I will never forget the last football game I ever played. It was my senior year, state championship game. We were heavy favorites to win, but at halftime we found ourselves down 14-7. Our coach gave us the usual halftime speil and then left the room so we could think about how we were blowing the biggest game of our lives. A friend of mine suggested we pray (a novel idea considering the circumstances). His prayer was short and to the point and basically centered around God granting us victory over our opponents. After finishing with the Lord’s Prayer, we ran back into the lights for the third quarter.
As the game unfolded, I kept thinking about our prayer in the locker room (probably had something to do with why I played so awful). From what I knew about God, I was pretty sure He already knew who was going to win the game. So, I began to wonder how our prayers for victory, or any prayer could mean anything if the outcome was predetermined. I bet you’ve wondered the same thing at times yourself.
According to the Bible, our Creator knows everything (Ps. 139:2-5; 147:5; 1 John 3:20). He’s omniscient. Not only is God all-knowing, He has also ordained everything from all eternity that has and will come to pass (Eph. 1:11; Rom. 11:33; Heb. 6:17; Rom. 9:15, 18). If you stopped here with God and His decrees, you would probably determine prayer plays absolutely no role in all of this. However, you would be wrong.
From Genesis to Revelation, we see people calling out to the Lord in prayer. In fact, Jesus assumes, in teaching the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, His followers will come to Him in prayer. Moreover, the Bible teaches us prayer is an absolute necessity in the Christian life (Prov. 15:8; Ps. 50:14-15) and is a powerful tool in the hands of the fervent (Amos 7). In regards to this, John Calvin said, “The need for prayer, and its usefulness, cannot be emphasized too much. The Father declares rightly that our only security lies in calling on His name, because by doing this we are asking Him, by His Providence, to look after us. His power will strengthen us in our weakness, His goodness will keep us in his favor, sinful as we are, and we can ask Him to reveal Himself to us in all His perfection. So deep peace and tranquility are given to our consciences. When we lay our burdens before the Lord, we can rest in complete assurance that none of our problems is unknown to Him, and He is able and willing to provide for us in the best way.”
At first glance, it appears as if we have a contradiction. On one hand, we know God is in control of all things and has worked out everything according to His will. On the other hand, we learn prayer is expected, necessary and accomplishes great things. Historically and biblically speaking, we believe what appears to be a contradiction is in fact two harmonious doctrines.
It can be summed up this way: God uses our prayers as the means whereby He brings His sovereign will to pass. Time and time again, we see in the Bible righteous men and women whose intercessory prayers play a key role in averting God’s anger toward a particular people/situation (Exodus 32; Malachi 3). From an eternal perspective, God had ordained all along He would relent. From an earthly real-time perspective, the prayers of the righteous man/woman did accomplish much. We can take heart our God works out His perfect plan for us and for this universe through the actions and decisions of His people, particularly in and through prayer. In a real sense, this should seem somewhat mysterious to us because His ways are not our ways, however, it is by no means contradictory. For this reason, we can approach God in prayer with full confidence that He hears us and acts.
By the way, we came back and won that game. Prayer does make a difference.
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THE GOD WHO HEARS by W. Bingham Hunter
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A GUIDE TO PRAYER by Isaac Watts
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