Volume. XXX, No. 20
Sunday, 15 November 2015


Sovereignty of God and Prayer


Introduction
The Westminster Shorter Catechism opens with the question, ‘What is the chief end of man?’ To this question there comes the response: ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever’ (Ps. 86: 9; Isa. 60: 21; Rom. 11: 36; I Cor. 6: 20; 10: 31; Rev. 4: 11; Ps. 16: 5-11; 144: 15; Isa. 12: 2; Luke 2: 10; Phil. 4: 4; Rev. 21: 3-4). This is what Christian faith is all about – to exalt the Triune God and abase the creature.

However, the universal tendency is to magnify man and dishonour and degrade God. Modernity with the instant solution theory to every problem is apparently teaching mankind as being the central authority to everything in life. We often see this when spiritual matters are being discussed. The human element is  emphasised, while God is either ignored or relegated to the background. This is the exact way prayer is being taught today. Just read certain literature or hear some sermons presented on prayer and it becomes crystal clear that the human element occupies much space. Such teachings emphasise on meeting certain conditions - the promises we must “claim” and the things a Christian must do- in order to have our prayers answered by God. Everything about God is thrown out.

Our Prayers Are Part of God’s Sovereign Plan
Nowadays we are encountering the danger of misunderstanding or misapplying God’s truth. This is partly attributed to the many unbiblical teachings being propagated by certain religious groups we often come across. One example is, understanding how God’s sovereignty relates to prayer. Frequently, these questions are asked:
If God is sovereign and foreordains all things, what significance is there for one to pray for anything?
Will God change His plans to meet my needs?
What need is there to pray for the salvation of my friends or neighbours if they are elects or reprobates for all eternity?
We are often confronted with statements like ‘Prayer changes things’. These statements are often found on many plaques  and banners. We may possibly have such plaques in our homes. Is it true that prayer changes things? And if prayer changes things, how can we believe that God is sovereign and all-knowing? How can we trust that God has His plans all worked out and that these plans cannot fail?

If a bird cannot fall from the heavens without God’s decree;
And if:
“In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1: 11)
Does it make sense for us to say that prayer changes things?

Since God predestined all things in the past, present and future according to His will, what then is the significance of praying for anything to happen? More often than not, this question is asked in relation to human decisions - if God has destined some to be His children and chosen them before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1: 4, 5), is there any point for believers to pray for the salvation of anyone? This line of argument says that for prayer to be possible a person must be given the will to self-determination. This implies that mankind must have the ultimate decision, and not God.

Now let us look at this issue from a different perspective. Supposing mankind was given the will to self-determination, what would be the reason to pray to God for the salvation ofsinners? What would be God’s role in this case? If God was to be asked to turn this person’s heart from rebellion, what what exactly has this person chosen to do? Otherwise praying for God’s intervention in a sinner’s life is implicitly confessing that self-determination should not be left in the hands of a sinner, but God’s hands, because salvation belongs to God (Jonah 2: 9).

Other thoughts are that with prayer, the only change that occurs is actually within the life of the person praying but does not change the world. On one hand it is true that prayer changes the person praying. This is exactly what Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church meant (1: 17 - 19). He did not pray for hope or power per se, but for a greater awareness of hope and power. However, this is not the whole truth because sincere prayer does change the world. Indeed God acts in response to our prayers, but He remains sovereign without mankind dictating to Him what to say or do. This is an important part of Biblical prayer because God acts according to His own will. The explanation of this holds that because the person praying focuses on them and strives for them, then the praying person gets changed. However, these are heathen thoughts and Christians will never think along such ideas. If we were to tow alongside such thoughts, we would attribute such change not to psychology but instead to obedience.
There are some notions that the Bible even speaks of God himself changing in response to prayer, for instance Amos 7: 5, 6. The changing that is referred to here and elsewhere is not about being remorseful or regretting the earlier course taken. Instead this has to do with God providing opportunity for people to repent and turn to Him before the impending punishment. All this takes place within the sovereignty of God. Otherwise, the only meaningful prayer we may think, is, “Not my will, but yours be done”, which apparently is not the only meaningful prayer in the Bible. Once such a prayer is said and answered we become better attuned with the will and purpose of God, which is definitely a good thing in the sight of God. There are several passages in the Bible that gives us examples of prayer. The Bible insists and urges us to pray. We would pray unless something has really gone amiss in our reasoning and theology if our theology becomes a disincentive to pray.

God’s Sovereignty Enables Prayer
Prayer can be compared to preaching because both are human acts that God has ordained and in which He delights as they reflect on the dependence of mankind on God. The Lord has promised to respond to our prayers, and without doubt His response is contingent upon our prayer being in accordance to His will: And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us (1 Jn. 5: 14).  

Put differently, just as God has promised to see to it that His Word is proclaimed as a means to saving the elect, so He will see to it that all those prayers are prayed which He has promised to respond to. If our prayers are granted at all they are granted because they were ordained from the foundation of the world. If our prayers reach or move Him, it is because He first reached and moved us to pray. When we ask why we should pray, it is not for any other cause but because God tells us to pray. So it in the light of God’s sovereign will that we pray. It should be said that God’s will is immutable, and cannot be altered by our crying. We can neither manipulate God in prayer nor twist His arm by whatever action. When God’s mind is not toward a people to do them good, it cannot be turned to them by the most fervent and importunate prayers of those who think they have the greatest interest in Him:
Then said the LORD unto me, though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people: cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth (Jer. 15: 1)

Therefore, in regards to the conversion of sinners, it is not the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty which thwarts their salvation, but rather the unbiblical idea of self-determination which would consistently put an end to all prayers for the lost. In this case, prayer is a plea to God to do something about the condition of a lost sinner. However, the only thing God can do to change the condition of the sinner is to overcome the spirit of resistance to God. Now if mankind was given the will to self-determination, then it means no one would get saved because as it is said in John 6: 44, 65:
“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. And he said, therefore, said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.”
Therefore, only people that reject human self-determination notion can consistently pray for God to save the lost sinners.

It is important to recognise that the Bible clearly teaches God’s providence as well as the value and necessity of prayer. As believers the Lord commands us to pray (Matt. 26: 41; 1 Thess. 5: 17; 1 Tim. 2: 19 - 22). It is indeed true that there is power in prayer (Mk. 11: 22-24; Jas. 5: 16), yet God being sovereign, ensures that nothing that men, angels, demons or Satan may do, could change God’s divine plan. Therefore, the best way to resolve this seeming conflict is to perceive it from the partnership perspective between God’s Sovereignty as divine providence, and prayer as human responsibility. When we live a prayerful life it is actually not the divine will of God that changes. Instead it is God Himself working in us so that our will is in conformity with His. Therefore, it is actually not prayer that changes things on the contrary, it is prayer that is changing our life and perception towards our relationship with God. As taught by Paul in Phil. 2: 5 – 12, by submitting our will to God through prayer, we get constantly transformed into Christ’s image.

Conclusion
It is Biblical truth that God is sovereign in all things. From the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God we humbly learn that God governs the whole creation, His creatures and all their actions. As Presbyterians, if there is any loyalty to the Bible, it becomes the great strength of belief in the Sovereignty of God in every faculty of life. We believe in the unshaken belief that holds that everything which happens takes place according to the will of God and can be fully understood only in the will of God.

Rev Alfred Ngoma

More Lively Hope

 

Announcements

Kitchen Roster -  Helpers today: Bros Daniel Ki & Daniel Volvricht; & Sis Clara Ki. Next Lord’s Day: Bros Danny Chu & Eric Lai; & Sis Daphne Lai. Please see Sis Megan Lim if you have any questions.
*New Kitchen Roster: Volunteers, please check list near entrance & indicate your availability. New volunteers welcome.
*Fellowship Lunch today is catered. Please stay behind to have Christian fellowship & to get to know one another.
*Please note: No Adult Sunday School today. Class will resume next Lord’s Day.
*Neighbourhood Bible Study- No BSAG this week; Maranatha postponed to 28 Nov.
*After worship service, please help to put away hymn books, Bibles, chairs and to clean up the premises.

Praise & Thanksgiving
Journey mercies: Elder Michael & Sis Alice Lee; & others arriving safely at their destinations.
Church activities in the past week.
Visitors & new worshippers.
God’s daily mercy, guidance & blessings.

Prayer Items
Health & God’s healing - Pastor Ki; Dr Gary Cohen (USA), Dr SH Tow (S’pore); Rev Patrick Tan (S’pore); Rev Edward & Sis Lehia Paauwe; & others in affliction.
Special Prayer: Rev George van Buuren (heart failure) & others in affliction
iSketch & Tell Ministry: Pr Hai Seng Lim’s ministry in Melbourne.
New Life BPC (London) - Dr Carl Martin; God’s guidance & encouragement for congregation.
Providence B-P Church, Mawson Lakes - Ps David & Sis Susan Weng, & congregation.
Youth & Assistant Pastor for Hope B-P Church.
Journey mercies: Elder Michael & Sis Alice Lee; & those who are travelling.
Good health in pregnancy: Sis Isabelle Ng.
Interpreters of sermon into Mandarin.
Jobs: Those seeking for jobs in Adelaide.
Exams for university & Year 12 students.
Persecuted believers in Islamic countries.
God’s guidance & provision of new church property for worship, office & fellowship activities.
Australia: God’s wisdom for our political leaders. People to repent and turn to God.

 

 

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PO Box 398, Fullarton, Adelaide, South Australia 5063