Is Isaiah 38:1-4 a Clear Example of God Lying or Changing His Mind?

Question:  How is Isaiah 38:1-5 not either God lying or God changing His mind?

Answer:  Here is the passage:

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, and said, “Please, O LORD, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.  Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.

In a sense that is like asking,  “Why pray, we can’t change God’s mind? ” There is no doubt some mystery as to how prayer works. I would argue that God does sovereignly determine the course of life’s events but knows in His plan that we will pray and plans on answering those prayers.  But what about this particular incident with Hezekiah?

We see the same pattern with Hezekiah as we do with Jonah, when God tells the people of Nineveh through Jonah that in three days they will be destroyed but he only tells them that so they can have a chance to repent.  He only sends Isaiah to tell Hezekiah he is going to die so that Hezekiah has a chance to pray for another option. And then God rewards prayer with an answer.

As with much prophecy in Scripture that is negative in scope, there is this implied opportunity to change the outcome if Hezekiah responds, just as there was an implied opportunity for the people of Nineveh to respond and change the outcome. We are not used to these kind of prophetic situations so we don’t understand the implications. If Hezekiah doesn’t respond the way he did he does die as God foretold. God’s communication is not intended as unalterable. Hence,  no lie or changing of mind.

Interestingly,  we learn that Hezekiah had to go have a poultice applied to his wounds in order to be healed.  A supernatural healing through natural means.

The Awkwardness of Praying with a Spouse

Question:  Although my wife and I pray with our kids at night, we rarely pray together alone.  Why is that more awkward? 

Answer:  Prayer is the time to be the most intimate with God, expressing our innermost thoughts and desires to Him.  Sometimes we are not that intimate with our spouses, or we may feel that we are ruining the image of the way we want our spouse to see us, appearing humble and dependent instead of strong.  But praying together can actually increase the bond and intimacy between a husband and wife.  Try talking and working through the awkwardness.  Ask each other why it feels so awkward and then ask God to work in the areas that are revealed in your conversation.

The Posture of Prayer at Meals

Question:  Should I always bow and pray before each meal or is it okay to pray inwardly to myself, eyes open, when others are around? 

Answer:  When Jesus thanked God for the food He looked upward (Matthew 14:19).  We should not be so concerned about letting people know we pray over our meals as we are expressing thanks to God for how He provides our necessities.  Whatever you choose to do is fine.

However, I suspect you may also be dealing with feelings of embarrassment you may cause others or feel yourself when bowing in public.  It is good to be concerned for how you make others feel when you pray.  Our goal is not to make people feel uncomfortable by the way we practice our faith.  If it does make them uncomfortable it may be an issue for conversation with them, but we shouldn’t go out of our way to create discomfort.

If you are wrestling with the embarrassment of being identified as “religious” in public, that is another issue altogether.  Talk to God about why that bothers you and how He feels about it.  Ask yourself, “Why would I care if someone knew I was religious?”  Identifying with Christ was a lesson Peter had to wrestle with, also (Matthew 26:69-75).

If you are at a restaurant you can actually make it more comfortable for you and those around you by telling your waiter or waitress that you are a Christian and will be saying a prayer for your meal and asking them if they would like you to mention anything to God that they are in need of.  They’ll know why you have your head bowed if they see you doing that and it will be a way of practically ministering to them if they give you a request.

Selfish Prayers

Question:  Often I resist praying for things that seem superficial, material, or monetary.  Is that wrong?

Answer:  Possibly.  Jesus said to pray for our daily bread or necessities.  But He does not consider anything that matters to us as trivial.  Now it may be that you need to talk to Him about what seems superficial or material to you and hear Him say to your soul that it is superficial or material and that you can spend your energy on better things.  But you miss that opportunity if you don’t talk to Him about it.

Eloquent Prayer

Question:  Life-long Christians seem to eloquently roll out their prayers, but I really struggle with my thoughts.  Is there an effective technique to prayer? 

Answer:  No.  I’ll mention the ACTS pattern which roughly fits Jesus’ prayer-pattern in Matthew 6, sometimes referred to as the “Lord’s prayer”. The word “prayer” can encompass a number of kinds of conversations with God.  To remember the basic kinds of ways to address God, we sometimes use the acronym ACTS.  A=Adoration or praise for God, C=Confession of sin, T=Thanksgiving for forgiveness and other blessings, and S=Supplication or prayer for others and ourselves.  You will see examples of all these forms of prayer in the Bible.

But technique usually leads to or springs from a desire to make sure God hears and that He is obligated to respond.  But we know from what He says that He always hears us, regardless of how we word it, and He is eager to respond when it is good for us to get our requests.

Being more eloquent, then, is not the key to better praying. Being more honest and open is the key. If your child were to come to talk to you and began using eloquent language, but you knew he or she was hiding something from you, you would be disappointed. But even if he or she used stumbling language and yet told you exactly what was going on inside them, you would be excited because they trusted you to talk this honestly.  You would know they needed to unburden themselves and you would give them your love.

Who Do I Pray to, the Father, the Son or the Spirit?

Question:  Who are we supposed to pray to, God the Father or Jesus? 

Answer:  Because God is triune in being, one God made up of three persons who share the same essence, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it doesn’t ultimately matter who you talk to.  Neither is jealous of the other because they are all equally God and completely on the same page about everything. 

However, the Bible sets the normal pattern for prayer in Ephesians 2:18 by saying, “For through him [Jesus] we both [Jews and Gentiles] have access to the Father by one Spirit.”  This means that the Father is the one to whom Jesus and the Holy Spirit directs us.  Jesus paid the way for us to have this access and the Holy Spirit may be counted on to help us pray as we should.

Should we only ask God for something once?

Question: My husband and I got into a theological discussion last night on prayer. The question was – after you have prayed about something, should you continue to repeatedly pray about the same thing throughout the day, or is just the initial prayer sufficient?

Answer: This is such an excellent question and the Scriptures give seemingly opposing advice.

There is that line of Scriptural teaching that seems to say, “Pray once and no more.” Jesus taught, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7,8). However, the NIV Study Bible note on this says, “They used long lists of the names of their gods in their prayers, hoping that by constantly repeating them they would call on the name of the god that could help them. Jesus is not necessarily condemning all long prayers, but meaningless verbiage in praying.” So this admonition is not necessarily against repeating the same request, either. But we might consider what a friend would feel if after we asked him for something we kept on asking him over and over until he answered. Would he feel we didn’t trust him?

On the other hand, Jesus also gives us the example of the persistent widow in Luke 18. He says that she “kept coming” to the town judge pleading for justice and he kept refusing, but finally gave in for peace of mind. Are we supposed to bother God until he answers? Jesus says, “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” (Luke 18:7,8). Jesus is saying that we may have to cry out day and night, but that from the Father’s perspective He is not an unwilling judge. Rather, our Father will answer us “quickly.”

Paul says, “Pray continually” (NIV, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). This doesn’t mean, necessarily, that we pray the same request over and over, but that we not give up on prayer as our lifeline with God.

Paul himself prayed three times that God would remove the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:8), and God then told him He would not remove it. I think this gives us our pattern for repetition of our requests. We may pray for a specific request continually as long as God doesn’t say no. This means we must be listening to how God is responding to our requests. If He gives us a sense that they are going to be answered, there is no need to continually keep asking. If we get no sense either way, then we keep on asking as a symbol of our faith that He is the only one who can meet our need. If we get the sense that He is not going to grant our request, we also cease asking for it, and learn instead what it is we need to ask for (in Paul’s case, grace and strength to go on with the thorn in his flesh).

Randall Johnson