This is a rough draft, of my thoughts on how Prayer PRESUPPOSES GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY, I plan to fix things up and make the presentations tighter in how I articulate the material below. The following will be subject to editing.
A ‘TRANSCENDENTAL’ ARGUMENT FOR CALVINISM: PRAYER PRESUPPOSES THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
If God is sovereign, why should Christians still pray? Should Christians still pray if God is in control of all things? These and similar questions assumes that there is something about prayer and God’s sovereignty that might be incompatible. Furthermore, this assumption carries with it further presuppositions about the nature of prayer and the extent of God’s sovereignty. These two topics are deep enough to fill entire libraries. To limit the scope of the essay, the focus will be on demonstrating how a truly biblical understanding of prayer and the sovereignty of God are compatible, since prayers requires the sovereignty of God. To rephrase it another way, unless one accepts the sovereignty of God, biblical prayers would not make sense since biblical prayers presupposes God’s sovereignty.
How can anyone know about the nature of prayer and the extent of God’s sovereignty? This is no easy task, as these deals with the deep things of God. In the New American Standard Bible, 1Corinthians 2:11 informs us, “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.” As 1Corinthians 2:11 demonstrate, it is important for Christians not to engage in speculation, but rather one ought to search the Scripture and find what God has revealed, in order that they may be well-informed about the truth of prayer and God’s sovereignty.
ESTABLISHING GOD’S SOVERIGNTY
Remember the questions in the beginning of the article: If God is sovereign, why should Christians still pray? Should Christians still pray if God is in control of all things? When Christians say that God is sovereign, they mean that God is ultimately in control and control things according to His desire. These questions are raised not only among those who are curious and desiring to see how the two comport, but they also serve as an objection from time to time by those who reject a Calvinistic understanding of God’s sovereignty. For example, anti-Calvinist Baptist preacher David Cloud has in bold fonts for one of the subheading in his article that “Calvinism cannot explain prayer.”
What does the Bible teaches about God’s sovereignty? Studying the names of God throughout the Bible can teach the readers great theological truth as to the nature and character of God. The titles of God are important and are not given carelessly. They reflect the characteristics of God. Among the many titles of God, God is also called by the title “Sovereign”, as stated by the Apostle Paul in 1Timothy 6:15. The title of God as Sovereign does establish the sovereignty of God, just as the other titles of God establish the other attributes of God. God’s is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Holy and Majestic because these are the names of God that Scripture teaches. Likewise, it is biblical and reasonable to conclude that God is sovereign because His title is Sovereign.
Calvinists and non-Calvinists such as David Cloud would usually say they believe in the sovereignty of God when shown 1Timothy 6:15. Yet both groups have different understanding of what God’s sovereignty means. Calvinism would teach that God is sovereign and in control over all things, including man and his will. For those who disagree, they would qualify what sovereignty it. Hence, what the non-Calvinists mean by sovereignty suffers the blows of countless qualifiers.
Among Calvinists and non-Calvinists, it is almost a given that God is Sovereign over physical objects and nature.Supernatural miracles require that God is able to control inanimate objects and other things according to His will, in God’s miraculous feats such as Moses miracles, the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus healing of the blind and the resurrection.
But is God sovereign over man, and the will of man? Kings and rulers are seen as sovereign over their subjects, but can it be that the most powerful class of men are themselves under the Sovereign will of God? “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (Proverbs 21:1). Notice that the verse shows how much God is able to control a king’s heart, and with His omnipotence He can direct their heart as easily as waters in a channel. Not only does He have the capacity to do it, He can turn the hearts of kings like water to wherever He wishes. If God can control the kings of men, how much more so the hearts of men who are not kings.
God is also in control of the affairs of men, even at what is seemingly the most chaotic moments of human experiences: the heated moments of fighting in wars. Yet, Scripture declares that “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, But victory belongs to the LORD” (Proverbs 21:31). Though man can not control the fate of wars and battles, God can determine who is victorious since the Battle belongs to the Lord! The history recorded in Scripture of the wars in Israel is a further testimony of the Sovereignty of God even in times of war.
God is so much in control of history and current affairs, that no attempt by man will thwart the Lord’s desire. “Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). How is this possible, that the plots of men will not win against the Lord, unless the Lord is in control and decree that His sovereign will may stand?
SHOULD CHRISTIANS PRAY?
So if God is sovereign, why should Christians still pray?Should Christians even pray if God is in control of all things?Having established the sovereignty of God, it must be pointed out that there is nothing about God being sovereign over all things that forbid Christians from praying.Often times, this simple observation is missed during the discussion about prayer and God’s control.Some might even be surprised.This is better illustrated when one asks those who believes in the incompatibility of prayer and God’s sovereignty to write out logically (and when possible, syllogistically) how the sovereignty of God leads to the conclusion that Christian ought not to pray.Of course, in order to fulfill this task, the individual needs to establish what the rules are which govern the circumstances of when a Christian ought not to pray.One would be hard pressed to find these rules in the Bible.There is no biblical warrant for a Christian not to pray, including the reason that God is sovereign.
For those who hold the Bible as the authority that govern all faith and doctrines, one must recognize the fact that the non-Calvinists lack the biblical precedence for their criteria that the sovereignty of God is a reason why not to pray. Some might insists that it is ‘obvious’ and through ‘common sense’ one has the ‘reason’ to believe that God’s sovereignty undermine prayer. Yet, appealing to ‘common sense’ or man’s reasoning still does not make up for the lack of biblical precedence for the non-Calvinists to frame their argument. This would be ironic, especially for non-Calvinists like David Cloud, who warns that one of the alleged dangers of Calvinism is its philosophical speculations. In his own words, “the problem is that he [Calvin] goes beyond the actual statements of Scripture and creates doctrine by human reasoning.” But doesn’t this also describe the non-Calvinist argument with the incompatibility of prayer and God’s sovereignty?
All this leads to a more fundamental and basic question: Why do Christians pray? And how does a Christian know that he has to pray to God? Or does he have to?And how can he know, anyway?
Is the reason because he just knows by his feeling he ought to pray?Is this the reason why a Christian should pray, on the basis that his feelings tell him so?Subjectivism is not a good basis for the reason why a Christian ought to pray.Subjective feelings tell us to do all kinds of things, even sinful things.People have murdered, stolen and raped because they feel like it.If subjective emotions were the basis of why we do things, think about how many responsibilities could be excused just because the individual did not feel like doing it: feeding one’s family, taking a sick child to the doctor, going to church early in the morning, working for a living, etc.Even so, how much more unreliable is subjective feelings when it comes to the spiritual arena such as prayers.
Christians are also not led to pray because the wisdom of man tells them so. The wisdom of men does not even lead men to know God, much less to the truth that a Christian ought to pray to God. In 1Corinthians 1:21, it states, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” Note that the verse made it clear that the world’s wisdom did not lead the world to come to know God. Man’s reasoning apart from the spiritual works of the Spirit in the hearts of man, can never lead him to spiritual truths and wisdom of God (such as the truth of praying). This should not be a surprise to those who are familiar with the true condition of the natural man: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1Corinthians 2:14).
The reasons why a Christian ought to pray should simply be because God commanded it. It might seem like we were refuting the obvious against subjectivism and the wisdom of the world, but the point was to reinforce the importance of God’s revelation as to why we pray. The Bible alone should dictate our relationship to God! If the Bible alone tells us to pray, a Christian ought to pray, regardless of what his finite, limited human wisdom begs otherwise.
The Scriptural mandate to pray should be the necessary and sufficient reason why we pray, since God’s word is sufficient in its teaching and commands (cf. 2Timothy 3:16). In Paul’s epistles to the Thessalonians, he told them to “pray without ceasing” (1Thessalonians 5:17). Paul also wrote an epistle to the Philippians in which he wrote, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Again, Christians are told in Scriptures to pray. In the gospel of Luke chapter eleven, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. In teaching his disciples how to pray, He assumed that they would learn from his teaching so that they would pray. Anytime Scriptures teaches believers about prayer, these passages further solidify the truth that Christians should pray, and pray biblically. Samuel the Prophet even declared that not praying can be a sin: “”Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way.” (1Samuel 12:23).
Prayer is not the only tools that non-Calvinists have used to argue against God’s sovereignty.The incompatibility of evangelism with God’s sovereignty is a popular one.Both objections parallel one another, and the response to the evangelism paradox with God’s sovereignty should be the same as that of the prayer’s: Christian should evangelize and pray because Scripture commands it, and that settles it!
PRAYER PRESUPPOSES GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY
Having demonstrated that the Bible teaches both the sovereignty of God and also that Christians ought to pray, and can pray to God despite His Sovereignty, this next section will be demonstrate how Biblical prayers presupposes the sovereignty of God.
Scripture commands us to pray for all things, as Philippians 4:6 states.Yet, if God is not in control of all things, why should Christians pray about all things?Philippians 4:6 would have to presuppose the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty, for the verse does not say, ““Be anxious for those things which God cannot control, but in some of things which God can control by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6)” (Italics are mine’s for emphasis of what it does not say). How can one petition to God in everything unless God is able to and does control all things? This should lead the Christian to appreciate God’s sovereignty in his prayer, and to praise God for being sovereign.
People typically pray the most when they are going through trials in life or when they are anxious.The Apostle Peter wrote to the churches which were about to go through extensive persecution (if not already).In his letter, he wrote the following encouragement for them and for us to be “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1Peter 5:7).This was no new teaching, as it was also taught in the Old Testament in Psalm 55:22, “Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.”Why should a Christian cast his anxiety unto the Lord? 1 Peter 5:7 mention it is because God cares for the believers.While the care of God is necessary, it is not enough: God has to have the capacity to help them as well, and to sustain them as Psalm 55:22 teaches.
Of course, God might not answer prayers the way man desired it to be answered.Christians are quick to point out that prayers are always answered.It is a matter of whether God answers with a yes, no or later, according to the will of God.Take heed from 1John 5:14: “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”God saying no to prayers does happen, even to the Apostle Paul, as in 2Corinthians 12:8-9.Yet, if all prayers are answered according to the will of God then God is ultimately in control and control things according to His will.In other words, God’s will is sovereign and He answers prayer according to the Sovereign will of His.
If God is sovereign over man, then he must be sovereign over believers.If He is sovereign over other believers, it would make sense to pray for other believers.If God is not sovereign over believers, then it would be meaningless to pray for believers, since believers will self-determine their ways and steps.When we turn to the Bible, are there examples of believers praying for other believers?Paul certainly did: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18) and “Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:13-16).
Asking other believers to pray for you is also possible, since God is sovereign over believers.This was what the writer of Hebrew asked for in Hebrew 13:18-19, “Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.” Not only did the Apostle Paul prayed for others, he also asked believers to pray for him: “Brethren, pray for us” (1Thessalonians 5:25).Elsewhere in Scripture, there is evidence that others did pray for Paul: “At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you” (Philemon 22).
What would be the reason that believers can thank God for other people? This was what Paul prayed in thanksgiving for Philemon, as he mentioned in Philemon 4-5: “I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints.” It would make sense that God deserved to be thanks through prayers if Philemon’s good works was a result of God’s doing. This sovereign work of God is what Scripture teaches in Philippians 2:13, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
The recorded prayers of Jesus strengthen further the argument that biblical prayer only makes sense in light of God’s sovereignty. Jesus himself prayed for His followers: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (John 17:20).
What is amazing is that during Jesus longest recorded prayer in the Gospel of John, the Lord prayed for the disciples which readers can catch a glimpse of the heart of Jesus relationship with God the Father and His love for those He saved.Jesus prayed in verse fifteen, “”I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.”If future disciples will be kept from the evil one, God not only has to be in control of believers but also the evil one, which is Satan himself.It is amazing to consider that despite the Devil being in total rebellion with all his craftiness, God still remains sovereign over him.Job 1 presents a marvelous insight of God’s sovereignty over the Devil and how the Devil could not harm believers unless God approves of it.Ironically, the Devil himself probably appreciate much more than believers do in this side of eternity the truth that prayer presupposes God’s sovereignty.Before Jesus went to the Cross, he spoke to Peter a frightening revelation: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat.”The Devil himself, ‘prays’ to God!The evil one had to seek permission to go after Peter.This would only make sense if God is sovereign even over Satan himself.
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