The overlooked impact of prayer
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Scriptural support: Exodus 17:10-12 (Moses' prayer in battle). Ex 32:10-14; Psalm 106:23, cf. Ezek. 22:29-31. James 4:2; 5:15-18. Romans 9.
When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and experts in the law arguing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were amazed and ran at once and greeted him. He asked them, "What are you arguing about with them?" A member of the crowd said to him, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that makes him mute. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they were not able to do so." He answered them, "You unbelieving generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I endure you? Bring him to me." So they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell on the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. It has often thrown him into fire or water to destroy him. But if you are able to do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Then Jesus said to him, "'If you are able?' All things are possible for the one who believes." Immediately the father of the boy cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!" Now when Jesus saw that a crowd was quickly gathering, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, "Mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again." It shrieked, threw him into terrible convulsions, and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He is dead!" But Jesus gently took his hand and raised him to his feet, and he stood up. Then, after he went into the house, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we cast it out?" He told them, "This kind can come out only by prayer." Mark 9:14-29 (NET)
In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered." Jesus said to them, "Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, if someone says to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. For this reason I tell you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your sins." Mark 11:20-25 (NET)
Prayers of Elijah and other righteous men
Elijah's prayers changed the world (James 5:17-18). The prayers of righteous men still change the world (James 5:16, 19-20).
Prayers of the apostles and others who believe in Jesus
God would give the apostles whatever they asked in the authority of Jesus (John 15:22-24), as they remained in him (John 15:1-17). Those who believe will do greater works than Jesus did: Jesus will do whatever they ask in his authority (John 14:12-14).
Prayers of the apostles and others who believe God's promises
Jesus told the apostles that they would receive whatever they asked in believing prayer (Matt. 21:22). He told them they would have what they prayed for if they believed they would, and that God would forgive them if they forgave others as they prayed (Mark 11:24-25). That was not just for the apostles, but for all who heard the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:14-15; 7:7-11; cf. Luke 11:5-13). If we don't believe we will have what we ask for, then we will not receive anything from the Lord (James 1:5-8).
Do you rely on those promises? Do you really?
Francis Schaeffer asked some probing questions: "Supposing we had awakened today to find everything concerning the Holy Spirit and prayer removed from the Bible - that is, not removed the way liberals would remove it, but that God had somehow really removed everything about prayer and the Holy Spirit from the Bible. What difference would it make practically between the way we worked yesterday, and the way we would work today, and tomorrow? What difference would it make in the majority of Christians' practical work and plans? Aren't most plans laid out ahead of time? Isn't much work done by human talent, energy, and clever ideas? Where does the supernatural power of God have a real place?"
Every believer does greater works than Christ did
"Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:12-14, NKJV).
John Calvin on John 14:12:
"Because I go to the Father. This is the reason why the disciples would do greater things than Christ himself. It is because, when he has entered into the possession of his kingdom, he will more fully demonstrate his power from heaven." (Commentaries).
Martin Luther on John 14:12:
"Do not separate the head from its members, that is, Christ and his apostles and all Christendom. Every single Christian. accomplishes such great things that he can rule the whole world in divine matters, help and benefit everyone, and perform the greatest works that ever were effected on earth. For God thinks more of him than of the whole world; for his sake God gives and preserves to the world all it has. But if you are baptized, says Christ, and believe in me, you are the man who has and can do more and greater things, yea, who does the very works and greater ones than I do. For I shall make of you believers lords whose works shall count for more and accomplish more than those of any king or lord on earth; you shall bring about and achieve whatever you desire and shall help me rule spiritually over souls for their salvation, and also as to the material things you shall obtain through your prayer all that is on the earth." (St. L. VIII:350-356, quoted in Volume 3 of F. Pieper's Christian Dogmatics, pp. 80-81).
IF PREDESTINATION IS TRUE WHY PRAY?
An objection has been raised which is very ancient indeed, and has a great appearance of force. It is raised not so much by sceptics, as by those who hold a part of the truth; it is this - that prayer can certainly produce no result, because of the decrees of God have settled everything, and those decrees are immutable. Now we have no desire to deny the assertion that the decrees of God have settled all events. It is our full belief that God has foreknown and predestinated everything that happened in heaven above or in the earth beneath, and that the foreknown station of a reed by the river is fixed as the station of a king, and "the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses."
Predestination embraceth the great and the little, and reacheth unto all things; the question is, wherefore pray? Might it not as logically be asked, wherefore breathe, eat, move, or do anything? We have an answer which satisfies us, namely, that our prayers are in the predestination, and that God has as much ordained his people's prayers as anything else, and when we pray we are producing links in the chain of ordained facts. Destiny decrees that I should pray - I pray; destiny decrees that I shall be answered, and the answer comes to me.
Moreover, in other matters we never regulate our actions by the unknown decrees of God; as for instance, a man never questions whether he shall eat or drink, because it may or may not be decreed that he shall eat or drink; a man never enquires whether he shall work or not on the ground that it is decreed how much he shall do or how little; as it is inconsistent with common sense to make the secret decrees of God a guide to us in our general conduct, so we feel it would be in reference to prayer, and therefore still we pray. But we have a better answer than all this. Our Lord Jesus Christ comes forward, and he says to us this morning, "My dear children, the decrees of God need not trouble you, there is nothing in them inconsistent with your prayers being heard. 'I say unto you, ask, and it shall be given you.' " Now, who is he that says this? Why it is he that has been with the Father from the beginning - "the same was in the beginning with God" and he knows what the purposes of the Father are and what the heart of God is, for he has told us in another place, "the Father himself loveth you."
Now since he knows the decrees of the Father, and the heart of the Father, he can tell us with the absolute certainty of an eye-witness that there is nothing in the eternal purposes in conflict with this truth, that he that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth. He has read the decrees from the beginning to end: hath he not taken the book, and loosed the seven seals thereof, and declared the ordinances of heaven? He tells you there is nothing there inconsistent with your bended knee and streaming eye, and with the Father's opening the windows of heaven to shower upon you the blessings which you seek. Moreover, he is himself God: the purposes of heaven are his own purposes, and he who ordained the purpose here gives the assurance that there is nothing in it to prevent the efficacy of prayer. "I say unto you." O ye that believe in him, your doubts are scattered to the winds, ye know that he heareth your prayer.
Notes on If God Already Knows, Why Pray? (Douglass F. Kelly, 1989)
Dr. Douglass Kelly teaches Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. His book holds two biblical truths in balance: prayers do not change God's mind, and yet they do change the world.
".God himself ordained that these prayers of his people begin to release predestined blessings that would not have flowed down at all had the prayers not occurred" (p. 64).
As God made promises to bless his people, he asked them to pray for him to ask him for the blessings (p. 71, on Ezek. 36:37).
God's promises should abide in us to the extent that we pray them back to him (p. 174, on John 15:7).
God never denies any prayer that is based on his word, but he always "gives the true underlying intention of our prayer, which was whatever the Holy Spirit was asking within us" (p. 183, based on a sermon by B. M. Palmer). "The correct perspective helps us to keep praying. Because the desire for God's glory and for the church's welfare, which motivates our specific requests, is a God given desire, it will always be honored. Even when God says no to one of our requests, he still uses our holy desires and our acts of praying to bring in his kingdom, accomplish his will, and to provide for, pardon, and protect his people" (p. 185).