Prayer Changes Things?|
Q. I read your article on "Chance?" and thought it was really good. You made a strong biblical case for God's sovereignty over all of life and the universe. But, I wonder why we should pray or ask for things if God has already predestined everything?
Terrific question! One of the most difficult things in our Christian faith is to obey and trust God even in light of paradoxes. The trinity is one example of a paradox. How can God become a baby while ruling the universe?
Our salvation is another. How can men be sent to hell if God preordained who would be saved? God's sovereignty over our lives versus man's responsibility to accept the gospel and behave righteously, is another clear paradox.
Mankind's Limited Dimensional Thinking
One of our difficulties in viewing these paradoxes is that we are confined to just four dimensions: length, width, height and time. We are stuck in these shortsighted limitations while we are told there are dimensions beyond what we can know here on earth. As it stands right now only God lives outside of our space/time universe:
"For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity…" (Isaiah 57:15, ESV).
This means God can listen to millions of our prayers at the same time while spending as much time with you alone as you need.
The best book I have ever read about these paradoxes is presented by astrophysicist Hugh Ross Ph.D. in: Beyond the Cosmos. Every Christian who struggles with paradoxes might want to read Hugh Ross' book.
His Sovereignty Allows us to Pray
But in fact, the Christian prays because God IS sovereign. This is because we know confidently that God alone has control and power over everything that happens. Therefore, only God has the power to "change" things in answer to our prayers.
If I am diagnosed with a fatal form of cancer, I know that Job reveals the Lord's Word when he says, "The number of his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass…" (Job 14:5, ESV).
It is God alone who has the power to change the number of my days and my fatal diagnosis. He can use doctors, medical treatments, alternative therapies, or prayer alone. But, only God can change the outcome.
Prayer is Power
Scripture contains many examples of changed circumstances due to prayers. James tells us that "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:17).
Daniel's Paradoxical Prayer
The prophet Daniel is an interesting example of paradoxical prayer. Daniel knew from prophetic scripture in the book of Jeremiah that God would free the Jews from their Babylonian captivity (Daniel 9:2). Yet, even though prophecy foretold this, Daniel prayed fervently for himself and the children of Israel.
In a fascinating glimpse of the invisible powers ruling on earth, Daniel's prayers took longer to answer because "The prince of the kingdom of Persia" (Iran) fought the angel answering Daniel's prayer. Daniel's angel had to team up with the archangel Michael to get through to Daniel (Daniel 10:12-13). It took him 21 days!
Here we learn that invisible forces fight each other when we pray fervently. Circumstances may not be all that they seem on the surface, and God may change circumstances as He determines.
Read that again and again.
God Chooses to Work through Prayer
While there are fancy reasons theologians tell people they must pray, the simple truth is that God ordains the means of accomplishing His will on earth. It is through prayer that He works.
God Hardwired the Universe to work through Prayer
David Jeremiah says it this way: "Scripture insists that God has hard-wired the universe in such a way that He works primarily through prayer. God has set up creation so that the way He does His work is through the prayers of His children. At the moment we pray, we become subject to the most powerful force in the universe" (Jeremiah 2004, 44).
Not to be "cute," we must also recognize that when circumstances do change in response to our prayers, then we know that this was God's will to begin with. Yet, when we pray we are obeying what God has asked us to do.
James says we "do not have because we do not ask" (4:2).
Matthew 7:7-8 tells us to "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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened."
The Greek tense in this passage means to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. Just ASK:
A - keep asking
S - keep seeking
K - keep knocking
For reasons we don't yet fully comprehend God has made himself "subservient to the prayers of His people" (Jeremiah 2004, 47).
David Jeremiah continues,
"Prayer is the way we defeat the devil (Luke 22:32).
Prayer is the way we help to save the lost (Luke 18:13).
Prayer is the way we acquire wisdom (James 1:5).
Prayer is the way a backslider gets restored (James 5:16-20).
Prayer is how the saints get strengthened (Jude 1:20, Matt. 26:41).
Prayer is the way we get laborers out to the mission field (Matthew 9:38).
Prayer is how we cure the sick (James 5:13-15).
Prayer is how we accomplish the impossible (Mark 11:23-24).
Everything we do that's worth doing, everything God wants to do in the church, everything God wants to do in your life - all of this He has subjugated to one thing: Prayer" (Jeremiah 2004, 47-48).
Jesus Understood Sovereignty, Yet Prayed
Finally, John MacArthur asks us to consider this: …"more than anyone who ever walked the earth, Jesus Christ understood God's sovereignty - yet He prayed, and prayed, and prayed. Obviously, if He considered prayer essential, so should we. Ultimately, to neglect or avoid prayer for any reason is to ignore the clear commands of God, and the numerous examples He's provided us in Scripture" (Tape…"a pattern of prayer").
Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking - Pray and Ask.
Jeremiah, David. 2004. The prayer matrix. Sisters, OR: Multnomah.
MacArthur, John. A pattern of prayer from a man of prayer. (Tape). Grace to You Ministries. Available from: www.gty.org.
Ross, Hugh. 1999. Beyond the cosmos. Colorado Springs: NavPress.