Saturday, August 4, 2012

If God's Will Doesn't Change, Is Prayer Pointless?

This question is loaded with implications that will start to help us in understanding the relationship between the human will and God’s sovereign will. Why would it be necessary to pray to God and ask for anything, whether related to our own well being, or someone else’s salvation, when He has always had an unchanging and predetermined plan in the world? Is our prayer to God futile?

Probably, the best way to start is to note that the Lord Jesus Himself told us to pray. In fact, He told us how to pray, didn’t He? He gave us an example of how to pray in Matthew 6. Before we look closely at what Jesus prayed it is important to note that immediately preceding this he instructed the people to not waste their time and words with pointless phrases that amount to nothing. Many people thought that the sheer volume of their prayers would somehow have a better effect on God, giving them more sway with Him. This was a legalistic tendency that Jesus was speaking against.

He said, “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (6:7). His insinuation is clearly that they were wrong for thinking so. Being heard by God had nothing to do with the amount of words they uttered in vain. Even more remarkably, He continues, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v8).

So, here we have Jesus telling us how not to pray since God already knows what everyone needs. He is pointedly telling us that He is omniscient. Then He goes on to tell us how we should pray, thus revealing that prayer is not pointless, rather it is still meaningful and appropriate. How did Jesus tell us to pray?

Read Matthew 6:9-13

1) Approach holy God humbly.

In verse nine, the first thing Jesus said to do was to acknowledge the Father as Holy. It is fitting that when we approach God in prayer that we do so in the utmost reverence and awe; not in a flippant or demanding way.

2) Acknowledge God’s sovereignty and Lordship.

In verse 10, Jesus gives yet another indicator that we ought to be humble when we pray, always submitting to the will of the Father. Begging or demanding something from God does no good if it is not God’s will. We should pray that His will be done regardless of what our concern or request is. A heart of true submission will be content with whatever God allows to happen because our true hope is found in God’s sovereignty.

3) Don’t be selfish.

In verse 11, Jesus says, “Give us this day our daily bread”. Again, not asking for the world, but for enough to satisfy our basic needs. The Apostle Paul said that he learned to be content in all situations, whether he had his daily bread or not (Phil. 4:11). While God already knows what we need and want, we still place ourselves in the proper position of acknowledging our dependence on Him for those things when we come to Him in prayer. This is the balance that we’re looking for. We aren’t going to God to inform Him, rather we are going to seek His will and ask for His will to be done.

4) If you’re going to ask God for anything, ask for forgiveness.   

At this time when Christ was telling us here how to pray, He had not been crucified and raised yet, so it is noteworthy that the concept of going to God and asking for forgiveness of sins has always been a theme in the Bible. It’s important to remember that. Throwing an animal on the altar in stark ceremonialism didn’t mean anything without a truly repentant heart. When we pray, we must be careful to approach God with the understanding that we need His forgiveness in the same way that we also forgive people who offend us. The ministry of reconciliation we have is one that requires forgiveness (2 Cor. 5).

5) Pray for your real need: Deliverance from evil.

As a final statement in this prayer, Jesus tells us to pray for deliverance from evil and to ask God to keep us away from temptation. The ultimate end of man will determine whether or not a person humbly submitted to the Lordship of Christ, or whether he went along with his evil tendencies, feeding the temptations that came along the way, living in sin.

Since it is our own evil tendencies that tempt us and not God Himself, we need to ask for His help to defeat our sinful flesh tendencies. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God will always provide a way of escape from temptation, so that we can endure it. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, this verse is essentially saying that we have no excuse for giving into sin. “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability,” Paul says. That’s why he said to the Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Earlier in this passage we see a beautiful harmony of God’s sovereignty working in prayer, while also touching on the fact that it is the Spirit who enables us to overcome the flesh.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

-What three things does this passage say the Spirit does for us?

-How does this passage reconcile God’s all-knowing and unchanging sovereignty with our need to pray?
-How does this make you think differently about prayer?
Jesus gave us an example of how to pray and when He left in the ascension He told His disciples to wait for the Spirit to come in the near future. Since we are now indwelt with the Holy Spirit, who is just as much God as the Father and the Son, we have Christ in us to continue interceding for us and showing us how to pray. The most important part of this Romans passage we read is that “the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Since we know that God’s will is just as unchanging as He is in essence, we can be confident that when we pray with a humble heart, seeking the Lord’s will, then we will be acknowledging His sovereignty and His will as the most important thing, which is what Jesus told us to do. Furthermore, we will be built up in the Spirit who will help us in our weaknesses, which will help us resist the flesh that is still such a prevalent fact of life.

Praying is never pointless. It is necessary and it is worshipful to God when we seek Him and come to Him in submission and humility. When we pray to God we are allowing the Spirit to work in us to submit to God’s will, rather than pushing our own. It is completely in harmony with His sovereignty and not in contradiction to it because we are not exercising a completely free will apart from God, but a submissive will to His. The Spirit in us will help us line up appropriately with God the Father. Prayer is a beautiful portrayal of His sovereign work.