Last night we tried to gather encouragement for praying in 2017 by looking at what the scriptures say about God and prayer. Here are the notes:
Question for 2017: How will we see God’s plan accomplished in our lives, in the lives of those around us, and in the world? What action will we take? Challenge: Let’s rely on prayer for all three of those things.
A common problem Christians have:
- We say that God knows the future. The Bible teaches this.
- We also know from the bible that God is sovereign, in other words he can do, and does do, whatever he wants to do. (Nothing can stop him against his will, or make him do something he doesn’t want to do. He can’t be frustrated or coerced.)
- We’re also commanded to pray—to ask God to do things.
- But…why would we ask God to do things when…He already know what’s going to happen, and he does whatever he wants to so?
A common answer to this problem: “Prayer isn’t really about getting God to do things. He already knows what he’s going to do regardless of whether we ask him or not. Prayer is really about US. It helps us get our heads in the right place, and it makes sure we’re depending on God. Plus he just likes to hear from us. So PRAY!”
The problem with the common answer to the problem: The bible doesn’t speak about prayer this way. It doesn’t say that God will do whatever he wants regardless of whether we pray. And it doesn’t say that prayer is just for us. In fact…the bible seems to assume, and even teach explicitly, that our prayers matter, and that God acts in response to our prayers to do things, and that if we don’t pray, we won’t see answers to our prayers. See: James 4:1-3, James 5:16-18. Matt 7:7-11, Luke 18:1-8, 2 Kings 13:14-19.
The problem with other solutions: We can’t say that God doesn’t know the future (the bible’s clear he does); and we can’t say that God can’t or doesn’t work without our prayers (the bible clearly shows he can and does), so what can we say?
Part 2: One possible solution may be found in the Bible’s teaching about who God is, and the way he chooses to run the universe.
How does God run the universe? Is he solitary in heaven making decisions with no discussion?
Answer: When Jesus came, and the Holy Spirit was sent down, we learned new things about who God is and the way He is God. We learned that within the life of the one true God there are three persons—Father, Son and Spirit. When letting us know this truth about himself, God opened up all kinds of new possibilities for us to understand who He is and how we relate to him.
John 11:41-42, 12:27-29; 17:1 – Jesus’ prayer shows us that in God there is relation in God. There’s a constant running dialogue between Father and Son
Luke 22:31-32 – Jesus’ prayer shows us that in God there is relating, there is relationship. There’s a pattern we can see here: The Son asks and the Father grants. (see also Psalm 2, John 12:27-28)
Luke 11:1-2 – We’re invited into the conversation. And, we’re invited to take up the Son’s place in the conversation. We’re invited into the Sonship of Jesus.
Summing Up: God the son has always been talking with God the Father. As the human, the man Jesus, He became the link between our human asking and His own asking as the Son. So prayer works because God has always been talking. There has always been conversation between Father Son and Spirit. And maybe we see in the life of Jesus that there has always been requests from the Son to the Father. Maybe we can say that prayer is in the very being of God. When we pray, we enter the praying of God the Son. (As Fred Sanders says: “Christians are people who talk to God like they’re Jesus.”)
3. …All this explains why we pray the way we do.
In the Name of Jesus: Ephesians 5:20, John 15:16; Praying in the Spirit: Ephesians 6:18
The Trinity and Prayer: John 14:13-14, 16:23-24
…So, we pray in the Spirit, in the Name of the Son, to the Father.
Three Takeaways from all this:
- The solution to what looks like a theological problem with prayer seems to be something like this: It is true that God knows what is going to happen for all time, because he has planned what he will do in the world before time began. It’s also true that part of the plan of God is that the Son asks the Father for things, and the Father grants his request. What that means is that God does not do his “planning” apart from this asking and receiving. You could say that the Son asking the Father, and the Father granting the request, is the way God decided to carry out his plan. The plan is that everything that has to happen in the world would be asked for and then received by the Son. In other words, God’s plan for the world is contained in the love relationship between the Father Son and Spirit. Now, because God is so big-hearted, he decided to create beings who could become part of that conversation, and do their own asking and receiving (or maybe a better way to say it is, they could join in the asking of the son, and their asking would be part of his asking). This was always part of God’s plan. And even more than that, he decided that the asking of these human beings would be an essential part of shaping they way God carries out his plan—especially, the way each individual human being participates in God’s plan, and experiences life in God’s world. So when we pray, we are not working against God’s sovereignty, and it is not working against us. God sovereignly planned to include whatever asking we did in his plan—provided of course, that the asking was in the Name of the Son, that it was by faith in the Jesus’ status as the Son of God, and that it made sense in light of God’s big plan for the world and for our lives individually—in other words, we must pray in the name of Jesus, by faith in Jesus, and according to the will of God.
- We shouldn’t let perceived theological problems keep us from believing and obeying the commands of God. If a clear command of God seems to contradict something we think we know theologically (something we think we know about God), it can’t be the command of God that’s wrong—it must be our theology. So we should practice keeping the commands of God, and working on our theology until it makes sense with the commands of God. Because the Bible seems to be clear on this—there are times when, if we don’t ask, we don’t get the things we could have asked for. In that sense, while God will carry out his big plan for the world regardless of us, there are all kinds of smaller pieces to that plan which we may or may not see happen based on whether we pray or not. So…yes, Jesus is coming back, whether or not we personally pray for it, but what things may or may not happen in our lives and in the world based on whether we ask for them or not?
- So…let’s spend 2017 learning to pray like never before. Whether this means more time spent in prayer, or a new faithfulness to pray regularly and consistently for things we know we need to pray for, or learning new ways to pray or to help ourselves be faithful in prayer, let’s let the commands of Jesus, and the truth of who God is move us to pray. Jesus seemed excited to invite us in to the running conversation, and to give us access to his own requesting…let’s get excited about joining in to that conversation.
This study, along with the other like it, was originally inspired by my reading of Fred Sanders’ book, The Deep things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, and this quote from Andrew Murray. That quote rocked me, and sent me looking for the scriptures to back up what Murray said. And I found them. I had never really heard theses things put together like this before, and I felt that it solved some issues some people had with theology and prayer. Hope the scriptures and the thoughts do the same for you!