For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Why Pray?

Not too long ago a dear friend contacted me with a bit of a dilemma. A relative of theirs had been diagnosed with cancer, and some of the rest of the family was struggling with how to respond. In particular, the issue came up regarding prayer. Why pray? Does it really do any good? What’s the point?

I must admit that this has always been one of the harder questions posed to me. Not so much because I don’t know an answer. I can give lots of answers, and most of them are actually even right! However, usually this question comes in the midst of some suffering. It often comes from those who are not true believers. And so all the answers I offer usually come off sounding fairly trite.

At this point let me say that I welcome any comments that would be helpful in this situation. How do we share with those who are hurting how a Sovereign God works through the prayers of His people, especially when in their eyes, if it doesn’t accomplish their goals, it’s ineffective?

Again, as a believer in God’s Sovereignty, I am quite comfortable with my theology of prayer. God doesn’t have to do what I want. Prayer is a matter of my conforming to His will, which leads me to see that prayer is about changing me, not changing God. And the truth is that prayer is effective because it the means through which God has ordained the accomplishing of His will.

Along those lines, Charles Spurgeon (as usual) put it perhaps best in a sermon entitled “Prayer Certified Of Success.” Preached in January of 1873, he points out the simple truth that “To seek aid in time of distress from a supernatural being is an instinct of human nature.” He then goes on to show how God has repeatedly given us assurance that our seeking His aid in prayer is not only instinct, but is effectual.

You can read the entire sermon here, but I wanted to copy just a piece of it that addresses one of the most common issues when dealing with these questions of why we pray; specifically the issue of the effectiveness of prayer if indeed it’s true that God is Sovereign and ordains all things. Again, the whole sermon is very helpful, but I hope some can find usefulness in this brief excerpt as well.

An objection has been raised which is very ancient indeed, and has a great appearance of force. It is raised not so much by skeptics, as by those who hold a part of the truth; it is this—that prayer can certainly produce no result, because of the decrees of God have settled everything, and those decrees are immutable. Now we have no desire to deny the assertion that the decrees of God have settled all events. It is our full belief that God has foreknown and predestinated everything that happened in heaven above or in the earth beneath, and that the foreknown station of a reed by the river is fixed as the station of a king, and "the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses."

Predestination embraceth the great and the little, and reacheth unto all things; the question is, wherefore pray? Might it not as logically be asked, wherefore breathe, eat, move, or do anything? We have an answer which satisfies us, namely, that our prayers are in the predestination, and that God has as much ordained his people's prayers as anything else, and when we pray we are producing links in the chain of ordained facts. Destiny decrees that I should pray—I pray; destiny decrees that I shall be answered, and the answer comes to me.

Moreover, in other matters we never regulate our actions by the unknown decrees of God; as for instance, a man never questions whether he shall eat or drink, because it may or may not be decreed that he shall eat or drink; a man never enquires whether he shall work or not on the ground that it is decreed how much he shall do or how little; as it is inconsistent with common sense to make the secret decrees of God a guide to us in our general conduct, so we feel it would be in reference to prayer, and therefore still we pray. But we have a better answer than all this. Our Lord Jesus Christ comes forward, and he says to us this morning, "My dear children, the decrees of God need not trouble you, there is nothing in them inconsistent with your prayers being heard. 'I say unto you, ask, and it shall be given you.' " Now, who is he that says this? Why it is he that has been with the Father from the beginning—"the same was in the beginning with God" and he knows what the purposes of the Father are and what the heart of God is, for he has told us in another place, "the Father himself loveth you."

Now since he knows the decrees of the Father, and the heart of the Father, he can tell us with the absolute certainty of an eye-witness that there is nothing in the eternal purposes in conflict with this truth, that he that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth. He has read the decrees from the beginning to end: hath he not taken the book, and loosed the seven seals thereof, and declared the ordinances of heaven? He tells you there is nothing there inconsistent with your bended knee and streaming eye, and with the Father's opening the windows of heaven to shower upon you the blessings which you seek. Moreover, he is himself God: the purposes of heaven are his own purposes, and he who ordained the purpose here gives the assurance that there is nothing in it to prevent the efficacy of prayer. "I say unto you." O ye that believe in him, your doubts are scattered to the winds, ye know that he heareth your prayer.

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