Sunday, 27 September 2015

If God is sovereign why pray?

As Christian’s we believe in an all-powerful, sovereign God.

  • "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." (Revelation 1:8)
  • "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13)
  • Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. (Psalm 139:4)
  • Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

The argument goes like this: if God is all powerful, and all knowing, then what is the point in praying?  Doesn’t God already know the future?  In which case doesn’t that mean the future is fixed, and therefore prayer doesn’t change anything?

In seeking to answer this question I want to explore
  • The question of free will
  • Example & teaching of Jesus
  • Why prayer matters

If God is sovereign why pray?

At the heart of this question is the question of free will.  If we think that God has predetermined everything, including who gets sick, who recovers and who dies, then what is the point in praying?  Everything has been predetermined, nothing will change the outcome.  It’s very much like the ancient Greek idea of the God’s using humans as play things, moving them around like pieces on a chess board.

The trouble with this view is that God becomes a puppet master, arbitrarily controlling our lives, saying to one person “I’m going to bless you,” and to another “I’m going to cause you suffering and pain.” 

But what sort of God would this be?  Not the God of love that Jesus reveals to us.
Because God loves us, he gives us the freedom to choose, to respond to his love, or to reject it. 
  • Parable of the prodigal son – the father loves his son, and does not want him to leave, but neither does he try to stop him, because he respects his son’s free will. 

  • Revelation 3:20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. – the decision to open this door, and invite Jesus into our lives, is our choice alone.  God will not force himself on us. 

God is love, and he wants us to experience his love, but you can’t force someone to love you.  That is why we have the freedom to choose.

Is the Future Fixed?

Rabbi Daniel Cohn-Scherbok of Kent University wrote an article where he argued that if God knows the future, then it must be fixed.    

Responding to this article, Clifford Longley, the former Religious Affairs correspondent of The Times wrote ‘If God lives in the eternal present, he hears all prayers simultaneously.  Therefore he can appropriate a prayer from next week, and attach it to an event a month ago.  Prayers said after the event can be heard before they are spoken and taken into account before the event.’

Or to put it another way, God has all eternity to answer the split second prayer for a driver who is about to crash.

If God is sovereign why pray?

Simple answer is Jesus told us to pray.  Jesus said ‘When you pray’ (Matthew 6:7) not ‘If you pray.’ And Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer as a model for who we should pray. 
Paul says “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17)

We see how important prayer is, because Jesus himself prayed, and that his relationship with his Heavenly Father was centred on prayer.

Prayer Matters

The goal of prayer is primarily about deepening our relationship with God.

As a parent, I sometimes know what my children need or want before they ask me, but I still want them to come to me with these requests.   And God as our Heavenly Father still wants us to speak with Him, even though he knows what we need.  That is why Jesus said  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

Praying is not about so much about us trying to change God’s mind – but about allowing God to change us. 

Abraham pleads for Sodom Genesis 18:16-33.  God says I will destroy the city of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins.  Then starts this interesting bargaining taking place between Abraham and God.  What if there are 50 righteous people in the city, will you destroy it? Then 45, 40, 30, 20, 10. In the passage it looks as if God is changing his mind, but actually I think it is about God changing Abraham’s mind.  Abraham knew God was just and that he punishes sin, but he also comes to see how merciful God is as well.

Prayer is about allowing God to change us.  That is one of the reasons why Jesus said “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) – because when we pray for those her persecute us, it changes our attitude towards them.

When we pray about situations, we shouldn’t just say “God what are you going to do about this?” but also say “God change my heart, so that I may see the world as you see it.  Show me what you want me to do about this situation, how I can be a channel of your peace, love mercy and grace.”

When we pray, we are asking for God’s will to be done, and that our wills, align with God’s will. That is why we pray for the lost, for those in our church, for those in need, for our family, friends, co-workers, and the many who will perish unless they know Christ. 

Prayer Works

We pray because prayer works.  That is why Jesus prayed, and why we pray.
The more we pray, the more we will see answers to prayer – not always in the way we would expect, but answers non the less. 

That is why James says “The prayer of the righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16) and in the Gospel John we read that God “listens to the godly person who does his will” (John 9:31). 

We don’t pray to impress God with fine words, or to inform God of anything.  We pray to invite God into our lives, and to share in working with God to bring about transformation and change to the world.  God could do this without us, but we cannot do it without Him, and we have the privilege of doing it with Him!

When we pray our relationship with God develops, and so we grow through prayer.
As we pray, we learn to become more dependent on God.  Trusting him, even when times are hard. 

Prayer binds us to God.  The more time we spend in God’s presence, the more like Him we become.  Because at the heart of prayer, is our relationship with the God who loves us, far more than we can ever begin to understand.

I want to finish with this little cartoon, which I takes the question of prayer and the sovereignty of God, that we’ve been exploring today, and turns it on its head…

Thank you for praying, however, I am unable to do what you ask. Please try your prayer again later.

Thank you for praying, however, I am unable to do what you ask. Please try your prayer again later.
Thank you for praying, however, I am unable to do what you ask. Please try your prayer again later.
Thank you for praying, however, I am unable to do what you ask. Please try your prayer again later.