Prayer: Ordained by God and Essential to the Believer
Dr. John Suttles is the bivocational pastor of Coweta Particular Baptist Church in Moreland, Georgia.
Terry Worthan is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church of Winston, Georgia.
Q. Since God fulfills all He purposed in His eternal decree, why is fervent prayer necessary?
A. John Suttles This question goes to the heart of one of the most fundamental issues in the whole body of Christian doctrine—the sovereignty of God. By the use of the word “sense” in the question, one assumes and accepts the truth—reality—of our God’s sovereign, immutable right to “decree,” that is, to foreordain (predestinate) all things throughout His universe. This is a proper assumption. This truth of God’s sovereignty could never be better defined than in the words of our 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, which reads: God hath decreed in Himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears His wisdom indisposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree.
Granting His sovereign “right” and His omnipotent wisdom in His ordering of “all things,” there remains for us only this, to determine His will (purposes) as revealed in His Word. He, being sovereign, in the determination of all things, is sovereign also in the determination of the means by which He chooses to accomplish them. Therefore, it is left to us only to discover what those means are from His own revelation.
If He ordains (decrees) for a leaf to fall to the ground from a tree, He sovereignly ordains (decrees) that gravity, in all its mysterious forces, will be the means to bring it down. If He ordains that one child in a family be redheaded and another be blonde, He also ordains a specific genetic pattern to achieve it. But, while these are purely examples from science, our question goes much deeper. It involves more than simple physical rules. It enters the realm of divine and human volition. This change of sphere (from the physical to the spiritual) makes no changes on the fundamental laws already laid down; i.e., that the same sovereignty that ordains the effect, ordains the means to its accomplishment and that with no greater difficulty in the spiritual than in the physical realm.
So then, why is prayer necessary? Simply because our God has prescribed it! We may run off into several channels of exploration as to why He ordained this means, e.g., His love of communion with His people or His determination to make us conscious of our need of Him or many other possibilities; but all of that would be nothing more than a pleasing speculation into the inmost mind of God, whose mind we clearly cannot fathom. Even if we settle all our curiosity on the question of God’s motives, it would add nothing to the basic answer of the question at hand. The answer is neither complex nor strained. The sovereign God who decreed “all things,” decreed the means to those ends by which they would be accomplished. His express commands to that point are too many to recount in this treatment. Luke 18:1; 21:36; Philippians 4:6 are just a few texts that reveal them. Once the question of our duty is answered, all other inquiries are presumptuous, if not audacious.
A. Terry Worthan Some insist that “God in His sovereignty has ordained that human destiny may be changed and molded by the will of man. This is at the heart of the idea that prayer changes things, meaning that God changes things when we pray.”
I agree with this idea to a point, God does change things when we pray and what He changes are you and I; never His eternal purpose. I John 5:14 & 15, “And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He hears us: and if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”
There is an interesting text in Jeremiah 29 that will lend us light on the subject.
V’s 11-14, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then you shall ye call upon Me, and ye shall go and pray unto Me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me, with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whether I have driven, you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.”
Note verse 11: “For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the Lord” -- Namely the purposes and resolutions of His heart concerning their welfare, particularly the restoration of them to their own land; these were within Him, and known to Him, and Him alone; they were remembered by Him, and continued with Him, as the “thoughts of His heart are to all generations;” and so would not fail of being performed; Yet He says in v.12, “Then shall ye call upon Me, and ye shall go and pray unto Me, and I will hearken unto you.”
This also is a good application of Deuteronomy 29:29 – “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
These things were in the heart and purpose of God from the foundation of the world, but now was the time He had determined to reveal them to His prophet Jeremiah with the injunction “this is what I purpose to do, now you go and tell My people to pray about them and I will hearken.”
Q. On what basis does God hear and accept the prayers of His redeemed?
A. Terry Worthan In response to this question I would say, on the basis of His Word of promise.
Consider Romans 4:16-20, “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end that the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (as it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations), before Him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb; He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving God the glory; And being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform.”
Note verse 16: “Therefore it is of faith that it might be by grace.”
“Meaning,” says Dr. Gill, “either the promise of being heir of the world, or the inheritance itself, or adoption which gives heirship, or remission of sin, or blessing of justification, either and all of these are of faith.”
Mr. Gill further notes, “Not as the cause or condition of them, but as the means of God’s fixing and appointing them to be the recipient of all and each of them.”
Note the text again “that it might be by grace;” or that it might appear to be of the free grace of God, as each of these blessings are. Every blessing must be received by faith and must be by grace since faith itself is a gift of God’s grace, and lies purely in receiving favors at the hand of God, to whom it gives all the glory.
Again verse 16, “To the end the promise might be sure to all the seed.”
I think the promise of the above blessings, particularly of the inheritance, was made in the everlasting covenant of grace, “ordered in all things and sure” (2 Sam. 23:5) could not be disannulled by the law which came after it. The promise being by faith and of grace, not of works, nor at all depending upon them, becomes sure to all believers; when I speak of all believers, I speak of Abraham’s spiritual seed. Therefore Abraham prayed in accordance with the Sovereign God’s everlasting decree and purpose, never wavering or staggering at the promise.
Another case which I recently discovered is that of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist: Luke 1:5-13 [NKJ], “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”
Note that while “the people were praying outside at the hour of incense” Zaharias was offering incense as to his duty inside when the angel appeared. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”
After the angel, in great detail, announced the coming birth of the babe even down to its name and purposed ministry as the forerunner of Messiah, Zacharias questioned the mission of the angel. “And Zacharias said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.’” [Those things shall be because God had decreed them before the world was.] “And the angel answered and said to him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”
Six months before the mother of Jesus conceived by the Holy Ghost, the forerunner was conceived in the womb of Elizabeth; and six months after Elizabeth gave birth to the forerunner the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus our Savior.
My dear reader all this was according to the eternal decree of our Sovereign God as to its agents and means [prayer]; Zacharias “your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.”
A. John Suttles The question of “accessibility” before our thriceholy God is at one and the same time simple, yet profound. Since the fall of mankind by Adam our father into the awful state of depravity, and since Adam’s sin was imputed to us all (Romans 5:12), “accessibility” before God is the universal, human problem. Whether it be for prayer, or even praise, none can come into His presence “clothed in their own righteousness.” These “filthy rags” exclude any possibility of acceptability in His presence. We know from I John 5:15 that if God would only “hear us,” we are guaranteed the grant of all our petitions. But, how can it be that He would ever hear us or even give us such an audience? How can it be that man, fallen, depraved, and an enemy, may achieve such a forbidden audience? The answer is fixed by God Himself. Man needs a mediator—and that is precisely what our God has supplied.
Hebrews 7:25 tells us that He is “able to save them to the uttermost,” and that He “ever liveth to make intercession for them.” “But now He hath obtained a more excellent ministry” (Hebrews 8:6) in that He is now God’s appointed “mediator between God and men” (I Timothy 2:5). As my legally appointed Advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ has not only secured me an audience, to unburden my soul in petitions, but also has “bought” me (I Peter 1:18), “birthed” me into a standing as “heir of God, and joint-heir with Christ”! (Romans 8:17) Now, my heavenly Father “hears” all that is offered in Jesus’ name and through His mediation; and we have every hope that “He shall give it you.” (John 16:23)
Q. What does it mean to pray in faith?
A. John Suttles This question is most often asked under a cloud of ambiguity. Those who ask it should be required to define the word “faith.” Usually, we find that the questioner has in mind some subjective, existential, unbiblical definition of “faith.” The question, in order to be rightly answered, must be rightly asked; and that will go a long way to supplying the answer.
The right question is, “What does it mean to pray in the faith?” To pray in “the faith” is nothing more and nothing less than to pray according to His will! I John 5:14 tells us “And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us: and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desire of Him.” It is not possible to pray “in the faith” of Jesus Christ for anything which He has not already prescribed—either verbatim or in principle. To “claim” anything else is the height of affrontery and presumption. God has “bound” Himself only to His Word, and nothing else.
So then, how may we know if a request is “in the faith”? Simply put, we must know His Word! There is the inventory of His treasures. There is the supply chain of His designs. There, in a word, is His will! Learn it. Know it; and then, remember.
"Come by soul, thy suit prepare,
Jesus loves to answer prayer.
Thou art coming to a king,
Large petitions with thee bring,
For His grace and power are such None can ever ask too much."
A. Terry Worthan “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith.” James 1:5-6a
Not only in faith of the divine Being that God is, but in the faith of the promises He has made; and in the faith of His power and faithfulness to perform them; and in the faith of this, that whatever is asked, according to the will of God, and is for His glory, and his people’s good, shall be given.
“Nothing wavering” regarding the thing asked for, whether it is right or not to ask for it; for that should be settled before it is asked: nor about the power of God to do it; nor about His will in things he has declared he will do; nor about His faithfulness to His promises; nor at all questioning; what is proper, suitable, and convenient will be given in God’s own time and way.
Some years ago a dear saint of God taught me a most vital principle about prayer. As we were discussing the matter of prayer she said to me, “Pastor when I pray I pray the Scriptures.” Knowing that for the latter end of her life she sat in her quite time with a Bible in her lap reading and praying.
Now for many years I have read through the Psalms many times making the Psalms alone my daily reading, especially studying the prayers of the psalmist. I’ve learned that there is no better and safer way to pray in accordance with God’s will, than pray the Inspired Word.
I conclude with a few words of our Lord Himself on the subject. Mt. 21:22, And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
Again I appeal to John Gill’s exposition of scriptures: “Munster’s Hebrew Gospel reads, "in prayer, and in faith"; and the Arabic version renders it, "in prayer with faith"; both to the same purpose, and aptly express the sense of the words, which design the prayer of faith; or that prayer which is put up in the strength of faith; and is of great avail with God: for whatever is asked in faith, agreeable to the will of God, which is contained in his covenant, word, and promises, and makes for his glory, and the good of his people, shall be given, be it what it will; though to carnal sense and reason it may seem impracticable and impossible.”
Finally consider what our Lord said in Mr. 11:22 & 24 “And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.” V.24, “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.”
Remember that very vital statement in the Hebrew letter, (Heb 11:6) “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”