Some denominations believe that God pre-determines who will be saved and who will not be saved. This belief infers that we do not have a part to play in our salvation and nothing can be done to change God’s mind. This is a dangerous doctrine that breeds hopelessness and contradicts Scripture. Even if we do not believe this dogma to the extent some do, the same mindset can be subtly ingrained in us. When we are facing adversity, or when we see something in us that doesn’t line up with the Lord and we desire it to be changed, do we believe that God’s heart can be moved toward us in compassion and mercy? Throughout scripture we see examples of God’s heart being moved toward those who are repentant, and those whose desires line up with His, often through intercession or an intermediary (someone standing in the gap). The Early Church (prior to 325 AD) also taught that God’s heart can be moved by the righteous.
One of the first recounts in scripture of God’s heart being moved, from wrath to compassion, was through Moses interceding and crying out for the Israelites:
And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.” Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people. (Exodus 32:9-14, emphasis added)
The rebellious Israelites, being unrepentant, deserved to be punished, but God relented when Moses stepped in on their behalf. Moses petitioned God, reminding Him of His promises, and in doing so, God’s heart was moved towards the Isrealites. Elsewhere, God sent Jonah to preach repentance to the city of Ninevah and warn them of impending judgment because of their great wickedness. But God spared them, because they repented and turned from their wicked ways (Jonah 3:1-10).
We see that God’s heart can be changed even after a decree of destruction has been made, but what moves God? It is a righteous desire that lines up with the Lord’s heart, that moves Him. Psalms 37:4 tells us if we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart. God wants to see us succeed in His righteousness. He wants to do good for His children even after we have fallen far from Him: “Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11, emphasis added). We often see David calling out to the Lord for deliverance from His enemies (Psalms 54, Psalms 55). The point is, God is willing and able to help in time of need, but we must first recognize the frailty of our flesh and the baseness of our human wisdom, to push past the pride and seek Him for deliverance. If we don’t have, it’s because we don’t ask, and we don’t receive because we ask amiss (James 4:2-3).
Jesus said: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10, emphasis added).
An Early Church Father, John Chrysostom, enlightens us on the meaning of this statement:
However, Jesus did not simply command us to ask but to ask with great concern and concentration—for this is the meaning of the word he used for “seek.” For those who are seeking put aside everything else from their minds. They become concerned only with the thing that they are seeking and pay no attention at all to the circumstances. Even those who are looking for gold or servants that have been lost understand what I am saying. So this is what he meant by seeking. But by knocking Jesus meant that we approach God with intensity and passion. Therefore, O mortal, do not give up. Do not show less eagerness for virtue than desire for possessions. For you frequently sought possessions but did not find them. Nevertheless, although you knew that you could not guarantee that you would find them, you used every means of searching for them. Yet even though in this case you have a promise that you surely will receive, you do not even demonstrate the smallest fraction of that same eagerness. But if you do not receive immediately, do not despair in this way. For it is because of this that Jesus said “knock” to show that even if he does not open the door immediately we should remain at the door knocking. (1)
John Chrysostom explains the purpose of this parable is to teach us that when we are desiring something from the Lord, an answer to prayer or hungering for virtue, it is not always a quick process. God tests our persistence and how much we really want it. He does not always unveil the answer quickly. Jesus spoke another parable about us praying and not losing heart:
“There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” (Luke 18:1-6)
The key to the widow receiving her request was her persistence and this is symbolic of how our heart should be postured when we go to the Lord with our requests. Concerning the parable, third-century Church Father Tertullian writes:
When He recommends perseverance and earnestness in prayer, He sets before us the parable of the judge who was compelled to listen to the widow, owing to the earnestness and importunity of her requests. (Luke 18:1-6) (2)
Importunity means persistence, especially to the point of annoyance (3). Because of the widow’s persistence in her request, it was granted to her. Tertullian is explaining that this is how we need to approach the Lord, with such a fervor in pursuing Him until He answers.
Second-century theologian, Tatian writes the following regarding the same parable:
And he spake unto them a parable also, that they should pray at all times, and not be slothful: There was a judge in a city, who feared not God, nor was ashamed for men: and there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, and said, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a long time: but afterwards he said within himself, ‘If of God I have no fear, and before men I have no shame; yet because this widow vexeth me, I will avenge her, that she come not at all times and annoy me.’ And our Lord said, Hear ye what the judge of injustice said. And shall not God still more do vengeance for his elect, who call upon him in the night and in the day, and grant them respite? I say unto you, He will do vengeance for them speedily. Thinkest thou the Son of man will come and find faith on the earth? (4)
If the judge was willing to move on the widow’s cries because of her persistence, will God not move more for his righteous remnant who pursue Him day and night, says Tatian.
God is not fickle like human beings, being moved by His feelings. But He is compassionate and merciful and clearly, as we have seen, is moved by righteous requests and through repentance. The answer comes through prayer and interceding on behalf of others but the answer will not always come quickly, as we have demonstrated through scripture; God is testing our hearts and how much we really want righteousness. Will we give up all our other desires for what we desire from Him? We leave you with this exhortation: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
- John Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew Homily
- Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book IV, Ch 36
- Lexico Dictionaries. (n.d.). Importunity English definition and meaning. Lexico Dictionaries | English. Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/importunity
- Diatessaron of Tatian, Section XXXIII
All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010.