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


Chris Kiagiri said...


I love what the Lord is doing in my life and the part your words have had in this. Just 2 minutes ago, a brother on twitter (@concisetheology) posted the following:

"A great mystery. God has decided to use means to accomplish what He decides. Therefore we too must decide ... to pray (Acts 12:5)"

To which I add, while praying without ceasing we too must decide ... to blog, to tweet, to [fill in the blank].

Your labour is not in vain.

With joy,
- Chris

pilgriminconflict said...

Amen. I praise God for you and with you, brother. Thank you for your encouragement by your words and by your life.