Mostly prominent in charismatic circles, people will often claim that prayer moves God, and the more we pray—the more “prayer warriors” we invoke—the more we can move Him.
But does prayer actually move God?
In one sense, it does. First off, we have to understand that God’s plan is never thwarted, God is never caught off guard, and God is never out of the loop when it comes to His foreknowledge. But there are passages in Scripture that suggest prayer changes things. We often see what appears to be God changing our circumstances in situations when we submit to Him in prayer.
So what do we make of this? Well, God has actually ordained the act of prayer as a means to carry out his prescribed will. He tells us this 1 John 5:14-15:
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
The key phrase in this passage is according to his will. God has decreed that certain things will come to pass from all eternity and God has also decreed the means by which they will come to pass. So when we pray “according to His will,” we’re aligning our will with what He has decreed to come to pass therefore submitting ourselves to His will. It is an act of worship to God.
Does this mean that we shouldn’t pray for things unless we know that they are His will? What about praying for God to heal someone of cancer? What if it isn’t His will to heal them and He has a greater purpose in allowing them to succumb to sickness?
No, this does not mean that we should not pray for these things. The Scriptures tell us that we do not always know what God’s will is but that we have an intercessor who knows far better. Romans 8:26 says that this intercessor is the Holy Spirit:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
Is it wrong to desire that God heal our mother if it isn’t His will? Of course not. God has not revealed all of His hidden will to us. The Scriptures tell us that we are to love people, even our enemies, and want the best for them. The greatest thing we should want for people is for them to trust in Christ—God’s desire is that all should come to Him (2 Peter 3:9). But we know that not all do.
So is this a contradiction between God’s will? Of course not! God does not delight in the death of unrepentant sinners (Ezekiel 33:11) but he has decreed that the death of some will come to pass. The former is God’s revealed will and the latter is His hidden, or decretive will.
Similarly, we pray in accordance with God’s revealed will as an act of worship. Again, God does not delight in the suffering of the cancer patient, those with financial struggles, or the lost person—but that does not mean our prayers in accordance with His revealed will will result in healing. Jesus even prayed to the Father, “if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” What was Jesus doing? He was submitting Himself to the sovereign will of the Father in an act of worship.
God may be moved by our prayers, but we must understand that our prayers do not have power over God’s purpose or plan. Our prayers are God’s design for us to commune with Him, worship Him, and submit ourselves to Him in faith.