Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Not By Chance, Chapter 13: Providence and Prayer

One of the age-old questions regarding the Christian faith surrounds the issue of prayer: If God has indeed determined what is to occur, then what need is there for intercessory prayer? In short, why should we ask God to do anything? (This is a paraphrase from p. 214 of the book Not By Chance).

The short answer, of course, is that God commands us to pray. Repeatedly, in fact. Even that most famous of prayers, the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6:9-13, begins in verse 9a with the verb “pray,” a present, imperative verb that is, essentially, a command. This final chapter of Not By Chance provides us with three primary reasons, in the context of God’s providence, why we should make requests of God.

I. Prayer Glorifies God for His Providence. The overarching purpose of all prayer is the glory of God. This is perhaps more obvious of prayers of thanksgiving, praise, repentance, or worship than it is of intercessory prayer. Prayer should draw attention to the fact that it is God who does things—not us, and not chance.

The example of Zacharias and Elizabeth is used for illustration. They had prayed for a child, and God answered their prayers in His timing, in such a way that the glory was clearly given to Him. God’s answer was a part of the providential plan of history and prophecy.

II. Prayer Adjusts Us to God’s Purposes. It is not always easy to adjust to God’s purposes; we frequently look at prayer as a tool by which to get God to adjust to ours! Several examples are cited:
· Isaiah 60-62: God has already promised deliverance and blessing upon Israel, and yet He tells His people to pray ceaselessly for it to come.
· II Peter 3: Our prayers can be “instruments for furthering the divine purpose” (p. 223).
· Matthew 6:9-13: We are commanded to pray for God’s Kingdom to come
· Revelation 22:20: John prays, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
“Rather than being consumed with our personal material needs in prayer, we are to make God’s kingdom and righteousness the central focus of our prayers.” (p. 224)

Some effects of providence-focused praying:
· Prayer is a divinely determined means for effecting His purposes. God has chosen to allow us—indeed, to command us—to participate in this way; what an honor!
· Prayer is a divinely determined means for focusing our attention on God and His purposes. He doesn’t need us for anything; we are to be focused on Him.
· Prayer is a divinely determined instrument for changing us. What ultimately, is God’s goal for our earthly lives? It is not comfort, health, financial independence, smooth circumstances, or to get projects done—it is that each of us be changed, to be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ! Theologically, we call this sanctification.
“Yes, we are invited and encouraged to make all our requests known to God, to unfold our heart’s desires freely and frankly to him. But a biblically informed view of providence should guide what and how we pray. And a biblically informed understanding that there are specific objects—present promises and future events that are certain—that God intends to govern our prayers will guarantee that He is unmistakably glorified and that we, as prayer participants with Him, are changed in the process.” (p. 227)

We are also reminded of the example in Daniel 9. Here, Daniel is studying the prophecy of Jeremiah and realizes that the restoration of Israel is about to occur (vs. 1-2; there is an excellent discussion of the dates involved in the footnotes of the book). What does he do? In vs. 3-15, he confesses the sins of himself and his people. In vs. 16-19, he asks God to do what God has already said He would do. Jeremiah 29:10-14 also puts an emphasis on the prayers of God’s people. Daniel illustrated the three purposes of providence-focused praying given above.

III. Prayer Checks Our Presumption on Providence. It is our natural inclination to trust upon our own decision-making. David, in II Sam. 5:17-25, faced two nearly identical situations, and twice prayed to God seeking His will—and God told him two different responses, both of which were successful. What God wanted you to do in the past may or may not be what He wants you to do now.
“Seemingly providential circumstances alone are not trustworthy. We do not look at our surroundings for signs of direction without prayer to God for guidance, even in situations we think we can figure out because we have faced them before.” (p. 232)

How should our knowledge of providence affect our prayer life? Certainly, it should “invigorate the prayer life and motivate” us to pray, with confidence in God. We should not be preoccupied with material concerns, but with God’s concerns. (This, among other reasons, should drive us to study His Word!)

Prayer changes things, but more importantly, prayer changes people; let prayer change you.

For previous chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

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