Okay friends, here is the start of the new Blog series – “Ask The Pastor.” For those who live in Tyler and attend Sylvania Church, you have experienced this before – but in person. Now we have a chance to expand this out…so keep those questions coming.
A few notes on how this works: (1) people email in questions (2) I present a version of the question that is easy to state in a blog post – a paraphrase of sorts (3) I answer the question (4) rinse and repeat.
Our first question comes from Doyle. He asks. “Please help me connect the idea of God being absolutely sovereign and doing whatever He pleases and the idea that some people hold to that prayer can actually change the mind or will of God. What is the relationship between these two things?”
Let’s start with some presuppositions so that we aren’t getting lost in the various viewpoints about God’s sovereignty. Here is my take in summary: God is in control of all things – past, present, and future. In fact, the past, present, and future are viewed singularly by God because He is outside of space and time. There is not one thing that does or does not happen outside of God’s design, plan, intention, and (even if it is mysterious) with some divine purpose in mind. “…our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
This absolute, total, and unalterable sovereignty does not negate human accountability, responsibility, or action. The things we do still matter. We aren’t Greco-Roman fatalists. Do these two things feel tense? Yes. Are these things in conflict with one another? No. Am I going to explain how I think all that works in this blog post? Absolutely not.
What Is Prayer, Really?
To see the connection between the command to pray, the value of prayer, and the benefit it has in a world in which God is absolutely sovereign, we have to evaluate what prayer actually is. As noted in the question above, there are those that believe that prayer can change the mind or will of God. Many Christians think that this is one of the most important aspects of prayer. I would contend that it is not. Let’s use the Lord’s Prayer as a model to examine how and why we pray.
Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13, NASB, 1995).
Without making this too long, look at each part of this “Model Prayer.” First, there is the worship of God. There is an acknowledgment of God’s exalted position (in heaven – on high – the one who is “above”). This actually carries with it the implication of kingly sovereignty, which is made clear in the use of kingdom language in the next line. There is also a reverence for God’s name – it is a holy name.
Next, we see there is a call for God’s kingdom rule to be established – for the way things are “where he is” (in heaven) to be done “where we are” (on earth). We know by observation and experience that the way things are on earth are not the way things likely are in the presence of God’s throne. So we call for God to bring about the necessary changes and conditions to make it so.
Third, we see a request for our basic needs to be met. We work, we strive, and we long to do what we can to meet our own needs. Ultimately, we are not in control. We can’t control how well food harvests will or won’t do. We can’t control water supplies, weather, etc. Even the essential things we need to survive have their deepest establishment as gifts to us from God.
Fourth, we seek spiritual and relational transformation. We want to be forgiven. Yet, we are often slow to forgive. So we long to be the kind of people that are not only forgiven but also forgive others. We also need God’s grace to overcome those things that would trap us and bring us into sin.
Finally, this prayer returns to the firm certainty that God is sovereignly in control and that His kingdom and glory are eternal.
Why Does This Matter?
If we consider closely the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer, we see a theme. The theme is this: we do not pray to change God; we pray that we might be changed by God. God is the sovereign King. He controls every aspect of our existence, even down to our daily provision. We have no ultimate control – all things come to us by His mercy and kindness. As such, when we pray we are longing to be conformed to His will, His image, to His authority. We are seeking to align our lives with His purposes, not His purposes with our lives as they stand currently. We are not trying to bend God to our whims. Rather, we are longing to be made delighted in His greater plans for us.
We don’t pray to change God. We pray so that God will change us.