“And the people of Nineveh believed God” – Jonah 3:5a
“‘Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them…’ But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, ‘O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people… Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants,…’ And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” – Exodus 32:10-14, abbreviated
Do our prayers change the mind of God? Does our obedience cause Him to choose a path of redemption for us?
In short, no. God’s planning is supreme—we have not the power to change His mind. Here’s a brief commentary on the Jonah passage from ligonier.org:
“In using the concept of repentance here, the Bible is describing God, who is Spirit, in what theologians call ‘anthropomorphic’ language. Obviously the Bible does not mean that God repented in the way we would repent; otherwise, we could rightly assume that God had sinned and therefore would need a savior Himself. What it clearly means is that God removed the threat of judgment from the people. The Hebrew word nacham, translated ‘repent’ in the King James Version, means ‘comforted’ or ‘eased’ in this case.”
However, his does not discredit prayer. Prayer still holds power and worth in both our relationship with Him. Also from ligonier.org: “The prayer of His people is one of the means He uses to bring things to pass in this world. So if you ask me whether prayer changes things, I answer with an unhesitating ‘Yes!’”
I feel like I’ve opened a can of worms I cannot shut. I do not know how to wrap this into a nice bow. The Bible says to pray and ask God of things (cf. Matt 7:7-11, Jas 1:5), and it’s clear that our prayers have some sort of effect, but God’s sovereign plan does not bend to ours. I don’t know how to explain that. Maybe I’m not supposed to. I’ll take my own advice, and not put God in a box (cf. Jer 5:24). So… Bring your petitions to God.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” – James 5:16
*Added 18 January 2021: I believe I missed a key point of what prayer is for. It changes us. When we come to God in prayer, we’re running after that relationship, and posturing our hearts, which are so prone to wander, towards God and His ultimate discernment. God has plans to shape, mold, and change us for the better. We just have to run to Him.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28