One of the unfortunate side effects of reformed theology is that the view that prayer is actually able to induce change (from God of course) is often sacrificed due to a poor understanding of predestination. Often prayer is portrayed in reformed theology as something we do in order to “get attuned to God” and it is often taught that prayer can’t possibly change anything (that would be heretical and arrogant don’t cha know?). I’m not sure what “get attuned to God” really means for reformed folk, especially since most proponents of this view also hold to a view of God’s sovereignty which results in a belief that all things are causally determined. However I do know that prayer does, in fact, change things.
Here’s the biblical evidence for such a notion (though it seems to me that such a notion ought to go without saying):
In 2 Kings 20 Hezikiah’s prayed and God added 15 years to his life (he was certainly going to die, or else we have issues with God telling a lie). Many reformed (or pseudo-reformed) theologians like to point out that the resulting 15 years were disastrous for Hezikiah and they go on to extrapolate from that that Hezikiah ought not to have prayed for those additional 15 years. From this they like to further say that this passage serves as a warning to us not to ask for more than what God has given/provided.
Sadly, their conclusions simply don’t hold water. Even though it is true that Hezikiah’s apparently lost his mind in the extra years he was given, the fact remains that 1. God told him in no uncertain terms that he would surely die 2. Hezikiah prayed and 3. God heard Hezikiah’s request and added 15 more years to his life. To say Hezikiah’s prayer was not the catalyst in God’s granting the additional years is to say that God lied when he initially told Hezikiah that he was about to die.
Further, in Exodus 32:1-14, God tells Moses that he has had enough of the Hebrew people and is planning to wipe them out and start over through Moses. This passage is often glossed over in most sermons but it raises some very interesting questions. Either God is lying (not just bluffing, but outright lying) since we know that such drastic actions were never taken, or else the pleading and intercessions of Moses were actually effective in causing God to change His mind in space and time. This actually takes on even more meaning when we factor in the fact that his pleadings and intercessions were arch-typical for Christ’s pleadings and intercessions for us. Therefore, the only viable means of preserving God’s integrity in this passage in my estimation is to accept that there was a point in time where God did indeed plan on wiping out the nation of Israel and that through the pleading of Moses, God “changed his mind” and did not do what he said he would do. Does this mean God’s plans are not predetermined? Hardly, but that is a topic for another time.
In closing; Given these two examples in Scripture alone (though more could certainly be given) along with Jesus’s statement that we “have not because we ask not” (Matthew 7:7), not to mention a host of related verses, I believe we are justified in the belief that it is logically possible for God to change his mind as well as events and circumstances without changing his plan.
In short; Prayer indeed changes things.