If one were to accept that God has a plan and that His will is to be honored, isn't hoping to sway God's plan for the future disrespectful?

-- Update --

A lot of these answers are across the board, so here's an example to help refine the question:

Someone's wife is gravely ill and in the hospital, and her church's parishioners say they will "keep her in their prayers".

It's safe to assume that they will pray for God to reverse his direction regarding her health and make her better, and it's also fair to say they're not asking him to show them the way to do it themselves.

Just making a request for him to rethink the matter, it seems. Where does that fall?

  • 8
    “I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God- it changes me.” ― C.S. Lewis
    – Flimzy
    Sep 14, 2011 at 20:09

7 Answers 7


I think the following explanation of prayer is very helpful:


Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.

So we don't pray to change God's will, we pray to learn about it.

Matthew 7:7 (KJV)

7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:

But yes, trying to change God's will is disrespectful. You're essentially saying that you are wiser than God.

Romans 11:34 (KJV)

34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?


I don't believe that prayer should be considered questioning God's will. Prayer can be many things, praying for blessings is in the Bible as well many times. Praying for good fortune and mercy aren't necessarily going against God's will. God gives us free will for a reason. If it were against God then Jesus wouldn't have prayed to God nor would his disciples and fellow Christians.

Basically prayer isn't necessarily questioning God or asking for something. It is talking to God asking for the best and asking what your duty should be to live in his image.

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    Couldn't it even be more general than this, in that each of your examples was of the form "praying for" or "asking for". Couldn't it be simply talking to/with God, without any request? More for the comfort and edification of the praying person than for anything else.
    – Chelonian
    Sep 15, 2011 at 1:02
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    How about praying for someone to get better from an illness? Doesn't that presuppose that you'd rather see him change a direction he's already gone in? Sep 16, 2011 at 1:08

Not praying would be second guessing God. He says, "Ask and you will receive." (Luke 11:9 / Mat 7:7).

But, the other half of the equation would be to, "Seek first the kingdom and the will of God, and all these things will be given to you" (Mat 6:33).

That doesn't mean that you have to over-analyze your prayer, God knows what is happening in your hearts and he knows how people think. (John 2:24)

He directs all things and nothing happens that was not His will. But, as said he would do for Abraham, He can relent in His just punishments. (Genesis 18:16-33)

So, as St. Paul says:

Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thes 5:17-18 (NABRE)

The key is to be thankful in your prayer, even if the woman doesn't get any better, God's will is done. How could God's will not be done?

  • If god's will is to be done either way, what outcome would the people praying in this scenario be hoping for? That they'd be thankful whether she dies or not? I'm not intending this to be rude, I'm just confused. Sep 16, 2011 at 6:14
  • @Sam I think this is a difference between the Catholic understanding of the Lord's Prayer and the Protestant understanding as WhatAboutJohn3_17 explains it. We believe that "Thy will be done" is more of a statement of fact or a promise to act than a petition. CCC 2822
    – Peter Turner
    Sep 16, 2011 at 13:28

The problem with the question is the underlying assumption that God's will is done without prayer or that any given adverse situation is His will. They arent.

How can we know? Matthew 18:14 says it is not His will that any should perish, and Matthew 7:21-23 says that many will.

However, God's will will be done when we pray. How do we know that?

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

1 John 5:14

So, if it is the prayers according to His will that He hears and grants, and His will is not always done, it follows that the prayers we offer are then in some way part of God's manner of accomplishing His will.

It requires a deeper understanding of His will. Ephesians 1:11 says that He works all things out into conformity with the purpose of His will, not with His will itself. These are different, where His will is specific, and the purpose is the overall plan behind it. Consider the alternative. It wasn't His will for Adam to sin. It wasn't His will for Israel to rebel. Considering those who were sick and had fallen asleep in 1 Cor 11:30, it wasnt His will either or Paul wouldnt have wrote, but all of these happened. But, God worked out His whole plan so that, on the exact moment of the exact day, the devil crucified His son. It was said, had the powers of darkness known, they would not have crucified the King of Glory.

The heavens belong to the LORD, but the Earth He has given to the sons of men.

Psalms 115:16

I realize some would want to get contentious about this next point, but you are welcome to have your own opinion. But, it is this: God cannot intervene in many situations on Earth unless you pray, precisely because He has delegated the authority to us. He has bound Himself to His Word, and will not violate it. So, what happens on Earth us up to us.

Considering your example of physical healing, you should take your argument a step further. If it is God's will for you to be sick, why go to the doctor? Why spend all that money fighting and rebelling against God? No, if its God's will, shut up and take it. Suffer for Jesus' sake. Right?

No. This is clearly wrong. Rather, Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him (Acts 10:38). Healing is good. Sickness is of the devil. There is no Scriptural basis for the claim that sickness is put on us to "teach us a lesson". Rather, as in the 1 Corinthians 11 passage above, if there is a lesson, it is merely, "Dont do that--it makes you sick."

Other examples of prayer are Moses' intercessions for Israel in the wilderness. Paul's prayers, such as the end of Ephesians 1. And, Jesus' many prayers for healing.

These are all clearly God's will, and are righteous prayers that God answered. God was pleased to answer them in conformity to His will. It would have been a sin for Jesus not to pray for them because he was doing what He had seen--it would have been disobedience.

In Summary, prayer is God's way of accomplishing His will through us. It requires us to learn and know both His Word and His will, and it requires relationship and obedience. It keeps us in a place of humility and thankfukness, while it requires a reverence and a constant faithfulness.


Your question would imply several things:

  • there is no enemy or at least he does not try to interfere with God's plan
  • there is no free will
  • God's plan comes about automatically
  • bad things that happen to us are in God's plan and will
  • God uses things that were introduced by the fall within His plans (sickness)

Prayer is communication with God. Jesus tells us that when He is in us and we stay in Him, we ask and it is given to us. God values the relationship between Him and us so much that he likes it if we ask.

Does it change His plan? No, but His plan includes our actions. So praying for the healing of the woman you use in your example might just be in His plan.

Your example would by the way imply that the schemes of the enemy are in God's plan but not our prayers. Sickness is not of God. And prayer is a mighty weapon against the schemes of the enemy.

God foresaw both our and the enemies actions and built them into His plan.


Prayer is about partnering with God to see his will be done. See how Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:9–13:

Pray in this way "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

Fist and formost prayer recognizes who God is, our holy Father in Heaven, and that we are to ask him to bring His will to be done on earth, just like it is in heaven. So if your praying correctly you aren't questioing God's will, your asking that it be done. So then you should ask yourself, what has God said about heaven? His will is done perfectly there, so what's that like? Do His children go hungry or get sick there? Is there any lack in Heaven? Is there any evil in Heaven?


I empathize with you in your questioning, as I have often thought along the same lines as you. There is something mysterious about prayer, and it is difficult for our pea brains to reconcile things about prayer that cannot really be--nor were they meant to be-- reconciled, at least not according to our limited understanding of things. These things can be "big picture" things, such as "Please, God, remove Bashar Assad from power in Syria," or "little picture" things, such as "Please God, heal Aunt Ginny of her gout."

The only true constant, it seems to me, is that Christians are to pray. The disciples did not so much ask Jesus to teach them how to pray but to teach them to pray (see Luke 11:1). Big difference. The former question implies there is a method to prayer that just might be more effective than other methods; a formula, so to speak. The latter implies that instead of being a habitual and unceasing activity--a duty even--in our lives, prayer, because of its mysteries and difficulties and uncertainties becomes to many believers a feckless appendage to their lives and not their spiritual lifeblood. They therefore need incentives to get off their duffs and to pray.

It's as if prayer is a specialized activity engaged in by a small minority of Christians, in the same way that there is in the medical field a coteries of specialists (e.g., gastroenterologists and ophthalmologists), and general practitioners (GPs). Similarly, in the body of Christ here are the specialists, the “prayer warriors,” and there are the rest of us, the GPs, who dabble in prayer. (I am not suggesting that GPs are dabblers in medicine. It’s just an analogy, folks!)

The truth is, prayer is the responsibility of each and every Christian. Granted, some believers seem to be especially gifted in prayer and spend hours in prayer daily, not only as a spiritual discipline but also as a gifting from God. Not a spiritual gift, per se, but a special endowment by God. According to one tradition, the early Christians called the apostle James (step-brother to Jesus and writer of the epistle bearing his name) "Camel Knees" for his reputation as a man of unflagging prayer. He spent no small amount of time on his knees, beseeching God on behalf of the early church in Jerusalem and elsewhere, no doubt, and he had the calluses on his knees to prove it! James said a good deal about prayer in his epistle, and one memorable statement is in chapter 4:

"You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spent it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (vv.4-5 NASB Updated).

Imagine, if you will, two extremes. On the one hand are Christians who consider prayer to be a way of cajoling God into giving us something he wouldn’t ordinarily give us. In other words, God is a divine Santa Claus at our beck and call. We ask; he gives. On the other hand are Christians who consider prayer to be simply a way of getting in line with God’s will, not ours. Put differently, God is a divine Scrooge who begrudges us any requests which aren’t in line with his sovereign, all-controlling will.

Is there a middle ground between the two extremes? I believe there is. More than a few preachers have suggested that 90 percent of God’s will is spelled out clearly in God’s Word, the Bible. The commands, exhortations, life-lessons of great men and women of God, life principles, rules of thumb (particularly in the Wisdom literature), and so much more are at our fingertips, day or night, 24/7. Even the purposes of God are laid out for us, at least in broad strokes, within the pages of Scripture. While it is true that

”. . . we have been predestined according to His purpose, who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11),

it is equally true that

”. . . all things [both good and bad] work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 from memory).

On the one hand, there are God’s overall purposes which cannot be thwarted. Think of these things as comprising the Big Picture. For example, the following things cannot be changed or altered by any human or spiritual instrumentality:

God will “have the last word” by ushering in his eternal kingdom in which there will be no trace of sin or death. The war between good and evil, God and Satan, will be over, once and for all, and the Lord’s Christ will reign forever and ever without end.

God will be glorified in and through his Son, with every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Some will have bowed the knee and confessed Christ’s lordship willingly during their lives on earth. These are forever secure in the palm of the Father. Some will be forced to bow the knee and confess Christ’s lordship after having refused to do so during their lives on earth. These are consigned to eternal death apart from God.

A revived Israel will join with all God’s children in one holy catholic church, through which God’s will will be done, perfectly, on earth as it is in heaven. I’m sure there are many unchangeables in God’s overall purposes; I’ve mentioned but a few.

On the other hand, there are aspects of God’s will which although they will always in some ultimate sense never be totally out of God’s control in some way, they will by the same token contain elements of human freedom and choice. How or in what ways those elements are circumscribed by God’s sovereign will, we will never truly know. There is nevertheless the law of “reaping and sowing” which has been built into the fabric of human behavior and human interactions.

It is in this nether region, so to speak, faith exists and thrives. Since we know that God honors the faithful and fervent prayers of his saints; and since we know that God’s will is for us to pray for his kingdom to come and his will to be done; then we also know that to pray for ourselves and for one another is a no-brainer. It’s a given. Since these things are all true and comprise, at least in part, God’s will, we would be remiss in our duty to God and one another to exempt ourselves from prayer. In short, prayerlessness is sin.

So, when someone in a local assembly of Christians has a wife who is gravely ill, and the church members tell the husband they will keep her in their prayers, they all can rest assured of at least the following:

  • It is God’s will to pray for the gravely ill wife.

  • God’s will may be to raise her up for his glory, or God’s will may be to take her through death for his glory. Even though they do not know what God will do in this situation, they at one and the same time pray for her restoration to full health and strength, but they also leave the ultimate decision up to God as to what he chooses to do.

  • They express their wishes, and God hears and answers. Sometime his answers contravene theirs, and he says “No, I have something different in mind.” Sometimes, however, his answers coincide with their wishes regarding their sister in Christ, and God raises her up in response to the concerted effort of faithful prayer (see James 5:133 ff.). Jesus could have prevented his friend Lazarus from dying, but he did not. Instead, he brought glory to his Father by allowing Lazarus to die and then raised him from the dead with a simple command, "Lazarus, come forth!"

In conclusion, I like Peter Turner’s answer, above, which reads in part,

”Not praying would be second guessing God. He says, ‘Ask and you will receive’" (Luke 11:9 / Mat 7:7).

In other words, since God tells us to ask, and asking is therefore the right thing to do, then not to ask is tantamount to (if not actually) sin. In the words of James,

”. . . To one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17).

Sobering words indeed for each believer in Christ.

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