Monday, January 15, 2007

The God Who Hears - Chapter 4 - Sovereign: Can Payer Change God's Mind?

Prayer is based on knowing God’s omnipotence and sovereignty. To be worth praying to, God has to have the power and the authority to do what he wants. Power and authority doesn’t mean benevolence, though; however, we have a heavenly Father who is good. Omnipotence, sovereignty and goodness are the basis for providence.

God doesn’t change. If he is eternal and immutable, why bother praying? In part, we have the example of Isaiah, Paul and Jesus to follow. Each one were driven to pray before the eternal God. Does that mean prayer changes God’s mind? No, Hunter thinks (and I think) that God’s immutability means that references to God “changing his mind” are figures of speech to help us understand him.

Prayers must matter, or we wouldn’t be commanded to pray. The question, then, is not “does prayer matter” but “how does prayer matter?” God will do what he has sovereignty chosen to do. He chooses to bring about his purposes by responding to prayer. (Lee’s comment: this is a means/ends issue. If we understand that the end is God’s glory, and the means he chooses to use is our prayer, then prayer matters because it is how God glorifies himself, through us.)

Wait: if God is sovereign, and we must pray according to his will for prayer to change things, do we pray as free agents? This is the apparent paradox; can a sovereign, unchanging God create creatures who pray as a matter of free expression? The answer is yes; we must pray as free agents. Hunter uses two illustrations: how a mother cat moves her young by carrying a kitten in her teeth, and how a mother monkey moves her young by having the young cling to her neck. “Cat theory” makes us impotent in prayer; “monkey theory” has us following God’s will in prayer. (I find the illustration unsatisfying, but it’s something.)

OK, so why don’t we get what we pray for? Christians pray in conflict (please be sunny/cloudy), shortsightedly, and often selfishly. Logically, infinite wisdom often has to refuse what ignorance insists upon. Theologically, only prayer according to God’s will is answered. God is a kind Father who knows what is best. Arrogance, not faith, insists on God responding in a particular way.

Besides, if you got 100% of your prayers answered the way you want, it would be like “magic” to you, and it would result in vanity and pride (if not worse). Prayer is mostly a matter of attitude with priority of God’s will.

OK, if only prayer according to God’s will is answered, how do I know God’s will?
  1. Beware of the media; chances are, whatever is on TV caters to your will, not God’s. Go back to reading the Bible.
  2. Make Bible reading and study a priority. You don’t need to be a professional scholar, but you must regularly read the Bible and study it.
  3. Commit yourself to doing God’s will.
    Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice — alive, holy, and pleasing to God — which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God — what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 NET)
  4. Don’t determine God’s will for you by looking at God’s will for others.
  5. Learn from other, older Christians.
  6. Pray for others and ask them to pray for you. Be specific about your request, set a realistic and short period of commitment, and follow up with feedback for each other.
Some days, God will simply answer “no” to your prayer. At those times, your attitude matters most.

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