I thought I would start writing about how God has made us for learning so that we can learn about Him, and I will. But today, I’d like to offer something a little different, though I hope to show you another way we have been made to know and learn about Him.
Amidst this time of social distancing due to COVID-19, we’ve had lots of time to think. True confession: sometimes my thoughts are filled with faith and peace, and sometimes they are not. Times like this are like a mirror for our souls, and my soul is often anxious and weary with life’s struggles. When I look at my soul, I see that I am weary for myself and for others who are struggling now—some facing sickness and death, some facing financial hardship, some facing loneliness, and some facing a lack of hope.
Saturday, a group of us gathered on Zoom to be in fellowship and share encouragement. And when our conversation turned to prayer, someone shared authentically, “Sometimes, I don’t know what to pray. In fact, sometimes, I am unmotivated to pray—because if God is in control and has made all the plans, what difference would my prayer make?” True confession: this has been the cry of my heart many, many times. I have faith in Him, but in the face of trials, struggle, and pain, I feel small, unworthy, and unsure. I’m thankful for her honesty because it led us to comfort one another, and it led me to research.
How can both be true?
God is in control and has ordained every step.
- “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…” (Isaiah, 46:9b-10, ESV)
- “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9, ESV).
- “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
AND. God’s heart, and hands, are moved by our prayers.
- “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit” (James 5:16-18, ESV).
- “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24, ESV).
- “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer ” (1 Peter 3:12, ESV).
So, I started thinking and reading to learn more about this.
Here is what I found about the power of, and the reason for, prayer:
- We pray to connect with God, when we need Him (which is always, so we pray without ceasing.). The object we turn to for comfort has power over us. This can be a scary thought! But the good news is that when we practice prayer, we practice turning our hearts toward Him, and we meet Him, and our hearts are encouraged to seek Him more and more. Our prayer puts God in His rightful place and confesses our need for Him. “In prayer, we acknowledge our dependence on the Lord and give Him His due glory.” I found that quote in a short and sweet post by the late, great RC Sproul (love that guy!). Click here to enjoy it, too!
- Prayer reconciles our hearts with God. The word “reconcile” has more than one meaning, and they apply differently, but equally, to our relationship with God. I’ve written about this before.
- To reconcile is to restore friendly relations. This verse explains the gospel about as well as any: “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10, ESV). Because of Jesus, God is my friend. Seeking God restores and enriches my relationship with Him.
- To reconcile is to be made right, so when we turn to God, we reconcile with Him and are made right/made righteous. Seeking Him, and repenting if necessary, renews our Spirits and reforms our hearts. This is crucial to our growth and sanctification.
- To reconcile is also to be made similar, like when we reconcile our checkbook to the bank statement—we reconcile when we need the two things to match, to be made alike. When we are reconciled to God, we are made like Him. Seeking God (which we do in prayer) aligns our hearts with His (Romans 12:2; Hebrews 8:10; Jeremiah 29:13; Phil 2:9-13). As an aside, I know the checkbook analogy would be foreign to some of my younger friends, so just use your imagination if you’ve never seen a checkbook!
- Prayer reconciles our will with His. When we pray, we often ask God to move on our behalf in a particular way, according to our own will. When we get something different, I think it is the expectations that we bring to God that disappoint us, not God. This is where I can get stuck: I want Him to do a certain thing, but I need to remember that He is always working to do good for me, so I can trust His decision on my behalf (Romans 8:29-29, ESV). My mom taught me this: if we keep praying and going back to God, we may not get the change we expected, but we can expect Him to change our hearts to agree with His will, and that makes peace possible.
- Prayer allows us to participate in God’s plans.
- Saturday, my friend, Kim, pointed this out to our group in the Zoom meeting—we can find great reward and encouragement by praying and seeing God move in the world on our behalf and on the behalf of others. Kim said that our prayers help us see our part in His plan, and not praying means we willingly miss out on this beautiful experience.
- God’s plans will not fail on account of our weakness and lack of prayer, but I am reminded of what Mordecai said to Esther, “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, ESV). This article, “Why Pray If God Has Already Determined Everything,” posted by the Gospel Coalition, goes a step further in explaining the theology of prayer. It demonstrates that, as God ordains everything, He also ordains our effectual prayers. Our obedient prayers are part of God’s intricate plans. Wow—this was such an encouragement to me—if you don’t have time to read this now, please bookmark it for later!
- Praying for others connects us to them and encourages them. As I was writing this post, I received a sweet text from my dear friend, Amy. She is such a delight! And she loves math: this year, since she turned 52, she took a deck of 52 cards and wrote the names of 52 friends on those cards. You can read about this idea on her blog, here. What a blessing to see my name on that card!! I know she will be thinking of me, and I have no doubt that she will pray for me. It’s rich to know that someone who loves me and loves the Lord is praying for me!
So, let’s pray, y’all. Times are hard. But even when they’re not, let’s pray to be comforted, to know the Lord better, to be made like Him, to be His friend, to participate in His plans and to encourage one another!