Chapter 4: Prayer ‘changes’ God

In Chapter 4 we pose the question, ‘can prayer change God?’ Beginning with the encounter between Moses and God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 32), we explore the way in which God is able to alter his plans in response to our prayers. But we note that this ‘divine flexibility’ is rooted in the stability both of God’s unchanging character and his unchanging purpose to make us like Christ.

Sermon accompanying chapter 4

Preached by Chris Band at Headington Baptist Church, Oxford on 25th October 2009
Download the study guide.

Questions

  1. Ask the group to reflect on what they mean when they speak of God’s will being done. Do they regard his will to be fixed, or sometimes flexible? Is God’s will always done or rarely? What are the wider implications of the different viewpoints?
  2. Read Exodus 20:22-23, followed by Exodus 32:1-14. How does God describe his people here (v7)? What are God’s stated intentions (v10)? What arguments does Moses put forward in vv11-13 in an attempt to appeal to God’s mercy?
  3. What is the result of Moses’ intercession (v14)? In what way is this divine relenting costly to God?
  4. Does the fact that God already knew that he wouldn’t destroy the Israelites call into question the credibility of his threat? Does God’s prior knowledge of the outcome undermine the potency and effectiveness of Moses’ petition? NB. You might find it helpful to read the section, ‘How can prayer ‘change’ a future that is already known to God?’ [pp.78-80]
  5. Using the analogy on p.80, is the enactment of God’s will through human history more like a ‘meandering river’ or a ‘straight canal’? Which of these metaphors best fits the pattern of God’s action in scripture?
  6. Read the bullet points [pp.80-81]. Do these incidents suggest that prayer can change God’s stated plans? Does such a possibility excite the group or unsettle them?
  7. Read Malachi 3:6 & James 1:17. In what sense is God unchanging? NB. If needed, see the paragraph beginning ‘Two things of course …’ and also the subsequent paragraph [pp.84-85].
  8. To what extent is God’s ability and willingness to change his plans helpful in dealing with temporal, changeable creatures such as ourselves? NB. It may be helpful to read the paragraph beginning ‘Where we do see change …’ [p.85]. Do the group agree with the sentiments expressed by Karl Barth (see the two quotations on pp.86-87)?
  9. Read the story on p.87 (‘One hot summer’s day …’). Explore the way in which God’s willingness to shape his plans in response to our prayers is a gracious expression of his partnership with us in building his Kingdom.
  10. Read out the summary bullet points [p.90]. Does the possibility of prayer influencing or changing God’s action cause the group to see prayer in a new light? If so, what impact might this have on the way they pray? Could God’s grace and generosity in this regard be abused, and if so, what would such a prayer look like?