BIBLE READING: James 5:13-20
TEXT: The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16:b).
There is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding about this question. It misunderstands prayer, God and ourselves. If prayer is seeking to persuade God to do something that he doesn’t want to do – as though we are arguing and negotiating with someone who doesn’t know what is going on – then yes – this would be a problem. But that is clearly not the case. God is all-knowing. We pray from our heart and God knows what is already on our heart.
So what is the point? Why don’t we have a fatalistic view and say ‘que sera, sera … whatever will be, will be’ and just accept our fate? Because God in his sovereignty has made us in his image and has made us moral creatures with the responsibility to choose good and to choose to serve him. He has also determined to work through his people and especially through their prayers. Fatalism is not a Christian attribute. In fact it is the very opposite. Buddhism and Islam are largely fatalistic – as is much of modern society.
Genetic determinism is the view that our genes (as well as our environment) so determine us that we do not really have any free will. They argue that we feel as though we have, but in reality we don’t. Whereas the Christian perspective is almost the opposite – sometimes we feel as if everything is meaningless and pointless because there is nothing we can do. But God has ordained in his sovereignty a means whereby we can be both free and impact and change things. Prayer is the key to that.
James tells us what to do when we are sick and when we are overwhelmed by sin. He doesn’t say, ‘there is nothing you can do, just sit back and accept your fate’. Instead he urges us to bring in the elders of the church and to get them to pray and anoint with oil (a symbol of the Holy Spirit). He gives the example of Elijah who prayed ‘earnestly’ and whose prayers were answered.
There is a balance that we need to get right here. On the one hand some so stress the sovereignty of God and the fact that we can do nothing without him that they see no point in praying. On the other, there are those who think that prayer is a work which depends entirely on them and they think that if only they have the right technique, the right feelings and they put in enough effort then God is bound to reward them with the answers they want. much more balanced and Christian perspective is to pray to a Sovereign God who in his sovereignty has asked us to pray and has promised that he hears the prayers of his people.
It is always the devil’s aim to get us not to pray, or when we pray to ask with wrong motives or with a wrong view of God. It’s a great idea when you read the Bible, that every time you notice a promise from God – you write it down. Pray the promises. If God has promised something and you pray for it, then you know that you are praying in accordance with his will. ‘Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!’ (Matthew 7:9-11).
But we need to ask. And we need to ask trusting in our good and gracious God to give what is best for us, and what will most bring glory to his name. Why pray? Because Jesus did. And he asks us to. And we claim to be his followers. Do we need any other reason?
CONSIDER: Why do you think the fact that God is sovereign should inspire you to pray, rather than stop you praying? What is your prayer life like? Do you keep a prayer diary? Do you ever use books of prayers or the prayers of the Bible, especially the psalms?
RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING: If God Already Knows – Why Pray? – Douglas F. Kelly How Prayer Impacts Lives – Ed. Catherine Mackenzie
PRAYER: Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief (Psalm 143:1).
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