Friday, July 31, 2009

Why Pray To The Sovereign God?

Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.
Romans 10:1
Be it noted that neither Paul nor any other biblical author is suggesting that prayer can alter the pre-temporal divine decree. Our prayers do not increase the number of the elect nor does our disobedience deprive God's kingdom of those whom he otherwise wished to save. Paul asks us to pray because he is persuaded that God does not will the salvific end apart from the specified means. Our mistake is in thinking that the divine decree makes an event certain irrespective of the causes and conditions (such as prayer) on which it depends. But the latter are encompassed in God's sovereign purpose no less than the former.


Let's take one hypothetical example as a way of illustrating the relation of sovereignty to prayer. Let's suppose that, unbeknownst to me, God has decreed that Jerry should come to saving faith in Christ on August 18, 2006. Suppose also that, again without my knowledge, God wills to regenerate Jerry and bring him to faith on the eighteenth only in response to my prayer for him on the seventeenth. Of course, my prayer for Jerry should not be restricted to one day of the year. I am using these two specific days for the sake of illustration. Apart from my prayer on August seventeenth that Jerry be saved, he will remain in unbelief. Does this mean that God's will for Jerry's salvation on the eighteenth might fail should I forget or refuse to pray on the seventeenth (perhaps because of some misguided notion about divine sovereignty?). No.

We must remember that God has decreed or willed my praying on the seventeenth for Jerry's salvation, which he intends to effect on the eighteenth. God does not will the end, that is, Jerry's salvation on the eighteenth, apart from the means, that is, my prayer on the seventeenth. God ordains or wills that Jerry come to faith on August eighteenth in response to my prayer for his salvation on August seventeenth. If I do not pray on the seventeenth, he will not be saved on the eighteenth. But I most certainly will pray on the seventeenth because God, determined to save Jerry on the eighteenth, has ordained that on the seventeenth I should pray for him.

Thus, from the human perspective, it may be rightly said that God's will for Jerry is dependent upon me and my prayers, as long as it is understood that God, by an infallible decree, has secured and guaranteed my prayers as an instrument with no less certainty than he has secured and guaranteed Jerry's faith as an end.

Someone may object, "But if your prayer on August seventeenth is ordained or willed by God, why bother?" I bother because I do not know what God has ordained relative to my prayer life. I do not know what he has determined to accomplish by means of it. And it is inexcusably arrogant, presumptuous, and disobedient to suspend my prayers on the basis of a will that God has declined to disclose. What I do know is that he has commanded me to pray for this lost soul. Whether or not he has willed for Jerry to believe in consequence of my prayer is not mine to know until after the fact (and perhaps not even then). But that lack of knowledge must not, indeed cannot, be made the reason for my praying or not praying before the fact.

Often when God wants to pour out his blessings he begins by awakening in his people an awareness of their great need, thereby provoking them to ask him for what he longs to give. Or, as Jonathan Edwards put it, "God has been pleased to constitute prayer to be antecedent to the bestowment of mercy; and he is pleased to bestow mercy in consequence of prayer, as though he were prevailed upon by prayer. When the people of God are stirred up to prayer, it is the effect of his intention to show mercy."

--Sam Storms, Chosen For Life: The Case For Divine Election, p. 173, 176-177
One way a person could respond after learning about the sovereignty of God in salvation is that if God is the One who independently determines who He will or will not save, it gives me no incentive to pray. Or at least it decreases my incentive to pray.

But I believe with all my heart that if we really understand the sovereignty of God in salvation, our incentive to pray does not decrease. And I don't even think it can remain the same. But instead it must increase.

I'll never forget the impact the above excerpt had on me when I first read it a couple of years ago. The mystery of prayer began to open up to me, revealing worlds of wonder and birthing in my heart a desire to pray like never before.

If I pray today for "Jerry" to be saved, then perhaps I might come to find that my prayer today is the means that God ordained in eternity past for "Jerry" to be saved. If I don't pray today for "Jerry" to be saved, then my prayer today is guaranteed NOT to be the means that God ordained in eternity past for "Jerry" to be saved because the prayer never happened.

Even if I pray every day for "Jerry" to be saved and he continues to remain an unbeliever, I continue to pray in the hope that maybe today's prayer might be the one that God has ordained to be the means of "Jerry's" salvation, rather than yesterday's. But if I ever stop praying, then maybe--and I mean for this to cause trembling--I am only confirming by my prayerlessness that God didn't choose "Jerry" for salvation from before the foundation of the world.

Don't get me wrong. My praying is not the decisive factor in anybody's salvation or in anything else that happens in this world. God is. But maybe--just maybe--as Jonathan Edwards said, the very fact that I am praying for something is evidence that God plans to accomplish it since He has put it into my heart to pray for this thing out of the millions of things that He could have placed in my heart to pray for. Perhaps He is mysteriously revealing His will by what He has put it into my heart to pray for...

...or not pray for.

How then shall we pray?
And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart...
Luke 18:1

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Good Reason To Pray

For this reason...For this reason I bow my knees before the Father...
Ephesians 3:1,14
"For this reason...for this reason I kneel before the Father" (3:1, 14). For what reason? Paul prays for this reason, namely, that God's declared purpose in creating this new humanity is to bring the people in it to the kind of spiritual maturity portrayed in the extended metaphor of the "holy temple in the Lord...a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" [Ephesians 2:19-22]. In other words, Paul's prayers are entirely in line with God's purposes. Thus God's declared purposes become for Paul a reason for advancing these particular petitions to his heavenly Father. In short, Paul is praying in line with what he knows of God's will, just as he did in Ephesians 1 (see chap. 10 of this book).

We quickly learn that God is more interested in our holiness than in our comfort. He more greatly delights in the integrity and purity of his church than in the material well-being of its members. He shows himself more clearly to men and women who enjoy him and obey him than to men and women whose horizons revolve around good jobs, nice houses, and reasonable health. He is far more committed to building a corporate "temple" in which his Spirit dwells than he is in preserving our reputations. He is more vitally disposed to display his grace than to flatter our intelligence. He is more concerned for justice than for our ease. He is more deeply committed to stretching our faith than our popularity. He prefers that his people live in disciplined gratitude and holy joy rather than in pushy self-reliance and glitzy happiness. He wants us to pursue daily death, not self-fulfillment, for the latter leads to death, while the former leads to life.

These essential values of the gospel must shape our praying, as they shape Paul's. Indeed, they become the ground for our praying ("For this reason...I pray"): it is a wonderful comfort, a marvelous boost to faith, to know that you are praying in line with the declared will of almighty God.

--D.A. Carson, A Call To Spiritual Reformation: Priorities From Paul and His Prayers, p.199,200 (emphasis added)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

We Cannot Know What Prayer Is For...

...until we know that life is war.
--John Piper
Yesterday, I said that John Piper has been my most influential living model in prayer. Long before I had ever read a John Piper book or heard him preach or pray, during a summer inner-city missions trip in Los Angeles after my junior year in college, I read an article by him about prayer. There was no question in my mind and heart that it was prophetic. That article challenged me and it was only the first of many challenges that would come my way by the voice of God speaking to me through Piper. The following quote taken from one of Piper's books contains the essence of that article. I'm still challenged by it today.
Life is war. That's not all it is. But it is always that. Our weakness in prayer is owing largely to our neglect of this truth. Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the power of darkness and unbelief. It is not surprising that prayer malfunctions when we try to make it a domestic intercom to call upstairs for more comforts in the den. God has given us prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie so that we can call headquarters for everything we need as the kingdom of Christ advances in the world. Prayer gives us the significance of frontline forces and gives God the glory of a limitless Provider. The one who gives the power gets the glory. Thus, prayer safeguards the supremacy of God in missions while linking us with endless grace for every need.


Probably the number one reason prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that we try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom. Until you know that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for. Prayer is for the accomplishment of a wartime mission. It is as though the field commander (Jesus) called in the troops, gave them a crucial mission (go and bear fruit), handed each of them a personal transmitter coded to the frequency of the General's headquarters, and said, "Comrades, the General has a mission for you. He aims to see it accomplished. And to that end he has authorized me to give each of you personal access to him through these transmitters. If you stay true to his mission and seek his victory first, he will always be as close as your transmitter, to give tactical advice and to send air cover when you need it."

But what have millions of Christians done? We have stopped believing that we are in a war. No urgency, no watching, no vigilance. No strategic planning. Just easy peace and prosperity. And what did we do with the walkie-talkie? We tried to rig it up as an intercom in our houses and cabins and boats and cars--not to call in firepower for conflict with a mortal enemy but to ask for more comforts in the den.

--John Piper, Let The Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions, p.45, 49
If we really believe this--that prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie--then the implications for how we pray are countless, are they not?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Call To Prayer

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
James 5:16b-18

I was directed to this sermon on prayer by the following Tweet by John Piper exactly ten days ago:
I have just watched a sermon on prayer by Terry Virgo that will alter my year. I recommend it.
Hearing that from the man who has been my most influential living model in prayer made this sermon a must watch for me. After watching it, I highly recommend it as well.

But what was so cool was that in this message, the preacher repeatedly makes reference to a book by D.A. Carson entitled A Call To Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. In God's providence, that's the book that I had been soaking in for a couple of weeks leading up to watching this sermon. I just finished the book last night and think I can say without presumption that this book will alter my life. I don't say that about many books. I couldn't more highly recommend it.

If you want a book that will challenge, encourage, and grow you in your prayer life so that you are not just praying more but praying more like the way the men and women of Scripture prayed to the Sovereign God of heaven and earth, I can't think of a better book apart from the Bible. The best part is that reading this book is about as close as you can get to reading your Bible while not directly reading your Bible because almost every chapter is a direct exposition of a biblical text. And it will undoubtedly make you a better reader of your Bible if you learn from Don's example how to study the Scriptures. This is a book I hope to come back to again and again. May you be blessed and strengthened by it.

Thank You, Father, for faithful teachers of Your Word who linger over every word of the Scriptures and draw out the plethora of implications that it has for our lives. May we learn from them and may we imitate them in their love for You and Your Word and in their lives of prayer and godliness. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Join In Prayer for 27 Million Slaves Every 27th

From the Freedom Summit:
The 27th of Each Month

Please join us as we unite as a community tomorrow through the power of prayer. On behalf of the 27 million men, women, and children around the world currently enslaved, we want to take the 27th day of each month to make a concentrated effort to pray for freedom. Though we cannot all be together physically to lift up our brothers and sisters in bondage, the Spirit of power connects us all. Shoot us an email in the next few days if God reveals to you any way in which we, his followers, can combat this injustice.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Sovereign Son

And he [The Father] put all things (all things!) under his [Jesus'] feet and gave him as head over all things (all things!) to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Ephesians 1:22,23
Not a drop of rain can fall outside the orb of Jesus' sovereignty. All our days--our health, our illnesses, our joys, our victories, our tears, our prayers, and the answers to our prayers--fall within the sweep of the sovereignty of one who wears a human face, a thorn-shadowed face. All of God's sovereignty is mediated through one who was crucified on my behalf. For Christians, that means God's sovereignty can no longer be viewed as merely a credal point, still less as a source of endless mystery. There is more than enough material for credal confession here, and not a little mystery; but these mysteries revolve around one who died in my place. The mysteries of prayer remain, but they dissolve in worship and gratitude. It is far easier to accept the mysteries of divine sovereignty when the divine love is as great as the divine sovereignty.

All of this sovereignty is exercised for the church. This is a stunning thought. God "placed all tings under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church" (1:22). What gratitude this should call from us! What an incentive to pray in line with God's purposes for his people!

--D.A. Carson, A Call To Spiritual Reformation: Priorities From Paul and His Prayers, p.179-180
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.
John 10:17,18
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son [his sovereign Son], that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16
All authority (all authority!) in heaven and on earth has been given to me...
Matthew 28:18

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Secret To Spurgeon's Success

'What, then, is the propagation of the faith? I suggest another question. What is the faith? Here a hundred isms rise up, and I put them all aside; they may be phases of the faith, but they are not the faith. What, then, is the faith? Strange to say, the faith of Christians is a Person. You may ask all other religions wherein their faith lieth, and they cannot answer on this wise. Our faith is a Person; the gospel that we have to preach is a Person, and go wherever we may, we have something solid and tangible to preach. If you had asked the twelve apostles, in their day, "What do you believe in?" they would not have needed to go round about with a long reply, but they would have pointed to their Master, and they would have said, "We believe Him." "But what are your doctrines?" "There they stand incarnate." "But what is your practice?" "There stands our practice. He is our example." "What, then, do you believe?" Hear ye the glorious answer of the apostle Paul, "We preach Christ crucified." Our creed, our body of divinity, our whole theology is summed up in the person of Christ Jesus. The apostle preached doctrine, but the doctrine was Christ. He preached practice, but the practice was all in Christ. There is no summary of the faith of a Christian that can compass all he believes, except that word Christ; and that is the Alpha and the Omega of our creed, that is the first and the last rule of our practice--Christ, and Him crucified. To spread the faith, then, is to spread the knowledge of Christ crucified. It is, in fact, to bring men, through the agency of God's Spirit, to feel their need of Christ, to seek Christ, to believe in Christ, to love Christ, and then to live for Christ.'

--C.H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, Volume 2: The Full Harvest, p. 122-123.
Actually, it's no secret. It was the apostles' example. C.H. Spurgeon was so mightily used by the Holy Spirit for one simple reason. He did what the apostles did: Wherever he was in the Bible, whatever the doctrine he was teaching, whatever the occasion, he preached Christ. And the Holy Spirit loves to do nothing more than to glorify Christ (John 15:26, 16:14, Acts 1:8, 1 John 4:2,3).
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:1,2
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing…
2 Corinthians 2:14,15
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord...
2 Corinthians 4:5
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
Colossians 1:28
Father, grant us such infatuation with Your precious Son our Savior so that, waking and sleeping, our lives would be characterized by idolatry of the holiest kind, the only kind of idolatry that pleases You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mexico Memories 2009

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.
Matthew 25:30

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What Is God's Will For My Life?

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
As I read chapter 5 of 1 Thessalonians way too early on Monday morning (I guess that's what jet lag does to you =P), these 3 verses took hold of me and haven't yet let me go. And my heart leaped last night when, without even making reference to where they are in the Bible, my youth pastor chose these three verses to exhort the youth group with. That only confirmed for me that God is trying to drill these verses into my mind and heart.

What is God's will for my life? I don't know about you, but this is a question I have struggled with continually, especially over these past couple of years. What is the grand plan? What do you want me to do? Where do you want me to be? When? With who?

More often than not, this question and the ones that are spawned from it have done more to cripple me than to empower and enable me in fulfilling God's purposes for my life. They make me feel stuck more than they cause me to surge forward in any particular direction.

And the reason is because I sit there waiting for God to answer me when He has already done so. He's done so in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. This isn't the only place that He has done so (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 for another place where God answers this question), but I don't think I know of anywhere else in the Bible that more clearly, directly, and comprehensively answers this question.

Whether I am an engineer or a pastor/missionary, whether my ministry seems to bear much fruit or little, whether I am in California or in Kenya, whether I have alot of money or a little, whether I remain single or get married (and who I marry if I do), whether I have kids or not, whether I'm young or old, God's answer to my question (and yours) is the same: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Could it be any clearer? The circumstances aren't the point (even though that is usually what I am thinking about when I seek God's will for my life)! God's interested in the posture of my heart in the midst of my circumstances in the present moment, whatever they are.

Am I rejoicing? Am I praying? Am I thankful? If not, I should be. Why? Because, wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, whoever I'm with, whatever I have or don't have: God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him and He's paid an infinite cost to give me Himself now and forevermore through the person and work of His Son Jesus Christ (John 17:3, 1 Peter 3:18).

The way that this satisfaction is most clearly demonstrated (and, therefore, His glory in and through me) is when I'm continually rejoicing in Him, praying to Him, and giving thanks to Him in every circumstance that I find myself in, both painful and pleasant. Because every circumstance I find myself in is from His merciful hand and is part of His plan to fulfill His will for my life.
The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.
Psalm 138:8
So please help me, Father, to rest in and rejoice in your steadfast love and mercy, knowing that I cannot thwart Your plans for my life. Fill my heart with greater gratitude for every circumstance You bring into my life to fulfill Your purpose for me. And grant that I would continually be driven to my knees in humble dependence on You, praying as the psalmist did, "As the deer pants for living water, so my soul pants for You, oh Lord! My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Returning With Joy

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Revelation 3:12-12
"In much of the church world...our usefulness is what seems to matter: if we can teach Sunday school, lead an outreach, or organize a committee, then we're 'an asset to the church.' But in his words to the church of Philadelphia, Jesus assures us that our place in God's presence is not based on our utility--he certainly does not need us to uphold his temple!" Rather, we are placed near the King of kings and adorned with his profound spiritual beauty in order to reflect the majesty and graciousness of the One in whom we "are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22).

Whatever struggle may be yours in trying to identify yourself and your place in the kingdom of God, never forget that you are his dwelling place, the heart of his abode, and as a pillar in this temple you will reflect his beauty and splendor forever and ever, never to go out of it, ever.

--Sam Storms, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3, p.183-184.
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
Luke 10:17-20 (emphasis added)
Oh Lord, please let my joy be in the right place!