Solomon was serious about prayer. “Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few” (Eccl. 5:2). Notice the contrast between God and us. He is in heaven, and we are on earth. God is eternal; we are temporal. God is sovereign; we are his subjects. Solomon is urging his readers to adopt an appropriate attitude when approaching God in prayer, and a right attitude requires a proper understanding of God’s sovereignty, especially as it relates to prayer.
More than one confused person has cried out in frustration, “If God is sovereignly in control of everything declaring the end from the beginning, is there any point to prayer?” I believe in prayer, and I believe in God’s sovereignty. Careful consideration of the biblical teaching on prayer will help us understand God’s desire for us in prayer and its benefits for faithful believers.
- The key to answered prayer. All prayers are not equally effective. The Bible teaches us that there are some important keys to answered prayer.
- Ask in the name of Jesus (Jn. 14:13-14). Do not misunderstand. The name of Jesus is more than a catchphrase or secret password. To pray in Jesus’ name is to confirm that the content of your prayers is consistent with the character and cause of Christ. Remember when Moses asked God to show him His glory? God responded by saying that He would “proclaim the name of the Lord before” Moses (Ex. 33:19). Moses already knew God’s name (Ex. 3:14). In reality, God was going to show Moses something of Himself that Moses had yet to see. For this reason, we understand the name of God to be more than His moniker; it refers to His being, His essence, His glory. When you pray in the name of Jesus, it must be consistent with everything He is and wants.
- Pray without selfishness (Jas. 4:2-3). Of course, James is not telling us never to pray for our own needs. Jesus already gave us an excellent template for doing this (Mt. 6:11). Our prayers are unanswered when we pray according to our selfish pleasures that may stand in opposition to God’s sovereign purposes.
- Pray in His will (1 Jn. 5:14-15). It doesn’t get any clearer than this. When you pray according to God’s will, your prayers are answered without equivocation. These three keys, taken together, guarantee effective prayer. But, let’s also consider prayer’s limitations.
- The limitations of prayer. Think about the significance of the following words, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). Given the context of this verse (i.e., in a pattern for prayer), the message is loud and clear; we are to pray for what He wants not what we want. This is the limitation of prayer. By definition, the sovereignty of God precludes our own sovereignty. For this reason, if we pray anything that is not consistent with what God has already declared from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), it won’t happen. Think about it. If we change God, who is sovereign, God or us? Because God is eternally simple, without isolated or disconnected elements, He is immutable (Mal. 3:6). To change God’s mind implies that we offer God new information or arguments He has yet to consider. God determines human destiny, man does not determine God’s will (NOTE: you may be thinking about Abraham in Gen. 18 and other OT passages that give the appearance that God changed His mind. These passages will be addressed in a future blog post). Given this bleak-sounding reality, why pray?
- The benefits of prayer. Let me consider two benefits to prayer.
- God is honored when we pray (Mt. 6:11). When we ask for help, it demonstrates that we know our weakness and is an admission of His strength. Humble and contrite prayer illustrates reliance on God. Prayer honors God because when we pray, we remind ourselves from whom all things come (Jas. 1:17). It also honors God when we consider our prayers seriously before praying them (Eccl. 5:2). Knowing that God declares the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), we seek to bring our wants and requests in line with His sovereign purposes. Prayer is our expression of humility, dependence, acknowledgment, worship, and exaltation of the God who controls all things.
- We are spiritually blessed when we pray – When we pray, we are blessed because prayer is commanded (Mt. 5:44; Rom. 12:12; Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17). Another blessing comes to us by following Jesus’ example. He regularly prayed (Mk. 1:35; Lk. 5:16; 6:12). God wants us to be like Christ (Rom. 8:29). So, when we are like Jesus (i.e., faithful in prayer), we are blessed. Finally, when we pray, we participate with God in His program. What a blessing it is to be allowed participation with God as His will is done, and His kingdom comes to earth (Mt. 6:10).
Pray always. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought. May His will be done, and as it is, we will be blessed by the privilege of participation in the program of God’s glory.