RPM, Volume 13, Number 17, April 24 to April 30, 2011

The Sovereignty of God in Prayer

By John Reisinger

Chapter Three
Why Is Prayer So Important?

Why is it so essential that we see the great importance of prayer? Prayer is commanded, and God has promised to answer prayer. The people who base everything on the myth of man's free will distort prayer in one direction, and hyper-Calvinists distort it in another direction. Let's look at some biblical facts that steer us clear of both these two errors.

ONE: Prayer is essential to the fulfillment of God's purposes.

Some may wonder at the validity of such a statement, and standing alone with no reference to the rest of Scripture the statement would be very wrong. However, when stated in conjunction with God's revealed purpose to use prayer as an ordained means to accomplish His purposes, the statement is very biblical, and only a hyper-Calvinist would object to it.

I trust that these truths on prayer and God's sovereignty are beginning to make the foregoing facts clear. I hope that we have started to grasp the reality of the absolute necessity of prayer. God is not helpless to accomplish His purposes without our prayers, but prayer is essential just because our sovereign God has decreed that He will work through our prayers. The God that ordained to spare Israel when they made the golden calf also ordained that Moses would stand and intercede lest they be consumed (Ex 32:1-11). True prayer always begins with "according to His will" simply because God is the first Mover in prayer, and not us. Since true prayer is always "according to His will," then it follows that it is impossible for us to be consciously walking in God's will and at the same time to be prayerless. To be prayerless is to prove that God is not working in and through us.

We can safely lay down two clear biblical facts: (1) Prayer is essential in accomplishing God's purposes because God Himself has decreed to accomplish His will (or purposes) through the prayers of His people. In fact, prayer itself is one of the thing s decreed by God. (2) Because prayer is so tied in with God's will for us, one of the best barometers of our spiritual condition is our daily prayer life. I am aware that stating this truth so bluntly will send most people (including me) on a guilt trip-and it should! There is no one thing for which I must ask forgiveness as much as a failure to pray consistently with a warm heart.

What we are saying is this: Prayer is one of the greatest means at our disposal to truly glorify God, and prove our love and faith. For instance, even if you are a millionaire and own the largest bakery in town, you are still commanded in Scripture to "pray for your daily bread." God knows our needs before we ask, and it would seem we could surely supply our own bread under such circumstances, but we are still told to pray for our daily supply. Of course we realize that "daily bread" means all of t he things necessary to life, including life itself. Understood correctly, praying for our daily bread is just another way of acknowledging that every day, and all things in that day, are under the sovereign control of God. It is basically the same exhortation as James 4:13-15.

God desires that we commune daily with Him as our heavenly Father. He delights to commune with us, as well as shower us with good things from His storehouse. Daily prayer demonstrates that we are conscious that every present blessing is from God and our dependence is in Him alone for any future blessing. You cannot be praying and be self-sufficient at the same time; likewise, it is simply impossible to neglect prayer without being self-reliant. I will repeat what I said earlier: the greatest denial of God's sovereignty is a day without prayer!

I can illustrate this principle with a parent who has a son in college. A parent can pay his son's expenses at college in one of two ways. He can give him one check for the entire semester, or you can give him enough for one week. Both ways will supply his need, with the only difference being how often you would like to have a letter or phone call from him. The "once a week" will get far more letters and phone calls. I heard of a boy who wrote home from college and said, "Dear Dad, No Mon. No Fu n. Your Son." The father wrote back, "Dear Son, Too Bad. How Sad. Your Dad." I am sure you see the point. God delights in hearing from His children, and one of the ways He assures this will happen is to put things on a daily basis.

We must learn to see that prayer is absolutely essential for the simply reason that a sovereign God has purposed to use prayer as the means to reach an end. At the same time, we must never think of prayer as "giving God a chance" to exercise His power. God's absolute sovereignty and the necessity of prayer may appear to be in direct opposition, but they are both true. The Bible teaches that prayer is a necessary means appointed by a sovereign God, but in no sense does the Scripture teach that God's desires or purposes are crippled and unable to succeed because of a lack of prayer. We may, as individuals, fail to experience the joy of being used by God in a given instance, but not a single thing that God has decreed will ever be hindered by our failure or our lack of prayer. God's decrees do not change moment by moment according to the various options opened up to Him in a given situation by our prayers. God plans and carries out His purposes without any change. A.W. Pink said it well in the following quotation:

Such thoughts of prayer as we have been citing are due to low and inadequate conceptions of God Himself. It ought to be apparent that there could be little or no comfort in praying to a God who was like the chameleon, which changes its color every day. What encouragement is there to lift up our hearts to One who was in one mind yesterday and in another today? What would be the use of petitioning an earthly king, if we knew he was so changeable as to grant a petition one day and deny it another? Is it not the very unchangeableness of God which is our greatest encouragement to pray? Because He is "without variableness and shadow of turning" we are assured that if we ask anything according to His will we are most certain of being heard. Well did Luther remark, "Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness." From: The Sovereignty of God, by A.W. Pink, Banner of Truth, p. 113.
I recently read where a basketball coach in a Christian college told the team that if they had enough faith and prevailed in prayer they could win every game and be the national champions. What horrible theology! Imagine team A praying for one hour and God saying, "Great, fellows, you are going to win." Team B, their opponents, pray for two hours and God says, "Sorry, team A, but team B out prayed you; they are going to win." Team A gathers the whole school together for an all-night prayer meeting and God is again forced to change His mind and says, "Sorry, team B, but team A has overcome your volume of prayer and they will win." Team B could then get the whole town involved in a prayer and fasting day, forcing God to again reverse His decree. I am sure we can see how wrong such a view of prayer is when we lay out its implications. This view makes prayer, or the amount of prayer, like either the volume of noise at a pep rally or the pressure exerted by a political group on Congress. Whoever exerts the most pressure gets what he wants. According to such an idea, we could buy what we wanted from God by employing enough people to pray-meaning "pressure" God-for our wants (I deliberately did not use the word "need"). This is a denial of God's sovereignty and an insult to both His wisdom and His purposes.

Perhaps someone is thinking about the lesson Jesus taught in Luke 11:5-10. This is known as "The Parable of the Importunate Friend" and it certainly teaches us to persist in prayer. However, Jesus is encouraging us to pray by making a deliberate contrast. He is not telling us that God is like the man who was asleep and did not wish to be bothered. The God of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. Jesus is telling us that our heavenly Father is exactly opposite of that man. The application is this: If a man that does not wish to be bothered can be forced into granting your request just to keep you from pestering him, how much more ready is your heavenly Father, who delights to have you come any time of the day or night, to hear and answer the prayers of His children. That passage does not contradict what I have been saying; it reinforces it.

As another illustration, suppose you were God and one of your earthly children was a farmer who desperately needed rain to save his crops. The farmer pleaded faithfully and fervently for rain and claimed the promise in James. At the very same time, the Bible conference on the adjoining property was pleading in prayer for sunny weather with no rain so that the "biggest mission conference in the history of the denomination" would be a success. How would you decide which one to answer? Do you see why it is essential that we understand that prayer does not begin with our wants but with God's purposes?

TWO: What About Unanswered Prayer?

The above illustration brings us to our next point. How do we reconcile the fact of "unanswered prayer" with the "clear promises of Scripture"? Should the farmer believe that God did not answer his prayers if there was no rain? Would no rain prove that the Bible conference crowd was more spiritual or had more "prayer power" because of its size? To ask such questions is to demonstrate how terribly wrong we are in our concept of prayer. To even entertain such an idea of unanswered prayer is to be driven to believe that God is either less than sovereign or else our faith is not strong enough to force His hand to move.

Once we see the true nature of prayer, there is no problem. If we understand that prayer is asking God and not telling God, then "no" is just as much an answer as "yes." A child of God who understands the truths we have been stating will realize that there is no such thing as unanswered prayer. Actually, a heart of faith and confidence in God's wisdom and sovereignty will view an answer of "no" from God to be just as kind and gracious as a "yes." God's "no" answers are not based on either reluctance or a lack of power on His part, they are based just as much on His love and grace as when He says "yes." I am sure that all of us can look back and praise God for graciously saying no to some of the requests for which we desperately pleaded.

We must see that every prayer is answered with either a yes or no. Sometimes the no is a "wait, it is not yet the right time." I repeat, the believing heart is just as grateful for the answer "No, my child, that is not good for you" as he is for the positive answer. An indulgent parent may have difficulty saying no to a spoiled child, but God loves His children too much to allow them to become undisciplined brats. He is too kind and gracious to allow us to destroy ourselves with our own unbridled s elfishness. We ought to gratefully acknowledge God's "no" answers just as enthusiastically as His "yes" answers.

If we keep reminding ourselves of what we have been saying it will clear up a lot of confusion and apparent contradictions. Instead of thinking of prayer as the means of getting God to give us what we want, we will see that true prayer is first concerned with honoring God Himself. When we pray correctly, we gladly acknowledge His universal rule over all things. We confess that our God controls even the sun and the rain. Biblical prayer makes us realize that only God Himself can keep us from sin or deliver our loved ones out of ignorance and darkness. Proper prayer calls out and proves our faith and love. In showing God that we are truly dependent on Him, we please Him and glorify His very person. Prayer is an act of worship. We praise God for all that He is and has revealed Himself to be, and this gives us the confidence to ask even greater things. Our Lord Jesus called the temple the "House of Prayer" and not the "House of Sacrifice." Every approach to God, including our singing and giving, is a form of prayer.

Prayer is one of the appointed means of obtaining spiritual blessings, and as such it is one of the methods by which we grow in grace and the knowledge of God. Prayer humbles us and delivers us from self-sufficiency. It increases our faith and worship. It is one of the best barometers of our love and thankfulness to our God. If our prayers are correct, the following words of the Psalmist will aptly describe us: I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. Ps 116:1,2.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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