Thursday, August 04, 2011

Does God change his mind?

One of the most joyous things I do also happens to be one of the least attended. On a Wednesday, our older folks gather for worship and yesterday I agreed with John Stott in saying that these times of corporate worship can be ones of truly being caught up in 'wonder, love and praise' . This was especially so as we sung the last verse of 'Crown him with many crowns.'

The text expounded was just one verse that I had never really contemplated before- Mark 14:16

"And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover"

Seemingly, the disciples were rather surprised that all was going according to plan, but Jesus wasn't.

After this, I went for lunch and a friend asked me this question:

"Do you think God changes his mind?"

Of course, the follow up to that is (if the answer is no) is what on earth is the point in praying? John Stott who arose for 70 years at 5am to pray needn't have bothered. Should he just have had a lie in? I directed my friend to an interesting essay entitled 'The Sovereignty of God and Prayer' which is worth spending some time musing over. It was written in 1974 and I noticed its author seems not to have needed to update it since. I would certainly include this man in the big guns of prayer (see the list later)

I make no claims to be able to answer this question in one post but my thought is this. What if prayer and worship are not about us but are in fact about God? Stunning thought I know. Prayer may be about communion with Him, contemplation of Him, thankfulness to Him and reverence for Him.

The truth is we don't by nature want it to be about Him- we want it to be all about us. That's why we find sermons like these so seductive: God's plan for your life, A dream on your heart, What are you looking for? and Patient endurance gets you to the summit. We really do love the word 'you' in a sermon title and have an insatiable appetite for such things. Twelve thousand and counting.

The truth is that in the Protestant tradition we do tend towards the individualistic. My quiet time, my needs, my church, my congregation, and what God is saying to me. It's why, bar the few exceptions like John Stott, Protestants in the main are a pretty prayer-less bunch, as someone noted as a handful of us gathered yesterday to pray. Busy people with a busy life-plan to live out for ourselves and praying are unhappy bedfellows.

If you want to know about prayer what you need is a Catholic. Catholics have a sense of something larger than themselves and an understanding of the church as 'us' rather than 'you' that we Protestant's do find hard to get our heads around. To truly grow in prayer what you really need is a Balthasar on Prayer (Eugene Peterson's recommendation of the best book ever written on prayer) or an Augustine on Confessions or a Theresa of Avila's Interior Castle or a Sister Wendy on Prayer or Thomas a Kempis Imitation of Christ (A stable for John Stott) or indeed the catchily titled Edwards (a Puritan rather than a Catholic) treatise 'A humble attempt to promote explicit agreement and visible union of God's people in extraordinary prayer'. You won't find these authors promising you the world with a glitzy cover and their smiling tanned faces beeming at you from the shelf of a Christian book store. These are books that take a bit of reading, a lot of contemplation and will definately require a bit of time (something most people tell me they have none of.) However, they are well worth some discerning investment. These are the big guns so if you want an answer to the question "Does God change his mind?" you might want to start by asking them rather than me I'm afraid.


James B said...

I follow John Piper's argument, although I'm not sure it's as comprehensive as he thinks it is, but it in no ways fills me with any excitement about prayer. Can I suggest James Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, as an inspiring trinitarian account of worship and prayer, which personally makes a lot more sense of it all.

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