“And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ” Give me justice against my adversary. ” For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ” Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming. ” And the Lord said, Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)
I was talking with a friend who pastors a church in Austin, and we started talking about prayer. He is going through a challenging season right now, and he made this comment; “I probably don’t petition God like I should, but I just believe, He will do what he is going to do anyways.”
I can relate to the sentiment. I believe in the sovereignty of God ferociously, and it has been a great comfort to me that God not only permits things, he ordains them, for my ultimate good and His greatest glory. So, if God is sovereign and nothing can thwart his purposes, why pray at all?
John Calvin makes this comment about the usefulness of prayer in light of God’s sovereignty in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:
But some will say, “Does He not know without a monitor, both what our difficulties are and what is meet for our interest, so that it seems in some measure superfluous to solicit Him by our prayers, as if He were winking or even sleeping until aroused by the sound of our voice.” Those who argue in this way attend not to the end or the purpose for which the Lord taught us to pray. It was not so much for God’s good, as it was for our good. (Book III, Chap. 20)
I agree with Calvin’s assertion that prayer is for our good, it does something in us. It creates intimacy with God, it reinforces our dependency on him, it leads to a heart that is at peace and a soul that worships.
All true! But is there more?
I admit, that as often as I’ve thought about this and as much as I’ve read about it, I’ve never been fully satisfied with the explanations given. Most of what I’ve heard rings true enough, but is it all there is? In the same section where Jesus says, God knows all you need before you ask (Mt.6:8), he nonetheless commands us to pray.
So we are commanded to pray, that should be reason enough, right? Yes! But I believe each of God’s commands is designed for more than just being a rule. It is for our good, it shows the character of God and it brings glory to him.
John Piper likens prayer to preaching. God has ordained the preaching of the Gospel as the tool he uses to save sinners. He determined that those whom he will save, should be saved through the preaching of his Word (cf. Rom.10:14f). So according to Dr. Piper prayer is (among other things) God’s ordained way in which we ask of him and he fulfills his purposes. In his sovereignty he ordained both the prayer and the fulfillment.
I wonder, are there times when God waits to act until there is prayer? The passage from Luke’s Gospel seems to indicate that God specifically responds to the pleas of his people. He is the God who hears and responds. If an ungodly, unjust human responds to the pleas of a helpless widow, how much more will the merciful and just Judge of all the earth respond to the pleas of his children.
As a Father, I love it when my kids ask me for anything and I can say yes. It brings me great joy to give good gifts to them, solve problems, allay fears, soothe hurts and make them smile. In a small way this is a picture of God. God loves us and always does good to us, according to His sovereign plan. He acts on our behalf and loves when we pray, believing He will act according to His goodness.