Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Prayer and Sovereignty

Scripture is clear. God is sovereign (Psa 24:1; Psa 115:3; Prov 16:4,9; Gen 50:20; 2 Chron 20:16; Isa 55:8-9; Amos 3:6-8; Rom 13:1; Eph 1:11; 1 Tim 6:15; Rom 9:16, etc.). Not sovereign like a human king who makes rules and can't actually make things happen. Absolutely sovereign. "Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps." (Psa 135:6)

It begs the question. So, if God is absolutely sovereign, why do anything? It's called fatalism. If fate (in this case, God) determines all that happens, then all that happens is determined and we don't need to do anything at all. What will be will be. This argument is thrown against the doctrine of Election. "If God chooses whom He will save, then why evangelize? God chooses whether or not you do anything." It is used to demonstrate that, in fact, God is not sovereign because if He is, everything is determined and we do nothing. And to the sincere believer who sees the inescapable conclusion that the Bible definitely teaches this kind of Sovereignty of God, it makes you wonder, "Why pray?" The Bible isn't very helpful on that last question. Jesus said, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." (Matt 6:8) Precisely! So ... why pray?

As it turns out, just as there are multiple Scriptures that teach us that God is absolutely sovereign, there are multiple reasons to embrace His sovereignty and to pray (and evangelize and work and ...). Now, first, consider. Prayer consists of many components. There is praise and adoration. Surely the biblical certainty that God is Sovereign does not serve to limit our praise and adoration. So, pray. There is thanksgiving. Again, His Sovereignty should encourage, not defeat thanksgiving. So, pray. There is confession. Nothing about God's Sovereignty would negate our need to confess our sins to God. So, pray. That only leaves one other basic component -- supplication. Prayer is not merely making requests, but it includes it. So already we have a vast amount of praying we can do without even asking the question, "If God is Sovereign, why pray?" Still, down at this last piece, we might still ask, "Why pray?" Here are some good reasons.

Demonstrated

We are, first and foremost, Christians. Oh, we might be some denomination of Christian, but we are, first, followers of Christ. If we are to follow Christ we ought to do what Christ did. And one thing Jesus repeatedly did was He prayed (Luke 11:1; Matt 19:13; Luke 9:28; Luke 5:16; Luke 6:12; John 17:1-26; Matt 26:39-44, etc.). Why pray? If Jesus, the Son of God, prayed, then so ought we to pray.

Commanded

Clear in Scripture is the command to pray. Jesus taught His disciples, "Pray in this way." (Matt 6:9) He gave parables regarding the requirement to pray (Luke 18:1). Paul said, "Pray without ceasing." (1 Thess 5:17) We are told not to be worried, but rather "in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Phil 4:6). (Note: there is a side benefit listed here. By making our requests known to a Sovereign Lord, we are told that "the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:7) Thus, we are commanded and it is to our own benefit.) We are commanded to pray at all times for all men (1 Tim 2:1). Prayer is a required act of obedience. Why pray? Because God says so.

Invited

Not only are we commanded, we are invited. Jesus said, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." (Matt 7:7) He told His disciples, "Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it." (John 14:13-14) James says, "You do not have because you do not ask." (James 4:2) and assures us that "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." (James 5:16) Why pray? Because God invites us to.

Participation

God is sovereign -- absolutely -- but God is also a God of means. That is, He uses things to accomplish His purposes. More specifically, He uses people to accomplish His purposes. So He tells us to make disciples (Matt 28:19-20) and preach the Gospel (Mark 16:15), not because He lacks the ability to do it on His own, but because He uses means -- us. Prayer, then, as a matter of command and invitation, offers us an opportunity to participate with God in what He is doing. Thus, He says, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." (John 15:7) Pray in God's will and you can be certain that He will do it. Prayer is part of our participation in His divine work. So, pray.

For God's glory

When Jesus said, "Ask Me anything in My name," He wasn't talking about a magic formula. He was talking about asking under His authority for His glory. We are to "do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). Praying is one of those things, and praying is at the outset for the glory of God. We ask; He works. He gets the glory. Definitely, pray.

To know God

Just before the famous "All things work together for good" verse, we read this.
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom 8:26-27)
Prayer is not merely "what's on my mind". Prayer is an exercise between pray-er and God via the Holy Spirit. It is an intimacy where the Spirit searches our hearts and expresses what we don't even know how to express to God. Prayer is our opportunity to bring our concerns to God, even though He knows them. In this sense it is for our benefit. In order to interface with God -- to know Him and have Him know you -- pray.

Prayer, at its basic level, is not mere communication. It is communion. It is communion with God. His Sovereignty only enhances that. In fact, only a person who rejects Man's Ultimate Self-Determination and embraces God's Absolute Sovereignty can pray safely for the lost because it is only a Sovereign God who can open a sin-dead heart to respond to the things of God (Acts 16:14). We don't know what we really need and we don't know what is really best (Rom 8:26-27), so it is only in a Sovereign God that we can have any real hope of praying for those things. In this sense, prayer is the ultimate expression of the total dependence of sinful human beings on a Sovereign Lord. In so doing, we obey Him and join Him in accomplishing His will, finally bringing Him glory. I think those are good reasons to both embrace a biblical view that God is Absolutely Sovereign and to pray to this Sovereign God.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another Christian blogger has written, "I think there is room for satanic control" in the world. So to him, God's sovereignty is not QUITE absolute.

Stan said...

A few important points.

1. For many (most?) Christians God's sovereignty is not absolute. As I think you could tell from my commentary, I believe that Scripture clearly states that He is. For all of us the possibility remains that we might be wrong on something. A lot of Christians may not be biblical in their understanding of God's Sovereignty. I'm still waiting for someone to tell me where I'm mistaken (biblically) on that.

2. It is possible to have both "satanic control" and Absolute Sovereignty of God. Job illustrates it. Satan asked to test Job. God placed limits. Elsewhere, Scriptures say that the Lord incited David to number the people (2 Sam 24:1-10) and in another place that the event was caused by Satan (1 Chron 21:1ff). Or in the case of Christ's crucifixion, Pilate and the Sanhedrin had Him crucified, but it was determined by God (Acts 2:23; Acts 4:25-28). So it is entirely possible (and biblical) to have both satanic and human control and God ultimately in charge.

3. The important question is whether or not we are deciding what is true based on what God says or based on what we think/feel/prefer. We need to have the willingness and courage to change our thinking/feeling/preferences to what God says. What does God say? Is He absolutely sovereign or only mostly sovereign? We should go with what He says.

David said...

Not true. As demonstrated in Job, even Satan is obedient to God. Satan isn't the yin to God's yang, he is still a servant of the Most High. If God doesn't want Satan to do it, he can't, if God wants him to do it, he must. Satan is as much an instrument of His Will as we are.

I wonder why it bothers so few people to say that angels don't have free will, but still attribute free will to Satan. He didn't rebel out of pride or jealousy, he rebelled out of obedience. Otherwise, he some how overcame his lack of free will to defy God. But, if you can believe that Man's will overrules God's, then anything is possible I guess.

Stan said...

I do believe in free will. I do believe that Satan and the (non-fallen) angels and human beings all have free will. I do NOT believe in libertarian free will -- the ability to do anything we choose -- or human ultimate self-determination (another way of saying libertarian free will) or in Human Free Will in an absolute sense (especially that overrides God's will). But if God commanded Satan to rebel, we have a problem. In fact, you cannot rebel out of obedience, since "rebel" requires a lack of compliance. So I'm not entirely sure what you're trying to get across. However, I do believe that God allows human (and satanic and angelic) self-driven choices to occur that will align with His Sovereign Will, thus both maintaining sovereignty AND holding all of us accountable for our choices.

David said...

I think most people see Satan as doing his own thing outside of God's will, the dark to God's light. But he's no more free to do as he wishes than we are.

I was taught that the primary difference between angels and men was free will. That's why we were created, and angels couldn't fill our role. But then, over the years I've come to doubt a lot of what that teacher believed, so I could be wrong.

Stan said...

There's nothing in Scripture that suggests to me that they don't have free will, so I'd prefer not to make that assumption. I would guess that the angels that fell, Satan included, did so because they chose to (free will). The primary difference between men and angels is that angels don't have a sin nature. They're like Adam and Eve were at the start. The ones still in place chose not to sin; the ones that fell chose to sin. The other difference, then, is salvation. There is no provision in God's plans for demon salvation. Jesus didn't take on demon form and die for their sins. So this puts angels and humans in different planes of existence and angels long to see what we see. But I believe they still choose.

I disagree, then, with your teacher. Otherwise, I agree that no one operates out of God's will. He allows some (including Satan) to do evil things because they serve His purpose and He prevents some evil things because they don't, but those doing the evil (people or demons) are choosing on their own to do it.

Stan said...

Another commenter wrote, "Prayer is probably one of the main issues that I struggle with ..." He talked about people he knows who pray diligently for vast numbers of individuals and their personal issues, always ending with, "Thy will be done." On this he says, "It reinforces my personal notion that the primary efficacy of prayer is not in its targets, but in the one doing the praying."

I think that most of us don't see it that way. I think that most of us are wrong for not seeing it that way. We think of prayer as a means to get something from God. In this sense, prayer is successful if God gives us what we ask for and a failure if He does not. In this mindset the question, "Why pray?", means, "Why pray if I can't get what I want from God?" But like this commenter, I believe that prayer is not about getting from God. I think of prayer as a means of becoming more connected with God. And that's solely from my end. That is, my prayer doesn't make God more connected with me; it makes me more connected with Him. It is a conversation, a tête-à-tête, an intimacy with the Almighty. Get something from God? Maybe, but that's not the point. Interfacing with God is the point. Thus, answers or no, satisfaction or not, "yea" or "nay", if interfacing with God is the aim, in prayer it cannot fail.