We’ve been taught that prayer changes things. In view of God’s sovereignty, what is the role of prayer in a Christian’s life?
First of all, we need to establish that it is the sovereign God who not only invites us but commands us to pray. Prayer is a duty, and as we perform that duty, one thing for sure is going to be changed, and that is us. To live a life of prayer is to live a life of obedience to God.
Also, we must understand that there is more to prayer than intercession and supplication. When the disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray,” they saw a connection between the power of Jesus and the impact of his ministry and the time he spent in prayer. Obviously, the Son of God felt that prayer was a very valuable enterprise because he gave himself to it so deeply and passionately. But I was surprised that he answered the question by saying, “Here’s how you ought to pray,” and gave them the Lord’s Prayer. I would have expected Jesus to answer that question a different way: “You want to know how to pray? Read the Psalms,” because there you see inspired prayer.
The Spirit himself, who helps us to pray, inspired the prayers that are recorded in the Psalms. When I read the Psalms, I read intercession and I read supplication, but overwhelmingly what I read is a preoccupation with adoration, with thanksgiving, and with confession.
Take those elements of prayer, and what happens to a person who learns how to adore God? That person is changed. What happens to a person who learns how to express his gratitude to God? That person will now become more and more aware of the hand of Providence in his life and will grow in his sense of gratitude toward God. What happens to the person who spends time confessing his sins? He keeps in front of his mind the holiness of God and the necessity of keeping short accounts with God.
But can our requests change God’s sovereign plan? Of course not. When God sovereignly declares that he is going to do something, all of the prayers in the world aren’t going to change God’s mind. But God not only ordains ends, he also ordains means to those ends, and part of the process he uses to bring his sovereign will to pass are the prayers of his people. And so we are to pray.
Question adapted from the section on Prayer by R.C. Sproul. Now, That’s a Good Question! Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.
About Dr. R.C. Sproul
R.C. Sproul has taught theology to hundreds of thousands of people through books, radio, audiotapes, videotapes, seminars, sermons, seminary classes and other forums.
Sproul has written approximately sixty books (and counting). In addition to many volumes designed to teach theology, apologetics, and ethics to laymen through expository prose, he has written a novel, a biography, and several childrens books. He has also edited several volumes, including a festschrift for John H. Gerstner, a seminary textbook, and the New Geneva Study Bible. He has written one of the top classics of the 20th century – The Holiness of God; and perhaps the best book to explain God’s sovereignty in our salvation for laymen entitled Chosen by God.
Sproul founded Ligonier Ministries in 1971, a teaching ministry to assist the church in nurturing believers and equipping them for the ministries to which God has called them. Ligonier sponsors a radio program, “Renewing Your Mind,” which features Sproul and is broadcast nationally, five days a week.
Ligonier Ministries sponsors several seminars each year, the largest one in Orlando every winter. Ligonier publishes a monthly periodical, Tabletalk, and has its own web site (http://www.gospelcom.net).
Sproul has taught theology and apologetics at several seminaries. He earned a B.A. degree from Westminster College, a B.D. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and a Drs. from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America.
In 1994 Christianity Today asked a select list of “critics,” “What theologian or biblical scholar has most shaped your Christian life?” Third on the list (and the only American in the top four) was R.C. Sproul.