After reading the intercessory prayer that Abraham makes on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18, it’s easy to see how one might think that prayer could change God’s mind. However, the question of whether prayer does change God’s mind first requires a closer look at what prayer actually is.
Church teaching looks at prayer through three lenses:
- First, prayer is a gift from God and we need humility to use it properly. Humility helps us defend against pride and selfishness — things that can cause us to view God as a magic genie rather than Our Heavenly Father.
- Second, prayer expresses our covenant relationship with God, affirmed by our heart’s true participation when praying. Covenants are deep, binding promises that require all involved to sacrifice and offer themselves fully to strengthen the bond. Our covenant with God motivates us to give to the relationship, and not just get from it.
- Third, true prayer honors our communion and unity with God. Marked by authenticity, honesty, and devotion, our communion with God prevents us from being phony and taking God for granted.
Now that we’ve set the parameters for what prayer is we can better answer this question. God does answer prayers, sometimes with a “yes.” And, with much evidence, it’s safe to say that through prayer certain courses of events are averted or redirected. Such is the case with miracles. In these situations, is God changing his mind? Perhaps. We can’t really say for sure. After all, who can know the mind of God? But, there’s something greater going on. When we truly pray, we meet God with open hearts. This experience of meeting God so intimately is the means for our conversion and growth in love and truth. Thus, with prayer, God may not be changing his mind as much as God is changing our hearts to better receive and live in his loving grace. That’s why so many Holy Scriptures repeatedly tell us to pray always, to give thanks, to ask for our needs, and to keep in touch. Prayer is key in deepening our relationship with God. Through prayer, we speak and God listens; and in return God speaks and we grow. With prayer, we become more empowered to respond well to life rather than react in haste to it — however it may play out.
from Fr. Steven Bell, CSP