DOES PRAYER REALLY MOVE GOD?
“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” (Exodus 2:23–25, ESV)
Does your Calvinism get in the way of your prayers? You’ll pardon me for beginning our Friday devotion so abruptly. You haven’t even had two swallows of coffee, and there I go throwing you into the midst of metaphysics! To be clear, by Calvinism, I don’t so much mean to describe the TULIP scheme of salvation -- that came after Calvin's death, half a century later. But rather, I mean what is perhaps the central idea of Calvin’s theological genius: the greatness of God -- His supremacy above all things, His sovereignty over all things, and His centrality in all things. Calvin reclaimed the centrality of God from the dark, man-centered theology of medieval Roman Catholicism. The implications of this idea are enormous, and nobody describes them better than the Westminster Divines:
God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy (Chapter V.I).
Or as the children like to sing, “He's got the whole world in His hands.” Yes, He really does! He knows the end from the beginning, because He planned the end before the beginning (and everything in between!). Following A.W. Pink, we might say, to declare that God is sovereign is simply to declare that God is God.
To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is "The Governor among the nations" (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the "Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible. (The Sovereignty of God, AW Pink)
All this begs the question, “Why bother praying, then?” I mean, if God is going to do what God is going to do, what prayer-advice does He possibly need from the likes of me? Although we all at times find ourselves thinking like this, such thoughts betray a fundamental ignorance of the way the sovereign God rules the universe. For as He rules the universe, He makes use of second causes along the way -- second causes like gravity, sunlight, the sowing of grass seed in patchy North Carolinian lawns, the casting of lots (Prov 16:33), the plans of men (Prov 16:1, 9), and, yes, even prayer (James 4:2)!
Listen to Dr. J. Alec Motyer -- one of my favorite Old Testament scholars, who died last month -- as he discusses our theme verse for this morning's devotion (Exodus 2:23-25):
Here in Exodus, in that delightfully human way that the Bible speaks to us about God, we have perfect example of this truth (that we should pray because God hears us when we do). It says in verse 24 that God heard their groaning and remembered his covenant. This is the way in which he is represented to us but, of course, we know that it is impossible for God to forget: he never forgets his people nor the word that he has pledged, his covenant (Deut 4:31; Is 49:15). Yet here he is, represented as though he woke up one morning, the phone rang, and when he lifted the receiver he heard the voice of his people in Egypt saying, "We're in such a pickle,' and the Lord said to himself, "By George, I'd quite forgotten about them." Of course it did not happen like that but God is represented as though his elbow needed jogging and our prayer did the trick. Thus we learn what a marvelous and potent thing his people's prayer is. The prayers of the people of God have such a key role to pay that the Bible can make it clear only by speaking of it in terms we can understand. It, therefore, depicts the unforgetting God as though he were capable of forgetting and depicts our prayers as having the marvelous effect of causing him to remember. Our prayers are so effective and so delightful in his ears, that God condescends to accommodate his eternal, sovereign, providential working to what we can understand, as though to say, "Oh, thank you for reminding me.'
Why pray to a sovereign all-holding God, because the Sovereign all-holding God invites you to pray, indeed He commands you to lay your requests before Him and to cast your burdens upon Him! And, because, when this God does anything in this world, He very often ordains it to be as a direct consequence of, indeed an answer to our prayers. So that when we don't pray, God can say, quite honestly, "If only you would have asked, I would have answered. Were it not so, My Son would have told you!" Whatever you face this Friday morning, spread it before the LORD in prayer. The Father delights to hear your prayers, and to make use of them. From before the foundation of the world, He planned for your morning prayers today to move His hand to fulfill His plan.