Prayer and God’s Sovereignty
Your prayers change things.
The apostle Paul understood this well. The book of Acts charts the rapid expansion of the church throughout the eastern Mediterranean world, fueled in large part by his three great missionary journeys. Yet it concludes with Paul living under house arrest at his own expense for two whole years (Acts 28:30). From a human perspective, it would seem that by this point his situation was hopeless. The Jews had been trying to kill him for years. He’d been in a series of trials because of trumped-up charges. He’d faced shipwreck, beatings, and hardships. And now he was chained to a Roman soldier, with no freedom to come and go as he pleased. His circumstances seemed to indicate that everything was against him and against what God might accomplish through him.
Yet in the midst of Paul’s difficult circumstances, he was confident in the power of prayer. During his Roman imprisonment, Paul wrote to the Philippian church, “I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” He also wrote a letter to his friend Philemon that contained the following words: “Prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you” (Philemon 22, emphasis added).
Paul’s letters indicate that he was confident that he would be released from prison, and he believed that his deliverance would come by means of the prayers of his believing friends. And though Acts never mentions Paul’s release, we can be fairly confident, from reading his other letters and Acts side by side, that he was indeed allowed to leave.
Paul was convinced that God was sovereign and that He was working everything out according to the eternal counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). But at the same time, he was not a determinist—he did not believe that nothing we do matters because nothing we do changes anything. That is because he knew that very often God works His plans out through means—through people. So Paul didn’t think that God’s sovereignty made prayer irrelevant, because he understood that God had ordained not only the end to which he was moving but also the means that would bring him there—means that included the prayers of God’s people.
God commands and expects you to pray. In a mysterious way that you cannot fully comprehend, your prayers are enfolded into the great outworking of His purposes. So when your life ceases to make sense and everything appears to be against you, don’t assume that God’s purposes for you have been thwarted. Direct your gaze to Him and ask others to join you in prayer. It may be that their prayers are the sovereign means that God will use to bring about your deliverance—for in His kindness, God has ordained that the prayers of His people really do change things.
How is God calling me to think differently?
How is God reordering my heart’s affections — what I love?
What is God calling me to do as I go about my day today?
The Lord's Prayer
1Now Jesus1 was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3Give us each day our daily bread,2
4and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
5And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence3 he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11What father among you, if his son asks for4 a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
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