Prayer, and the Providence of God: How does it work?As a student, when I began to grasp the great doctrines of God’s sovereignty, I had a lot of questions about prayer. I could not understand why I needed to pray if God was in control, and already knew the outcome to the situation. My conclusion was that prayer was only to help us, and I did not put much emphasis on it. But as I continued to study God’s word I began to see just how wrong that conclusion was. Our prayers do change us (see Monday’s post), but they are also used by God to accomplish His purpose. Let me explain…
God has ordained to do some things in answer to prayer.
Even though God does not need our help He has chosen to allow us to be used to accomplish His purpose. One of the chief ways God uses us to accomplish His purpose is through prayer. Maybe the best example of this is seen in Genesis 18:20ff &19:29:
Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righ teous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.
Here Abraham is found interceding for the righteous men of Sodom. Abraham prayed a godly prayer by being modest (he did not demand to know what God knew), humble (he did not think that his prayer deserved to be answered because of who he was), persistent (It looks as though Abraham is changing the mind of God, but rather God was drawing Abraham in), and finally persuasive (Abraham appealed to God’s own character and glory). At this point we may say: “Abraham’s prayer did not work because God destroyed Sodom.” But in 19:29 we see that God saved Lot through Abraham’s prayer:
So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.
This is difficult for us because it seems like Abraham changed God’s mind. This is not the case; instead God used Abraham to accomplish His purpose. Here God’s purpose was to save Lot from the overthrow of the cities of the valley. God knew all along what his plan was, and he allowed Abraham to be a part of it. God informed Abraham of his plan (he did not have to), and Abraham had a proper response (prayer) that God was able to use.
(Remember what James 5:16 say: “…the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”)
Let me give you another example from Scripture. Think for a minute about salvation. Man does not have the power to save anyone. God is the one who is responsible for man’s salvation. But look at what Romans 10:14-15 says:Romans 10:13-15
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
When I look back at my salvation I know that God is responsible for my salvation, but he used my parents to bring the gospel to me. Man does not save anyone, but God uses the presentation of the Gospel by men to save. In this same way God uses our prayers to accomplish His plan.
At this point we must note that if God has ordained to do something that no one prays for He will still accomplish it. God will accomplish His purpose one way or another. Remember what Joseph said to his brothers: “what you meant for evil, God meant for good.” God is sovereign over all things. This should not deter us from praying, but instead should give us great confidence that God can accomplish what we pray for. Do not forfeit your opportunity to be used by God to accomplish His purpose; pray.
There is a perfect balance between God’s providence and our prayers. God’s sovereignty should not deter us from praying, but instead give us confidence in our prayers. Let us be diligent in our prayers. If we are sanctification will be furthered, and God will use us to accomplish His Divine purpose. So do not pray as if you are praying to a God is is powerless to answer your prayer. Pray knowing that the Sovereign God is in control of what you are praying for. Otherwise you will be like the double-minded man of James chapter one. He prays for wisdom, but cannot receive wisdom because he does not believe that there is wisdom to be found.