Do we really have some kind of control over circumstances by our prayers?

Exactly how do our prayers “influence” God to act if he is a God who never changes (Malachi 3:6)?

Part 1 drew some boundaries around prayer. Today’s post offers reflections on divine sovereignty as it pertains to human activity and sets forth a definition for God’s providence. The final post in this series will draw out some practical implications from these observations.

Thinking about Providence

  • How do you define “providence?”
  • How would you describe God’s control in the world and exactly how do our prayers intersect with God’s sovereignty?
  • How can God respond to prayer when his purposes are changeless?
  • Why, if God is all-wise and all-knowing, should he be prayed to?
  • Similarly, if God has already ordained the end from the beginning and the outcome of every event is determined along with the consequences of every human choice, why bother praying?
  • Do our prayers influence God to act in ways that he otherwise would not?
  • Do our prayers really cause things to happen?
  • Consider this definition: “Divine providence is like a fixed matrix consisting of a stream of related events through which God brings about precisely what he intends for the universe and from which he governs the world” (See Psalm 115:3; 33:10-11; Proverbs 5:21; 16:1-4; 9; 33; Daniel 4:34-35; Isaiah 14:24; 26-27; 46:10-11; Acts 4:27-28).

Prayer, as an element in God’s divine design, is an expression of our trust and reliance upon God’s providence and, therefore, is a means God uses to effect change for the accomplishment of his will. God does respond to the prayers of his people (Gen. 18:22-33; 21:17; 30:17; Ex. 32:14; 1 Chron. 14:14; Dan. 10:12; Mt. 7:7-11; Acts 4:29-3 1; 12:5-11).

Nevertheless, God has set some conditions for answered prayer, which include prayers offered in Jesus’ name (Jn. 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24). To pray in the name of Jesus is to enter the presence of God by the authority and reputation of Jesus rather than any individual authority (e.g., Acts 3:6; 4:7; 16:18; 1 Cor. 5:4). It implies a surrendering of all personal authority and privilege and a submission to the Lord Jesus’ authority. Therefore, humility and dependence are necessary prerequisites to effective prayer (2 Chron. 7:14; Jm. 5:16; 1 Pt. 5:6-7).

Another condition is praying according to God’s will (Mt. 6:10; 26:3 9; 1 Jn. 5:14-15). The fact that God knows in advance what we need before we ask (Mt. 6:8) suggests God’s provision is not so much in the answers, but in the prayers themselves.

God’s providential control is seen in governing the affairs of nations. He is the chief architect and ruler over the nations (Job 12:23; Ezra 1:1; 6:22; Ps. 22:28; 33:14-15; Pr. 21:1; 16:9; Dan. 4:34-35; Acts 17:26). Even in the midst of evil, God redirects the results of sinful human choices toward his ultimate purposes, whether his purposes are for blessing, discipline, or judgment (Gen. 37:28; 45:5; 50:20; 2 Kgs. 19:25; Is. 10:5, 12; 13:17; Jer. 25:9, 12; Ez. 14:9; Hab. 1:5-12; Rom. 8:28-29; Eph. 1:11).

As the sovereign, all-knowing Architect of the universe, he has an overall “blueprint,” known only to him, in which he has already engineered every effect from every cause and every consequence from every condition. In his perfect wisdom and almighty power, God’s conception and resolve is to bring about the precise goal which he intends for his creation. Ultimately, everything that comes to pass is what he has purposed, and everything he has purposed comes to pass (Is. 14:26-27; Eph. 1:11).

Like a conductor and composer, God has orchestrated each note and rhythm in the universe to perform his perfect masterpiece of history. The motif repeated in every refrain includes the prayers of the saints that serve to bring the grand finale to a climax when the chorus will one day sing:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

What questions do you have for God regarding his answers to your prayers? Is God’s will really what you want, more than having your requests granted? Which of these questions poses the most concern for you and why?

Additionally, consider the exchange on John Piper’s site between Prayerful and Prayerless and this excellent follow up by James N. Anderson.

Go to Part 3.
I’m indebted to the following resources for many of these observations:
Providence and Prayer, The Providence of God by Paul Helm, and A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson.

Spread the word (please & thank you) 

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