Prayer to a sovereign and personal God

 Head scratcher questions

Does prayer change things?

Read this verse carefully:

In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, (Ephesians 1:11, NIV)

  • Is God sovereign?  What does “sovereign” mean?
  • What does “predestined” mean?
  • Are we perhaps like the pieces on a chess board, with the hand of a big and all-powerful God moving us just where He wants us to be?
  • In other words, if God is all-knowing, all-powerful and altogether sovereign, why to we need to pray?
  • What do we make of prayers which go unanswered?
  • Has unanswered prayer perhaps the result of our inadequate faith?

Discuss:  “When we begin to understand the true nature and will of God, we will also tend to cool in our prayer life.”

The Bible is clear about the sovereignty of God and human responsibility:

  1. God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in Scripture to reduce human responsibility
  2. Human beings are responsible creatures (they choose, they believe, they disobey, the respond, etc.), but human responsibility never functions in Scripture to diminish God’s sovereignty or to make God either dependent, or unpredictable
In favour of number 1:
  • Proverbs 16:1, 3-4, 9, 33; Ps 115:2-3; Jeremiah 10:23; Matthew 6:26.
In favour of number 2:
  • Isaiah 30:18; Ezekiel 18:30-32; 1Kings 18:21; Matthew 23:-37; Romans 10:9-10.
In favour of both at the same time:
Genesis 50:19-20:
  • It is reasonable to think that Jacob prayed for the safety of Joseph
  • The brothers of Joseph were absolutely responsible for their evil deeds
  • Joseph did not suffering because of the ill treatment of his brothers only
  • God did not come in at the last moment to save the day
  • God rescued millions of people from starvation, and prepared the way for Jacob, and eventually Israel – for the Saviour to be born from the seed of Abraham
  • Evil does not just happen, catching God on the wrong foot.
John 6:37-30:
  • The Father determines who will be saved
  • Yet, the Son does the will of the Father by giving his life
  • Those who come to Christ He will never cast out
  • Those who believe in Him will have eternal life.
Acts 4:23-30:
  • God is sovereign
  • The kings of the earth take their stand against the Lord
  • The Lord scoffs at them
  • Herod, Pilate, and the people conspired against Christ
  • God’s power and will were behind all their actions
  • Prayer:  “Enable your servants …”

How do we understand the Gospel?

  • Children of Adam are not born clean slate; we lost our free will when sin entered this world.  Our choices are not grounded on innocence;  all our choices are stained with the cancer of sin.  We have no excuse for our choices
  • Sinners are accountable for their sins and moral guilt and must be punished – this the basis for repentance
  • The reason Christ goes to the cross is to pay the penalty due to sinners
  • God knows we are accountable and responsible, and descends from heaven to show grace – an act determined from all eternity
  • In order to be called Christians we need to both admit that we are sinners, and also receive the grace of God.
  • On Calvary grace and human responsibility meet – and God’s eternal plan of salvation is executed.

God is both sovereign and personal:  if He was only sovereign, Christians will be fatalists; He was only personal, there would be only be room for human responsibility – and God will not be God.

  • God exists beyond and above time (He is transcendent) and rules over the works of his hands, needing nothing to steer it to its final fulfilment.
  • Yet He is personal – not a raw power or force, but as our Father, our Lord (husband).  He disclosed Himself as a Person/person.

Because He is our Father, we cheerfully approach Him with our prayers:  we can pray for a fallen world, for the salvation of the lost, for the sick and the blind and the needy – and we can surely expect prayer to change things: not because we pray, but because our Father listens to our prayers

Because He is our sovereign God, we respectfully pray:  we understand that nothing can stand in his way of confuse his plans.  We can surely expect prayer to change things: not because we pray, but because the sovereign God of the universe does not depend on our prayers, but has the power to control all things.

Daniel understood this very well, so he prays: (Daniel 9)

  • Because God’s plan is immoveable (9:3), God is awesome (9:4), righteous (9:14), mighty (15)
  • Aware of his personal sins and the the sins of his people (9:5-6, 8, 11, 15-16)
  • He appeals to the faithfulness of God (9:3-4, 12-13)
  • He appeals to the mercy of God (9:18)
  • He prays for the sake of God (9:17-19)
  • He prays for the salvation of the people (9:16-19)

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