Everything by Prayer

*Posted by Joe Wooddell

Following is a summary of a message I preached at a Criswell College chapel on October 9, 2012. (At some point the message will be available here. Till then, readers may listen to other available messages by clicking the link.)

Philippians 4:6-7 basically says not to worry about anything, but to pray about everything; and when we do God’s peace guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Years ago I was teaching on prayer, God’s sovereignty, and God’s knowledge of our future, when a girl on the front row burst out in tears and said, “You’re ruining my prayer life!” When I asked how, she responded, “If God knows every future detail, why should I pray?!”

Here are four good reasons to pray: (1) We are commanded in Scripture to pray; (2) Jesus and other exemplary, biblical characters prayed; (3) Prayer cultivates and nurtures an ongoing and intimate relationship with God; and (4) Our prayers end up constituting part of God’s overall plan for how the world goes.

At the start of Philippians 4, God uses Paul to tell us that because of what Christ did and how things are going to turn out in the end, we should stand firm. God also tells us to live in harmony with one another, and to let our gentleness be evident in the face of disharmony. We are then told to “rejoice,” a wise thing to do in unharmonious circumstances. Finally, we are told not to worry about anything, but to pray about everything. My college pastor (Rob Jackson) put it this way almost twenty years ago: “Use worry as a prompter to pray.” He was absolutely right.

There are all sorts of things about which we could and often do worry. We are anxious people, always worrying about money, relationships, sins we have committed, the future, etc. We should take all these things to God in prayer. In fact, we should do so “without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17). In that 1 Thessalonians passage God tells us through Paul that God is a “God of peace” (v.23). When we pray – especially when we pray about everything, without ceasing – we are much more at peace. Isn’t that what we want?

The Philippians 4 passage also says we should do all this by “prayer and supplication” (actually asking God to meet our needs) “with thanksgiving.” We must be grateful. Each time we ask, we should also prayerfully be grateful for how God has already blessed us. Then we are told to let our “requests” (specific things) be made known to God. It is fine – in fact we are instructed – to ask God to meet specific needs. As we do, He may or may not answer according to what we want. In the end, we must pray (as Jesus did in Gethsemane) “Thy will be done.”

Scripture is replete with examples of anxious people who prayed. We also are anxious. We also should pray. We should pray without ceasing: driving, walking into work, lying down or rising up, shopping, playing, serving. As we pray God’s peace floods the deepest part of who we are (our hearts), as well as that area of our consciousness where pros and cons are tallied up, where decisions are debated, and where we think through how to live our lives (our minds). These deep regions of our lives need the peace of God. It is a peace that “passes understanding.” That is, the only explanation is that God is the one who gives it, and He does so in ways only He can. As He gives this peace and guards our hearts and minds “in Christ Jesus,” we may be confident that we will be better equipped to honor and glorify Him.

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4 Responses to Everything by Prayer

  1. Will says:

    I have a question about the rationality of prayer given God’s omnipotence. If I ask God to do something, either (1) my asking supplies a lacking necessary condition for God’s so acting, or (2) my asking is superfluous. However (1) seems impossible since, God being omnipotent, He cannot lack a necessary condition for acting that I could supply (I’m assuming that omnipotence entails that, for all (possible) acts, there is no necessary condition for performing an act that God could possibly lack). That means (2), that my asking is superfluous, and I have no reason for asking to begin with. (Incidentally, if prayer does relieve anxiety, and if the above reasoning is correct, it’s effect can only be psychological, since it can not be the result of an act of God in response to prayer. That would explain the studies suggesting that prayer (regardless to whom) relieves stress.)

    • jdwooddell says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Of all the possible worlds God could have actualized, He (for His good pleasure, I suppose, or for some other reason unknown to me) actualized the one in which He knew I (and many others) would freely choose to pray at specific times, places, and about specific things. He knew it all in advance (via His omniscience) and He actualized it (via His omnipotence), and yet it includes our freely choosing to pray. Our prayers are not superfluous; they are included as part of the world He chose to actualize. And He lacks nothing necessary to His being God. In His providence He ordained that our (freely prayed) prayers should be part of the actual world.

      • Will says:

        Thanks for responding. I’m not suggesting that prayer has no value (though I’m not sure that it follows from the fact that the actual world contains prayer that God actualized this world because it contains prayer – the same reasoning would apply to evil and suffering). What seems to be required to make my asking God to do X reasonable is knowing that were I to ask God to do X, He would do X, and were I not to ask Him to do X, he would not do X. Is this pair of counterfactuals true for any X, and if it is how can I know that it is? This may be a very abstract thing to worry about, but I do . . .

      • jdwooddell says:

        (Reply to Will’s Oct. 13 reply):

        Part of the answer involves whether God is time-bound (“temporal”) or not (“atemporal”). If God is atemporal, then His answers to prayer are known to Him and even predetermined. From our perspective it looks like He’s responding, and in a sense He is. Our prayers logically precede His answer, but His actualizing this world temporally precedes our prayer. God knows what He (and everyone else) will do were He to actualize any possible world. In this particular world (the “actual” world) He knew you would pray and He would answer. There’s really no way for us to tell whether He will do something in response to your prayer or not. We won’t know until after the fact. Of course, God knows, and of course we’re commanded to pray, etc. (see the other reasons I give for us to pray). This is part of what it means to have faith and to act (like the old hymn, “trust and obey, for there’s no other way . . .”). He might answer the way I want, or He might not. Thankfully, He’s not only omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing), but omnibenevolent (all-good). If I see a command or sense a prompting to pray, I should pray. If He doesn’t answer the way I want, I should still trust Him. I hope this helps and makes sense.

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