If God is in control, why should we pray?

 
Christopher Ash | March 15th 2017

It’s a question we’ve all asked from time to time. If God controls each and every event, from the tiniest to the greatest, and has already decided what will happen, then why pray? After all, if it’s going to happen anyway, what possible difference can your prayers or mine make?

The answer is that it’s not going to happen “anyway”; it is going to happen in one particular way. The Bible does not tell us that we can strong-arm God by praying whatever we want to pray, as if our wills were constraining God’s will. No, it tells us “that if we ask anything according to [God’s] will, he hears us” (1 John 5 v 14).

God has chosen to do what he wills to do in answer to the prayers of Christ’s people, when we ask for what he wants. Why should he do that? Why could he not just do what he wants anyway, and leave us out of it? I guess he could. But—wonderfully—he has chosen to govern the world in fellowship with Christ’s people. He does it as follows.

First he chose to work in answer to Jesus’ prayers. At the grave of Lazarus, Jesus says this: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me…” (John 11 v 41-42). God the Father chose to raise Lazarus in answer to the prayer that Jesus had prayed, and in no other way! Had Jesus not prayed for Lazarus to be raised, the Father would not have raised him. God, by his Holy Spirit, moved in the heart of Jesus his Son, so that Jesus would pray this prayer; and then God answered it, because God the Father and Jesus the Son walk in perfect fellowship.

Next, he puts the Spirit of Jesus into the hearts of followers of Jesus, so that we too begin to pray according to God’s will. When the Bible says we are to pray “in Jesus’ name”, it means that we pray on the basis of Jesus’ death for us, and in line with the desires Jesus has placed in us by his Spirit. We therefore need our prayers to be shaped by the revealed will of God in Scripture. When we call on God to do what God has revealed he wills to do, we may be confident we are praying according to his will.

Wonderfully, God has chosen to govern the world in fellowship with Christ’s people.

Of course there are times when we ask for other things, and then we cannot be sure how he will answer; for our prayers may not be according to his will. Our prayers do not change God’s will or challenge his control; but they draw us into loving fellowship with him in his wonderful government of the world.

God has chosen to work in answer to his people’s prayers. He has chosen that we will be moved to pray and he will answer the prayers he has moved us to pray. Our prayers don’t mean that we cleverly get outside the sovereignty of God and pull some levers from a region beyond God’s control, and then God has to respond. They mean something much more wonderful than this. They mean that God, by his Spirit in your heart and mine, is moving us to pray. He instructs us from the Bible about what pleases him; he puts into our hearts a longing for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven; and then we pray, as he has moved us to pray. And then he does what he wants to do, and has chosen to do; but—most wonderfully—he has chosen to do it only when we pray for it. In this extraordinary way, God draws us in to his government of the world, so that our God-shaped desires and yearnings actually shape what happens! There is no higher privilege.

Taken from Where Was God When That Happened? And Other Questions About God's Goodness, Power and the Way He Works in the World by Christopher Ash.

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Christopher Ash

Christopher Ash is a pastor, author and writer in residence at Tyndale House, Cambridge. He was Director of the Proclamation Trust’s Cornhill Training Course from 2004-2015. He is married to Carolyn and they have four children and three grandchildren.

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