“If everything is predestined is there any point of praying?”
Often, when trying to understand Scripture, we take one principle and use it to annul a second. This is not the right way to study the Bible, instead we need to reconcile and figure out how both are to be true. In Scripture we see things like Paul saying that God predestined and called us to himself, and that His will shall prevail (Ephesians 1:11-14) and then a few lines down Paul prays so that this would happen (Ephesians 1:18). The Bible teaches both the doctrine of election, stating that God is sovereign and everything moves according to His will which was decreed before time, yet Scripture consistently reminds us to pray, and claims that prayer causes things to happen. Somehow both are true.
THE SOURCE OF PRAYER
Have you ever asked yourself “what is the source of my prayer?” There are at least three sources of prayer, biology, humanity, and divinity (some might say flesh, heart, and spirit?). I confess all elements are probably included, however, Scripture says God listens to only one type of prayer.
While the specifics are still a mystery, scientists think that thoughts are the product of millions of neurons pulsating with coordinated electric signals in our heads. And many of our thoughts are simply natural reflexes, for example, we instinctively “think” to run away from something that threatens us or scream for help when we are in danger. Is prayer such a programmed reflex? I think certain prayers do come from a normal brain reaction (they say there are no atheists in foxholes). If that is the case I can only ask: who are these prayers programmed by? Perhaps the ultimate Programmer?
Perhaps, you might think prayer is a normative expression of free thought. “I think therefore I pray.” Or that every human has a mind completely free to conceptualize anything or communicate any thought. Indeed, from the driver’s seat it does look that way, however, taking a helicopter tour above the race-car shows us there is a small closed track; the driver can only go where the road leads. Human beings are severely limited in our freedom, we can only make the choices that are presented to us, and on top of that, our choice is controlled by our desire. Certainly many prayers arise from human desire but what if those desires are wrong, or even sinful? It is my argument that any prayer that comes from “mere human” logic or desire will likely not be in alignment with Gods logic or desire. (Isaiah 55:9).
When I was younger, I had an elderly gentlemen tell me an amazing secret. He said “Son, ask the Lord to give you the right prayer.” Consider this, the Bible tells us that there is only one type of prayer that we can fully expect to be answered with a yes.“If we ask anything according to (God’s) will He hears us.” (1 John 5:14). The primary emphasis is the will of God, not the desires or inclinations of man. Usually our prayers consist of us requesting God to make “our will be done.” Yet when Jesus taught us how to pray (this is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer) He instructed us to say the following words to God: “Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10). Prayer that is rooted in God’s will, desire, and plan, will succeed, that is because it was God’s will for such a prayer in the first place.
THE PURPOSE OF PRAYER
1. To usher in God’s plan for the world
First and foremost, prayer is the venue by which God accomplishes his will! It was decreed and promised, since before the world began that Jesus would come to pay the penalty for sin and save his people. (The account of Christ’s birth confirmed he was the fulfillment of that plan, Mat 1:21). His later death on the cross was prophesied about in almost every Old Testament book, it was clearly predestined and ordained by God, beforehand (Acts 4:27-28). There was not a moment in history where there was any doubt on God’s part whether his plan would succeed or fail. It was never a conditional plan, it was never a risky plan in which God really had no clue as to the outcome. There never was a plan B. It was a plan that God knew would cost Him absolutely everything, but His will would succeed. That is the nature of prophecy and predestination. Yet in light of all of that, as Christ spent his last few hours in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed for the fulfillment of the plan that was predestined eons ago. The same Christ that created all things (Col 1:16) and that was planned to be the reconciliation of all things (Col 1:19-20), prayed for help and for the Father to accomplish His will (Mark 14:36).
And God did accomplish the plan.
Prayer causes things to happen. Things that were decreed ages ago happen through our prayers as we are urged along by the Holy Spirit. Things that radically change the direction of world events and shift the lives of our neighbors happen because of two reasons. First, because God predestined it/willed it and second, because someone prayed that God would change the circumstances from what they are to what God wants. Prayer is the factor that causes things to stop working according to human plans and start working according to Gods plans. Of course God can do absolutely anything without prayer, it’s not that He needs the prayer from us, it’s not that he doesn’t know what to do best and needs our suggestions. God clearly knows what to do far better than you or I. Instead the reason prayer changes things is simply that, in His Grace, God has gifted us the privilege to play a part in the fulfillment of the plan of God.
2. To cultivate His Grace inside us
In addition to gifting us with a role in His plan, God allows prayer to further work to His ends. What we often don’t know is that part of His will is to also change the hearts of those people who are praying. This is why prayer is so important, because God decreed to use it to grow and mature Christians, those praying AND those being prayed for. Below are some of the ways God uses prayer to change those who are praying.
Teaches reliance on God
Those who pray are brought to the understanding that God is in control and our human efforts are not enough. A few days ago we held a Christian event at the beach. There was a group gathered a few steps away from us that had come to disrupt and protest us. We were in dismay, not wanting to cause fights, knowing one misstep and we were a heartbeat away from negative media portrayal as bigots. In our helplessness we began to pray. Halfway into the event a fight broke on the sidelines. With great fear I ran towards the action, thinking the worst . To my great relief the battle was amongst our protesters and we had the privilege of being peacemakers and showing lots of grace to their whole crowd. Within minutes they dissipated, some shamefully apologizing to us. I realized, we could have never planned that on our own.
Teaches us our role
Biblical prayer that starts with “Thy will be done” is a strong tool in shifting our focus from our plan to Gods plan. Through prayer that is God-oriented, God teaches us to deny our own ambitions and pray for His ambitions to succeed.
Teaches intercessory love for others
When we pray for the well-being of others, we place their needs above our needs. Loving people is a command, and an evidence of God’s grace in us. Prayer for them is the working out of that love which God places in us. It shows them we care about them, it changes the circumstances as God wills, and it cultivates a culture of love in us and surrounding us.