Last week we posted a blog (here) about prayer as it works with God’s full, sovereign control over the cosmos. The question that we asked was this: Does our prayer to God really change anything, or does it convince him to do something that he wouldn’t have done otherwise?
Our first answer, after we acknowledged that God is God and we are not, was that scripture teaches us that prayer is God’s way of inviting us into a relationship with him. We said that even though he knows what we need, we still ask dependently upon him for those needs (see Matthew 6 for Jesus’s teaching on this).
This post is going to be focused on another reason for prayer, and that is participation. God not only invites us into an intimate relationship with him in our prayer lives, but also graciously gives us the ability to partake in his work in the world through our prayer.
Here are some examples to help us see this:
In Mark 9 there is a situation where Jesus’ disciples could not heal a boy with the evil spirit who was mute and having seizures. Jesus rebukes the crowd, and the disciples, by saying “O unbelieving generation! How long must I remain with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to Me” (Mark 9:19). After Jesus healed the boy, the disciples asked him why they were unable to perform the work that Jesus had done. Jesus responded by saying, “This kind cannot come out, except by prayer.” (Mk. 9:29).
Jesus’s rebuke to the disciples was their failure of dependency. This work that was not capable to be done by them, humanly speaking, must only come from the sovereign grace of God. Prayer is the calling upon of that dependency. Prayer is the acknowledgement of the fact that we are unable to help the situation. God loves to act through the dependence of our desperate prayer because it so rightly exalts him as the sovereign over all things. Woe to us if we live our lives thinking that we are the captains of our fates or that we control even our very breaths. Make no mistake, God is jealous for his glory, and he is the only being in the cosmos that is right for doing it.
For anyone who might be confused by my last paragraph, let me explain. If God is the ultimate source of all good, beauty, and truth, then to give us the greatest gift in all the universe, to be the most loving he can possibly be to us, means that he must give us himself. To give us anything else is to give us less than perfection. The whole good news of the Bible is the story of God doing whatever it takes, at any cost to himself, to give us himself. When our sin separates us from him because he is holy, he takes the blame, trades his record for ours, and grants us access to the Father. He must be jealous for his glory. If humans worship anything else, if we try to find our satisfaction in anything else, then we will always find that idol wanting. God is to be praised for this.
Prayer then, is not a mandatory practice enforced by a petty king, it is rather the rightfully-humbling, power-seeking, and glory-giving work that believers in God do as we act as his ambassadors on this earth. Prayer is our participation.
Here’s another example: I recently was asked the question that if God saves whom he will should we pray for people to be saved? The answer to that is, yes. But here is where glory bursts into the picture. Prayer for someones salvation isn’t prayer for God to wake up and convict that person. It isn’t prayer for God to change his mind and save that person that he wasn’t planning on saving. Prayer is set inside of you the conviction that that person needs the grace of God. And guess what? That probably means that God is placing inside of you a weight of dependence on him as you administer that grace to said person. After all, Romans 10 asks the question, "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14). The principle here is that someone now needs to go. Someone needs to preach. That conviction to pray for someone’s salvation should also come with a motivation to participate. We are to believe that God has the power to save, and in response to that belief open our mouths.
There is a problem for the person who someone who just prays for others and never acts upon those prayers. This is not to say that we should take matters into our own hands, precisely the opposite. We are to believe our prayers more. We are to ask God to pour out his grace so that the harvest is claimed in his name alone. Prayer leads to participation.
I am reminded of this theme of humility from this verse in 2 Chronicles: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chron. 7:14).
Prayer is a posture of humility. Prayer always demands action.