How do our prayers work within God’s providence?
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:
Genesis 18:20-33: 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:
Genesis 19:29: 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 of God using men for His purpose 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 10:13-15 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
If God has ordained to do something that no one prays for He will still accomplish it
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.” (Genesis 50:20) 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 diligent then our 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 who 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.
Why Pray, and How Does it Work?”
Prayer is so important to the Christian life. Listen to what Tom Watson (the writer not the golfer) had to say about prayer: “It is one thing to pray, and another thing to be given to prayer… Prayer is a glorious ordinance, it is the soul’s trading with heaven. God comes down to us by his Spirit, and we go up to him by prayer.” But we need to make sure that we understand what we are doing when we pray. We must understand why we pray, how we pray, and we must understand how God uses our prayers.
Why do we pray?
Scripture commands us to pray
The reason we pray, first and foremost, is because God’s Word commands us to pray. All through out Scripture we are exhorted to pray. In fact, Jesus gave us an example of praying.
Matthew 6:9-13: Pray then like this:
“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.
Surely this implies that we should be praying. And if that wasn’t enough, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul tells his readers that we should pray without ceasing. That is, we are always to be in an attitude of submission to God.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
If we do not pray for something that we should have we may not get it
This may seem like a strange or even selfish thing to say. Jesus spoke on this issue in Matthew 7:7-11. He said ask and it will be given to you.
Matthew 7:7-11: 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. “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? “Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!
This is exactly what James says in James 4:2-3.
James 4:2-3: You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
His readers were unable to obtain what they wanted because they went about it in the wrong way. They used lust and fighting to get what they wanted instead of asking God. What is interesting is that James not only addresses their lack of prayer, but also their method of prayer. When they did pray, they prayed only to fulfill their worldly passions.
How do we pray?
To the Father, through the Son, assisted by the Spirit.
Jesus instructed us to pray to the Father.
Matthew 6:5-15: When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is 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 do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]’ “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
When we pray to the Father we should do so through the Son. Jesus Christ is the mediator. He is the one through whom we address the Father. Through his atonement for our sins, and his provision of righteousness before God we are able to boldly approach the throne of God.
1 Timothy 2:5: For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…
Additionally, Christ has sent the Holy Spirit to assists us in our prayers (This makes the doctrine of the trinity quite relevant in our prayers.).
Romans 8:26: 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;
A Helpful Pattern: A-C-T-S
“Acts” is an acronym used to describe the basic elements of prayer. It is not an exhaustive checklist for your prayer life, but it has been helpful to me. And because prayer changes us (Not God) we will see how each aspect affects our own lives.
Adoration: We were created to worship, and we must use that capacity to worship God in our prayers. We must pray in truth and adoration using the facilities that God gave us for his glory (John 4:24). And no one can spend time before God in adoration and not be changed by the experience.
Confession: Scripture tells us that if we confess our sins God will forgive them (1 John 1:4). And Paul tells us to examine our self and confess our sins before partaking in the Lord’s Table (1 Cor 11:23ff). We are not telling God what he does not know; we are acknowledging it for our own sake. And we are changed by the realization of our sin in light of God’s holiness.
Thanksgiving: Part of Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is to give thanks in all situations. In are thanksgiving we are submitting to the will of God. We are saying that even though we are going through trials we are thankful because we know it is your will. So, when we are giving thanks in all situations it is easier to see the work of God’s providence in all situations.
Supplication: Mt. 6:11. In supplication we bring our needs, and the needs of others before God. In supplication we are participating in the “priesthood of believers.” We are imitating the work of Christ who intercedes for His people.
These are just a few introductory thoughts on a subject that should impact your everyday life. There is so much that God’s Word tells us about prayer. Which tells us there is so much that we should be praying for.