we have unanswered questions about prayer, we might not pray at all—or our prayers will lack the faith that honors God. In our studies, we’ve been looking at questions people ask most often about prayer. One of the most important is—“Can I get God to change His mind about something?”
Does Prayer change God’s Mind?
No, it does not. (However, prayer does affect what God does!) Prayer doesn’t change God or His character. He is a changeless God. You can’t change Him with your prayers and I can’t change Him with mine.
“The Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for He is not a man, that He should repent [change]” (1 Samuel 15:29).
“For I am the Lord, I change not...” (Malachi 3: 6).
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, in whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
God is not both light and dark. He does not flicker on and off. He does not change. But prayer does affect what God does!
This is so important for you to grasp! God will do things when we pray that He will not do if we don’t pray. The Bible says clearly and plainly, “we have not because we ask not.” Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. Prayer is laying hold of God’s will.
“This is the confidence that we have in Him, if we ask Him anything according to His will, He heareth us” (1 John 5:14).
The only thing that lies outside the reach of prayer is that which lies outside the will of God. There are things God has for you that will only come about if you pray. You cannot change His mind, but you can change what He does.
What should I do if my prayers aren’t answered?
You keep on praying. There’s a time to persist in prayer. Daniel exemplifies a godly man who persisted when there was no quick answer. It looked like God was doing nothing. Was God even hearing his prayer? After 21 days, an angel came to Daniel and said, “Daniel, your prayer was heard when you began to pray three weeks ago” (See Daniel 10:12). Daniel prayed and kept on praying. This is an intriguing passage you should study. In Luke 18:1 Jesus said we “ought always to pray, and not to faint.” There’s a time to persist—to keep on keeping on in prayer.
There’s also a time to desist in prayer, a time when you quit praying. Over three specific periods of time, the apostle Paul asked God to take away his “thorn in the flesh,” yet God did not do it. But God did answer him in a different way.
“And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness..” Paul then answered the Lord, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Paul didn’t say, “What can’t be cured must be endured.” Rather, he said, “I’ll glory in it. I’ll thank God in it. I’ll turn it into something for God’s glory.” God didn’t give Paul what he asked, but God gave Paul something better than he asked. So—
- Delays are not necessarily denials, as Daniel proves.
- If God does deny, it doesn’t mean that He’s withholding His love. It just means that He is giving you something better.
If you’re praying for something and it seems God isn’t answering, keep on praying until God speaks to your heart and tells you to quit. Persist until God says desist. Keep on praying until He says yes or no. You’ll have the answer either way.
Does God have favorites—and He hears their prayers?
God doesn’t have favorites, but He does have intimates. All who know and love the Lord Jesus can pray. Sometimes people say to me, “Would you pray for me? I know God hears your prayers,” as though God has favorites.
With God there’s no respect of persons, no caste system. He will hear your prayer just as quickly as He will hear mine, or Billy Graham’s, or anyone else who believes in prayer, in God, and has a clear, clean life.
Can my prayers override the will of another person?
A most-frequent question concerns our prayers for another person. We wonder if we can pray effectively that God will change or save them.
No. God has given everyone a free will, and He will never force a person against their free will.
“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).
We can say yes or no with our will. It’s a questionable privilege to be free to make the wrong choice. But people must choose God for themselves. If you have a wayward child, husband, friend, or neighbor, you can pray for them, but you cannot force your will upon them.
Why, then, do we pray for unsaved people to get saved?
Because there’s spiritual warfare taking place! And we can bind the powers of darkness in prayer. We can bring God’s influence to people in prayer. Here’s an example from Jesus’ ministry.
And when they were come to the multitude, there came to Him a certain man, kneeling down to Him [Jesus], and saying, “Lord, have mercy upon my son: for he is a lunatic and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him unto Thy disciples, and they could not cure him.” Then Jesus answered and said…“Bring him hither to Me.” And Jesus rebuked the devil and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour” (Matthew 17:14-18).
Notice this child had Jesus sovereignly working from the outside upon him.
Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, “Why could not we cast [the demon] out?” And Jesus said unto them, “Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you. Howbeit this kind [that is, demon possession] goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (v. 19-21).
Here was a child, hopeless and helpless apart from the prayer of someone else. This was not a case of forcing the child’s will but freeing the child from demonic oppression or possession. We have a hell-bent world in the grip of Satan. When we pray, our prayers do not force people to be saved but free people to be saved. We bind away the blinder who blinds their eyes.
If God were to force just one person to be saved, He’d have to force all 6.7 billion people on earth. God does not force salvation. “Forced love” is a contradiction in terms. They must individually receive Christ. But God frees people to be saved through our prayers. I still don’t understand it all, but I do believe prayer can bring a person to the place where he can say yes to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our prayers do not override their will. But God enables us to bind away the power of Satan, so they may come to Christ.
May we expect miracles when we pray?
Never get in the habit of saying what God cannot do. There’s nothing too hard for God; He is a God of might and miracles.
"Ah, Lord God! Behold, Thou hast made the heaven and the earth by Thy great power and stretched out Thy arm, and there is nothing too hard for Thee" (Jeremiah 32:17).
In a sense, all answered prayer is a miracle because the supernatural is moving into the natural. Anytime prayer is answered, in the classic sense that is supernatural.
But there are other kinds of miracles: miracles in nature where God turns water into wine, heals cancers, etc. Do I believe God does that? Yes, I do. But these are not normative. In the Bible miracles had certain things in common.
- They gave glory to God.
- They did not glorify men.
- They validated the claims or the identify of God, and
- They advanced God’s work significantly.
God is a God of might and miracles. If God has a miracle for you, He’ll give you miracle faith. I never discount miracles, but miracles are not normative or else they would not be called “miracles.”
For another related article on prayer, go to How to Connect with God Through Prayer.