A Reason to Pray
They lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them. (Acts4:24)
Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God. If God is not sovereign, we have no assurance that He is able to answer our prayers. Our prayers would become nothing more than wishes. But while God’s sovereignty, along with His wisdom and love, is the foundation of our trust in Him, prayer is the expression of that trust.
ThePuritan preacher Thomas Lye, in a sermon entitled “How Are We to Live by Faith on Divine Providence?” said, As prayer without faith is but a beating of air, so trust without prayer [is] but a presumptuous bravado. He that promises to give, and bids us trust his promises, commands us to pray, and expects obedience to his commands. He will give, but not without our asking.”
The apostle Paul, while imprisoned in Rome, wrote to his friend Philemon, “Prepare a guest room for me, cause I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers” (Philemon 22). Paul did not presume to know God’s secret will. He hoped to be restored. He did not say, “I will be restored.” But he did know that God in His sovereignty was well able to affect his release, so he asked Philemon to pray. Prayer was the expression of his confidence in the sovereignty of God.
John Flavel was a Puritan preacher and a prolific writer (six volumes of collected works). He wrote a classics treatise titled The Mystery of Providence, first published in 1678. It is instructive to note that Flavel begins this treatise on the sovereign providence of God with a discourse on Psalm 57:2: “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me”. That is, Flavel says to us, God is sovereign, we should pray. God’s sovereignty does not negate our responsibility to pray, but rather makes it possible to pray with confidence.
Jesus, when teaching us to pray gives the tension between the fact that God knows what we need before we ask and the need to make our requests known. There are those who say that if God knows what they need and if God is sovereign so that He will only answer our request according to His will why bother to pray. Some even go as far as to say that our entire lives are predestined and no matter what we do our destiny cannot be changed. Others promote the idea that if we “pray hard enough” somehow we can move a reluctant God to intervene on our behalf. An even farther on the scale are those who believe that somehow that have so much influence that God will do exactly what they request.
Let’s look at what Jesus taught on this subject.
5 “Also, when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to pray [publicly] standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets so that they may be seen by men. I assure you and most solemnly say to you, they [already] have their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your most private room, close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you. 7 “And when you pray, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 So do not be like them [praying as they do]; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
The first thing we see is that Jesus used the words “when you pray” and not “if you pray” telling us that prayer is something that God’s children engage in. It is apparent that Jesus is assuming that we talk to God on a regular basis for that exactly what He did.
Second, He tells us to find a place with no distractions for our prayers are not pretty speeches that awe human listeners but the private, secret conversation between Father and child. And He says that the Father who meets wit us privately will reward us openly. In other words what we ask privately will be visibly answered and others will see the reward of a prayer life.
Third, He says that we don’t have to keep repeating the same words over and over thinking somehow that if we bug God enough, He will give into our demands.
Finally, He gives us this paradox. God knows what we need before we ask but He insists that we ask before we receive. This may sound confusing but I think God so enjoys our conversations that He chooses this way. I also think that He knows that if we verbalize our need, we sometimes find we already know the solution. I know from my experience as a pastor that sometimes people just need to talk it out to the solution. They really already know what needs to be done. They just need someone to listen as they process. I’ve found this to be true with my prayer life. Sometimes as I am praying about a matter, the solution becomes obvious. Whether that is God imparting understanding or just letting me talk my way to the resolution, I don’t know. What I do know is that before I began to talk it over with God I was clueless and somewhere in the conversation the light bulb came on and the answer became obvious.
“Now Jesus was telling the disciples a parable to make the point that at all times they ought to pray and not give up and lose heart, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and had no respect for man. 3 There was a [desperate] widow in that city and she kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice and legal protection from my adversary.’ 4 For a time he would not; but later he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow continues to bother me, I will give her justice and legal protection; otherwise by continually coming she [will be an intolerable annoyance and she] will wear me out.’” Then the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says! 7 And will not [our just] God defend and avenge His elect [His chosen ones] who cry out to Him day and night? Will He delay [in providing justice] on their behalf? 8 I tell you that He will defend and avenge them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find [this kind of persistent] faith on the earth?”
The other question that is often asked is how long should we pray about our need or desire. We find in the above parable the answer that Jesus gave. We pray until God answers. The parable is not to compare God to an unjust judge as though He doesn’t care and has to be pestered before he finally answers. He’s telling us that we should pray with the expectation of being heard and having our request answered. The parable is more about the woman’s persistence in asking than it is with the unjust judge who is refusing to answer. Again Jesus is indicating that prayer is a consistent thing in our lives. Hear His words: “And will not God defend and avenge His elect(chosen ones) who cry out to Him day and night?” He concludes with the question, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find persistent faith?”
Faith praying is making our request to our Heavenly Father whom we know loves us and is already aware of our need. It is persistently bringing our request to Him until He answers. It is accepting the answer, whatever it is, with the understanding that God is sovereign and that He exercises wisdom and love toward us. It is trusting that God will answer and that His answer is always, always, always the very best for us. We believe that even if the answer is delayed or long in coming, that is is doing so for greater blessings for us.
So then let us pray and let us trust the sovereignty of God and let us rest in trusting faith and peace of heart that God hears and God knows. As we wait, let us not be anxious nor fearful for we know that God is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we are able to ask or think according to His mighty power within us.”
Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God. And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours].
Dr. John Thompson