If Only You Would Ask: Praying God’s Conditional Promises
Although prayer is central to the Christian life, and God promises that some things will turn out differently if we pray than if we do not, prayer does contain some confusing elements. I seek to help us overcome some of the more confusing elements that discourage us from praying as we should. The confusion arises from a deep sense of not understanding how prayer really can change me, other people, things, and events or outcomes in light of the biblical teachings like God’s sovereignty, praying “Your will be done,” predestination, and God’s eternal foreknowledge of every future event. So that we can pray in faith and confidence, I seek to answer questions that can seriously discourage passionate praying such as:
If God is in sovereign control of everything, and if he is omniscient (foreknows the future), how can our prayers change things? How can we change tomorrow by praying if God already knows what is going to happen tomorrow? Would that not make God wrong, or at least in a position of having to learn from our prayers?
If our prayers are meaningful in the sense that they change events, how can God be sovereign? If there are almost eight billion people on earth, and Christians are offering up hundreds of thousands of prayers to change things, how can God eternally know the future; how can he be sovereign over a future that is changed by the prayers of his people?
If we are to pray for God’s will to be done (Matt 6:10), and if God’s will is set from eternity (Eph 1:11), then why should we think our prayers can change anything? If God’s will is perfect, can we change that, and if we did, would that make it a less perfect will? If God’s will is perfect, and it is, do we even want to change it?
Since we must pray, Your will be done, and his will is most assuredly going to be done, what is the point of making our requests known to God? Should we not just pray Your will be done and be done with it?
In light of thoughts like these, it is understandable why we struggle to be passionate about making our requests known to God. When we just think about the biblical teaching that prayer changes things and events, we do ok. Conversely, when we think about God, who knows everything and is working everything according to His divine plan, we are ok. But when we think about how those two realities work together, confusion abounds.
This confusion can hinder our prayer life, which is closely followed by the partner to a weak prayer life, which is a cold and distant relationship with God. Focusing too much on the power of prayer to change things will diminish our respect and understanding of God’s sovereignty and will. Focusing too much on God’s divine, immutable will, and sovereignty will erode our belief in the essentialness of prayer, as far as being able to walk with God and see changes in outcomes from our prayers. Not understanding how these two realities work together is a prayer killer, finally arriving at praying out of believing that whether I pray or do not pray, things will work out according to God’s sovereign will. Although we continue to pray out of obedience because we are told to pray (Matt 6:9-15), we do so hoping it will help in some way. As we say, you can always pray even if you cannot do anything else.
After reading this book, you will be assured of this. We can know that if we pray, some outcomes will be different than if we do not pray because God made many promises conditioned on whether we ask. These promises relate to a galaxy of concerns and needs that are important to God and us, such as faithfully serving God and experiencing his blessings in our life, health, marriage, children, family, and job. If we fail to pray about everything as the Scripture commands (Phil 4:6), we will enter heaven and learn there were many things God would have done in and through us if only we’d asked!
Sadly, Calvinism’s determinism has turned these wonderful promises into nothing more than a promise that God will do what he predetermined to do regardless of whether we pray or not. Do not allow Calvinism’s deterministic beliefs and distortions of Scripture to rob you of this blessed intimate prayer relationship with God.