The Dilemma of Prayer

Last week we considered the difficulty of prayer, that we often consider prayer important, but still struggle to pray in our lives as much as we should.  One of the things that may make prayer difficult is the dilemma that we encounter when we try to understand how prayer works.  For us as humans with finite minds, we wonder at how prayer moves the mind of God.  On one hand, we see God as sovereign, as the Bible teaches that He is, so we know that He already knows what is going to happen and what He will do.  But on the other hand, we see that prayer is effective, as the Bible teaches.  In some way, prayer does change things.  Our minds are finite.  As much as we would like to understand everything, there are some things that we cannot understand.  But that does not mean that they are incompatible or a contradiction.  What our finite minds cannot understand still makes sense in the infinite knowledge of God.  What we cannot understand, God still does understand.  In His infinite knowledge, God has said that He is sovereign and omniscient.  He is over all things, and He knows all things.  So He knows what will happen, and He knows what He will do.  But He has also told us that prayer is effective.  James 5:16 says, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  God says very clearly that prayer is effective.  We may not understand how it works, but we can be absolutely confident that it does work.  Now this does not mean that God will answer every prayer exactly the way that we want, because in His infinite knowledge, God knows what is best for us, and sometimes He knows that we do not pray for what is best for us.  But we can be sure that God does answer prayer.

In this same verse, James 5:16, we are also exhorted to pray.  Since prayer is effective, God tells us to pray.  This is an exhortation that is repeated throughout Scripture.  1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing.”  Philippians 4:6 says, “Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”  Colossians 4:2 says, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.”  We repeatedly see this exhortation to prayer.  We may not understand everything about how prayer works, but one thing we must understand is that we need to be praying.  We must never use a question about how prayer works as an excuse to neglect praying.  Instead, we must pray, trusting in God’s infinite knowledge as He works through prayer.  As J. Oswald Sanders said, “Our obligation to pray stands above any dilemma concerning the effects of prayer.”

–Pastor Tim



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