Why Pray
Tim Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles to Isaiah, chapter 46. We have finished our series of studies about the knowledge of God and being people who know their God, and today we are going to begin a series of studies on responding to God. Technically speaking, it is a separate study, but it follows up the one that we have just finished, so in a way it is a continuation. If we are going to be people who know their God, then we need to know the various things that the Bible says that we can and should do in responding to God.

The first of those things is prayer —probably the most immediately available response to God, one that is in some ways the most effective response to God, the fact that God has given us the privilege of talking to Him any time that we want to, coming into the very throne room of this omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign, wrathful and yet loving God, making our wants and wishes known to Him, as Paul referred to it.

For the next week or so, we will be thinking about the various aspects of prayer that the Bible records for us. Today we want to think about the question, “Why pray?” One of the most interesting subjects to me in the arena of human behavior is the subject of buzzwords . You know what buzzwords are. They are words that are unique to and characteristic of a particular area of life. Every profession, hobby, sport and discipline has its own buzzwords.

In baseball they talk about earned runs, stolen bases, batting averages, ERA, and things like that. If you are not familiar with baseball, they are Greek to you, but every baseball fan knows what those and many other terms like that mean.

In football it is fourth and long, sacking the quarterback, the winged T formation, and things like that.

In computers it is bytes, rom, ram, expanded memory, expansion slots, and things like that, that make no sense to you if you don't know very much about computers. We could go on and on, as every area of life has its own buzzwords.

Christianity is no different. We have our own buzzwords within Christianity that make very little sense to those outside of the fold of Christ. We talk about the will of God, and we talk about walking with the Lord. An unbeliever would say, “What in the world does that mean?” We talk about the world. We talk about brother and sister. We talk about taking a stand, being separated, and all of those kinds of things.

Of all the Christian buzzwords, the most common one is prayer in its various forms. There are Christians in the world today who have decided that there is really no point in praying. Now, they wouldn't tell you that, and none of them would want God to know that they felt that way. They feel that way because of a seeming paradox that goes something like this: If God is really sovereign—and we have seen from the Scripture in great detail that God is a sovereign God—and He does whatever He decides to do and if He never changes His mind—and the Scripture says all of that—do we need to pray about anything? If God is that powerful and all-knowing, and if all of those things about God are true, then why should we pray?

On the other hand, the other part of the paradox is that over and over again Scripture tells us to pray, even saying that we should pray about everything. So the question before us today is, “Why should we pray to a sovereign God Who already knows what He is going to do and has promised to do all things well?” In fact, Isaiah, chapter 55, verses 8-9, assures us that even though God's ways are not our ways, God's ways are higher than our ways, better than our ways, in that He does whatever He does with that higher, better view in mind.

Deuteronomy, chapter 29, verse 29, says that even though there are some secret things that belong to the Lord that we can't understand, He has revealed to us all the things that we need to know.

Why should we pray to a God like that? To answer that question to the best of our ability, we need to think about three things. First, we are going to talk about the importance of the sovereignty of God . Then we are going to talk about the implications of the sovereignty of God , and thirdly, out of that background, the possibility of interaction with the sovereignty of God . Even though He is a sovereign God, it is possible for us to interact with Him.

The Importance of the Sovereignty of God

Let's think first about the importance of the sovereignty of God. This is a subject—the sovereignty of God—that scares many people. It taxes them intellectually to think about a God who is absolutely in control of everything and does whatever He pleases.

We want to look together at Isaiah, chapter 46, verses 9-11:

Isaiah 46

9Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
10Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
11Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.

You see, this passage very clearly says that God does whatever He pleases. God does whatever He pleases, and if we are not careful, that makes us feel like we are robots or puppets who have no control over our own destiny. God says, “I am the One Who calls the birds to migrate when it is time for them to move for the changing of seasons. I am the One Who brings the person that I need to do something for me to the place where I need him to be.” So why do we need to pray to a God like that? On the other hand, the importance of that sovereignty is that we do know that we have a God who can do anything. He does whatever He pleases, and therefore, we know that He is able to do anything that we or anybody else might need Him to do. Incidentally, who would want a God who was not sovereign? Who would want a God who could fail to do any certain thing?

Isaiah, chapter 40, talks about the foolishnesss of a man who takes a log and hews out an idol from that log, and then with the leftover wood builds a fire to warm himself, then turns and prays to that idol that he himself has just hewed out of a log. Now, who would want a god like that? We need a sovereign God, don't we? We need to know that the God that we worship can do anything. So the bottom line is that there is nothing to be afraid of in the sovereignty of God.

It is important to mention that that sovereignty of God is coupled with His holiness and with His absolute love and with absolute righteousness. There is nothing to fear in the sovereignty of God. He does whatever He wants to do, but whatever He wants to do is loving and good and holy.

Implications In the Sovereignty of God

However, that doesn't answer the question of why we should pray. Why not just trust that benevolent sovereignty? Although the sovereignty of God is very important, it is also important to recognize some implications in the sovereignty of God, as well.

First, we need to understand the distinction between the decree of God, and the will of God. The term the decree of God is a singular word. The decree of God is a theological term which refers to those things that God decided in eternity past, those things that reach from eternity into eternity.

For example, part of His decree was to create and sustain, and someday conclude the universe in which we live. A part of His decree was to create human beings and to create them with a free will to choose whether to obey or disobey. A part of that creation of willful human beings was the possibility of sin, and God, knowing that possibility, provided for salvation of those sinners. A part of the decree of God is the attributes of God: His sovereignty, His omniscience, His omnipotence, His mercy, His love, all of those things that we have talked about in recent weeks. A part of the decree of God is the eventual destruction of the heavens and the earth as we know them today, and the replacement of them with a new heaven and a new earth. We could go on and on for those things about God are part of what we call the decree of God. This is what He laid out as the eternal truths about Himself.

The will of God which the Scripture often talks about has to do with the details of implementing the various aspects of the decree of God. The decree of God is unchanging. The will of God might take various forms, and it is very important to understand the difference between the decree of God and the will of God.

God's Decree and God's Will

We think of them as synonymous, and in some sense they are synonymous, but there is a difference. An illustration might be something like this: This is only a human illustration, and as with all human illustrations about God, they are not perfect; but I might decree that when I leave here today, I am going to go to the post office in downtown Abilene. That is my purpose; that is my decree. However, to get to the post office from here, there are several different ways which I could take. In fact, I could take a very direct route by going straight up Butternut street, under the overpass, turn right and on down Pine street, and straight to the post office. But if for some reason I willed it to be so, I could fulfil my decree by turning left on Butternut street and going all the way out to the bypass around town, going clear out to the north end of Pine street and coming back south from the loop and come to the post office that way. You see, there are a number of different ways that my decree might be fulfilled. God has made a decree that includes many things that directly affect us, but His will might take many different directions. We do not need to pray about the decree of God, but we can pray about the will of God.

Another example, and this is a biblical example so it might be more complete than that human example I gave, and that is that a part of God's decree is that those human beings whom He created would bring glory to Him. A part of God's decree is that human beings will glorify Him. In terms of the way that that decree is accomplished, there are a number of things that might happen. The best way that we can glorify God is to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, accept that offer of salvation that God makes to us, and then to live for His honor and glory, and glorify Him while we are on this earth. Then move on into the New Heaven and New Earth, and glorify Him throughout all eternity.

The Scripture also says that there are going to be people who will glorify Him who never accept Him as their Savior, and who in fact, glorify Him from Hell. Philippians, chapter 2, says:

Philippians 2

10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

God's decree is that men will glorify Him. You have some choice in how you will glorify Him. You can glorify Him, as I have said, as a Christian and in His presence throughout eternity. But if you choose not to accept that gift of salvation, and you wind up in Hell—which is exactly what will happen if you choose not to accept His offer of salvation—you will even glorify Him from Hell, because that is God's decree. It is not going to change. So, the will of God can be prayed about, but the decree of God is something that He is going to accomplish no matter what you and I may do.

God's Decree Unchangeable

There is no need to pray about the various areas of the decree of God. He is not going to alter His nature. He is never going to stop being what He always has been. He is not going to alter the place of Jesus Christ as the Savior. There will never be a new way to come to God, and so we don't need to pray that God will make an exception for some good friend or someone else. He will not change the decree that Jesus Christ is the Savior.

He is not going to change His mind about putting the world through a great tribulation or setting up the kingdom of Christ on the earth, so we don't need to pray that things will keep getting better and better instead of getting worse and worse. A part of His decree is that the world is going to keep getting worse until ultimately that terrible time of trouble comes on the earth as a result of the willfulness and sinfulness of human beings and rebellion against God. We do not need to pray about the decree of God, but in the midst of His sovereignty God has given us the privilege of praying about the various details of how He goes about accomplishing that decree.

God Always Answers Prayer

A very important point to remember about prayer is that even though God always answers prayer, He doesn't always grant the request that we are asking about. God always answers prayer. Many times when you or I pray asking the Lord to do something, and He doesn't do it, we speak of that as, “ The Lord didn't answer my prayer.” There are many people who have gotten frustrated with God, because they say, “I prayed and prayed and prayed about that thing, and God didn't do anything. God didn't answer my prayer.” God always answers prayer, but sometimes He says, “No.” Sometimes He says, “Wait, ” but God always answers prayer. “Yes” is not the only legitimate answer to prayer.

It is hard to understand why we make that kind of mistake, because in human life we don't make that kind of mistake. If two kids are playing in the den at their home, or the back yard of their home, and as it always happens, the brother says to the sister, “Go in and ask Mom if we can have some cookies.” The little girl goes in and she says, “Mom, can we have some cookies?” As Moms usually do, she says, “No, it is too near suppertime, and it will spoil your supper.” The little girl goes back outside and the brother says, “What did Mom say?” The little girl doesn't say, “She didn't answer me,” does she? No, she says, “Mom said no.” But so many times when people come to God in prayer and ask Him to do something, and God doesn't do it, they say, “God didn't answer my prayer.” That is a very important thing to keep in mind, because God wants us to come to Him with the needs of our hearts, but He doens't always answer in the way that we think He is going to.

Pray About Specifics

Perhaps a clearer statement of that truth is a story from the life of Abraham, back in Genesis, chapter 18. It is the story of how God revealed to Abraham that He was going to destroy the city of Sodom. The problem with that was that Abraham had a beloved nephew who was living in Sodom. Abraham began to pray about that, and you remember the story of how he said, “God, would you withhold your judgment if fifty righteous men can be found in Sodom?” God said, “Yes, I will withhold My judgment if fifty righteous men can be found in Sodom.” God knew, and you would think that Abraham would have known also, that there were not fifty righteous men in Sodom. Incidentally, archaeologists have discovered that Sodom was a large city. It says something about the degradation of that city to know that not even fifty righteous men could be found there. As Abraham was thinking about that, he said, “Lord, how about forty,” and God said, “All right, I won't destroy it if there can be found forty righteous men.” Then Abraham realized maybe that's too much, and he said, “How about thirty?” He kept lowering the number, and finally God said, “I'll not destroy the city if there are ten righteous men there.”

The next chapter goes on to tell us that the city was destroyed, because there were not even ten righteous men there, so God went ahead with His plan. In the context of the overall story, we know that what Abraham really wanted was for God to spare Lot's life, even though he didn't come right out and say so. He was asking all this folderol about how many righteous men are there.

The next chapter goes on to show that God did spare Lot's life, even though He did destroy the city just as He had said He would. There are a couple of lessons to draw from that story there in the Old Testament. The first lesson that we can draw from this is that we can feel free to tell God exactly what we are praying about—exactly what we really want. Why are we so silly about that? So many times we pray about something that we think will sound good to God, and maybe it will sound good to other people that we ask to pray with us. There is no need to do that. God has told us to come to Him with every need, and so we need to tell Him exactly what we want. Here is Abraham, this great man of God, but even he made that mistake. He should have said, “Lord, would you get Lot out of there before you destroy the city?” That was his heart's desire. He probably hoped God would destroy the city, but he didn't want Lot to die.

Here is another thing about prayer. Not only does God not always say yes, but another distinction in the way God answers prayer is that sometimes God grants our desire even though He doesn't grant our request. Sometimes God doesn't give us what we prayed for, but He gives us what we really wanted. Isn't that wonderful! Aren't you glad that God does that? Some of us probably would not know what to do with it if God granted what we actually requested. Cut through all of that and just tell God exactly what you want. If you will think through a situation and decide what it is you really want, it will probably save you a lot of prayer time, and it will be much more satisfying when God actually answers.

Intercession of the Holy Spirit

Another thing about this story is that it shows us that God understands what we are really after, even though we don't tell Him specifically. Besides that, there is a very important verse in Romans, chapter 8, verse 26. This verse says that when we don't know how to pray, the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. Verse 27 goes on to say that God the Father knows what the mind of the Spirit is:

Romans 8

26…for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
27And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit…

I am pointing this out because the reason, I think, that a lot of Christians don't pray is that they don't really know what their request is. They don't know exactly what to pray. They are afraid that God would be shocked if they told Him what they really wanted, and so God in His love and His mercy and His provision for us, on behalf of those of us who don't know how to pray, caused it to be one of the functions of the Holy Spirit to pray for us.

Did you know that when you pray—even when you ask other people to pray with you—the Holy Spirit is praying with you also. When you call the prayer chain, when you come to prayer meetings, don't forget God the Holy Spirit is praying with you also, and the Holy Spirit knows exactly what we need and what we want. He knows the difference and He prays perfectly with us. Don't worry if you don't know exactly how to pray about that thing. Don't worry if you are not sure whether you are praying about the decree of God or about the will of God. Don't worry about those kinds of distinctions, because God has taken care of the problem by having the Holy Spirit pray with us. If you don't bring those things to the Lord in prayer, the Holy Spirit is not going to. He prays when we pray, and especially in those times when we don't know how to pray.

There is a sideline application that I want to make, and that is, don't ever refuse to pray for somebody else's request just because it isn't worded properly, just because they didn't put it the way that you would have put it. Maybe they don't know as much as you do, and the cry of their heart, the sincere prayer of their heart, is something that they ask you to pray with them about, and maybe they have it worded wrong, technically speaking. Don't ever say, “I can't pray for that, but I will pray this. I can't pray for it the way you have worded it, but I can word it this way and pray about it.” God takes care of that. That is what the Holy Spirit is there for.

Obviously if you have an opportunity to teach somebody something about how they can pray more effectively, or how they can word something differently, that is all right, but don't do it as a part of responding to their prayer request. Thank the Lord that they love you enough and honor you enough to ask you to pray with them. Just go ahead and pray for it the way they have worded it, because the Holy Spirit can straighten it out a whole lot better than you can.

The third lesson that we can learn from this story, and it is our original point, is that this shows that even though God doesn't change His decree, He sometimes makes adjustments in the way the decree is implemented. God's decree was the punishment of continued sin against men. God's decree included the fact that those who continually rebel against God will meet physical death as well as spiritual death.

Abraham was praying something about the decree of God. God's decree was that sin would be judged, and God's decision was that it was time to judge the sin of Sodom. But did God say, “No, no, Abraham, you can't pray about that?” No, God went along with his request, because God knew what it was that Abraham really wanted. God makes adjustments in the way the decree is implemented, and that is a very important thing to keep in mind. Whatever it is that you feel led to pray about, you go ahead and pray about it, because God is going to do what He is going to do, but He also knows what your desire is. The bottom line is, do not ever hesitate to pray about whatever it is that is on your heart, whatever it is that is bothering you.

Interaction With the Will of God

Let's bring all of this together and wrap it up. We have thought about the sovereignty of God, and we have thought about some of the implications of that. We now want to think about the possibility of interaction with the will of God and with the decree of God. What have we seen thus far? We have seen that the decree of God has been forever settled in Heaven. It is not going to change, but the way that God goes about implementing that decree is open to change as we come to Him in prayer. Those are the things that we can pray about. Those are the areas of prayer.

We can pray about things that God has revealed are His will. If it is God's will, for example, that people be saved, we can pray about every aspect of that. We can pray about things like our own life and testimony. We can pray that God will make our life what it ought to be to be a testimony to other people. We can pray that God will give us opportunities to speak to people about Christ. We can pray about any aspect of our life and testimony, because it is God's decree that salvation be made available to all men. It is not God's decree that everybody be saved. It is God's decree that everybody have the opportunity to be saved, and we can pray about any aspect of that.

We can pray about any ministry that is true to the truth of the Word of God. We can pray about our unsaved loved ones. Even though we may not word those prayers perfectly, God knows what we are actually praying about—what the desire of our heart is—and He responds to that. There are many other areas of His will; I am just using salvation as an example of that. Other things would be things like asking for wisdom from God. James, chapter 1, verse 5, says:

James 1

5If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

The context of that verse is the need for wisdom in undergoing trials and tests, but by extension it could apply to any situation in which we need wisdom. In fact, in summary, Philippians, chapter 4, verses 6-7 says:

Philippians 4

6Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
7And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

We are to worry about nothing, but pray about everything. James, chapter 4, verse 3, even says that we have not because we ask not.

Pray About Everything

The last thing that I want to mention is that there are some very real assets that are ours in prayer. Of course, as background for all of this, remember that we are talking about praying according to the will of God. Sometimes we may not know the difference between the will of God and the decree of God, or we might not know exactly what God's will might be, so what do we do? As I have said from the beginning, some people just say, “I'm not going to pray. I don't know how to pray, I don't know what to do.” The answer that God gives is, “Pray about it anyway. Even if you don't know how to pray. Even it you don't know whether you should pray about it or not, pray anyway.”

In Matthew, chapter 26, verse 39, we find an interesting statement of the Lord Jesus in prayer. In fact, in that verse, we are told that Jesus Himself prayed about the decree of God. In the last hours of His life on earth, as He anticipated the Cross, He said, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not My will but Your will be done.”

That prayer was not prayed out of ignorance. Jesus was God and He knew all things. He did not pray that prayer because He didn't know that you couldn't pray about the decree of God. You see, what He was praying about was something that God had already said that He was going to do. It was a part of the decree of God that Christ die for our sins, and automatically God was going to say, “No,” to that prayer. The cup could not pass from Jesus because that was God's plan from eternity past, and yet Jesus prayed about it anyway. There is no rebuke of Jesus. The Father didn't say, “Now, Son, remember You can't pray that way.” There is no negative lessons implied in the Scripture. In fact, it goes on to tell us that Jesus was greatly strengthened and blessed as He continued in prayer with the Father.

Prayer Brings Fellowship With God

That is the first asset of prayer. One of the reasons that you should pray, even if you don't know how to word it, even if you don't know if it is a proper prayer or not, even if you don't know that you might be praying about something that God has already said He is not going to do, a reason to pray is that it brings fellowship with the Father. If you are praying the wrong way, God can take care of that, because He knows what your heart is. We ought to spend time in prayer even if we are praying about things that may not have any immediate answer to them, and we know it as we pray. We ought to spend time in prayer, because of an opportunity to be in fellowship with the Father. It is an opportunity to focus our thinking on Him, and to sense that bond between Himself and us that the Scripture abundantly tells us is there.

You can spend time in prayer regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the nature of the request, and know the strength and the joy that comes from simply spending time in the presence of the Father.

You who have children, or maybe it will apply to you who are children, know that there are times when you spend time with your children, or children with their parents, and you really don't talk about anything of substance; you just spend the whole time kidding around. Maybe you spend time talking of things of substance, but the time together is more important than what is talked about, isn't it? There is something about just being with that loved one, regardless of what you may be talking about. Even if you talk the whole time, there is something that transcends the talk, and that is true of prayer too. Even if you don't know how to pray, even if you think God may say no to your prayer, spend time in prayer because of the fellowship with the Father. It bolsters our fellowship with God.

Prayer Brings Freedom From Fear

The second asset in prayer is what we might call freedom from fear . We have fellowship with the Father when we pray, but also if we pray about everything we have freedom from fear or worry. We have peace of mind and stability. Philippians, chapter 4, verses 6-7, are familiar verses and are an illustration of this second point:

Philippians 4

6Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
7And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

That verse doesn't say that as you bring those things to God, God will automatically grant your request. What does it say? It says, “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, will keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

The word keep there is a word that means “to guard our hearts and minds.” Notice in verse 6 the things that it says to pray about. It says, “Don't worry about anything, be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” In other words, what this verse tells us is that we can and we should pray about anything that we worry about. How broad is the spectrum of prayer? It is as broad as the spectrum of worry.

Some of us are bigger worriers than others, but all of us worry about all kinds of things, don't we? God says, “Don't worry about those things,” and too many people stop short there and don't let us finish the sentence. There are people who say, “That's crazy. There are plenty of things that I have got to worry about,” but God doesn't stop there. He says, “Don't worry about anything, don't be anxious about anything, but pray about everything.”

It is interesting to me, as I have said so often before, the same people that say, “I have got to worry about things,” will say, “I can't pray about everything.” Listen, if you can worry about it, you can pray about it. “If you will worry to the Lord,” is the way I like to express it. He may or may not do that thing that you are worried about getting done. He may do it, but even if He doesn't do it, if He says “No,” to your prayer, He will give you the peace that passeth understanding.

Not only do we have in prayer that fellowship with the Father that means so much, but we also have freedom from fear. We have freedom from anxiety, and the guarding of our hearts and minds, as we pray about those things.

God's Ability to Answer Prayer

That, too, can be illustrated on a human level on a smaller basis. What do we do when we turn in a report or make a request to the police department or some other level of authority? What do we do when there is a problem at work and we go to our boss about it, or when there is a problem in the family, and we go to our Dad about it? That authority, the police or employer, or Dad, whoever it might be, says to you, “I'm going to look into this. I am going to see about this.” In most cases they don't give you an immediate answer. They don't say, “All right, I'm going to take care of that. I'm going to do just exactly what you want. I'm going to fire that other person,” or whatever it is. Most of the time they will say, “I'm going to look into this, and I will take care of it.”

Even though we might not have gotten the exact thing that we had hoped for from that authority figure, it is a great comfort to know that he is going to look into it, isn't it? In an infinitely higher level, that is what God says to us. “You pray about it. You worry to Me about it.” Not only will you have the fellowship of the Father, but you will have the sense that you have at least told somebody who can do something about it. When we worry, who are we talking to? We are talking to ourselves, aren't we? That is ridiculous, because if we could do anything about it, we wouldn't be worrying about it.

You see, when we take those worries to the Lord, we are telling somebody who can do something about it. We don't know that He will do what it is that we think needs to be done, but we can have the assurance that He will do what's best for us and for the overall situation and that He will work all of that together for good in His own perfect time and way.

Conclusion

Why pray? Don't take that attitude. The attitude is, why not pray? Even if nothing is accomplished from a physical standpoint, we have fellowship with the Father, and we have freedom from fear as we bring everything to Him in prayer. There is every reason in the world to pray. There are as many reasons to pray as there are reasons to worry, and God invites us to do that. In a sense, the most important response to God is to come to Him in prayer.


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