es, why pray?
If God is omniscient, doesn’t he know everything we need? And if he is both omnipotent and good, won’t he provide it whether we pray or not? So goes a common line of reasoning about prayer which influences many of us, to our own impoverishment and the detriment of Christ’s kingdom.
This reasoning has a certain logic and seems to have some biblical plausibility. Scripture clearly tells us that God is all-knowing: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account” (Heb. 4:13), and that he is all-powerful and “...does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (Da. 4:35), and that “...the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Ps. 100:5).
However, to infer from these truths that prayer is unnecessary is to overlook the broader teaching of Scripture. The Bible does indeed teach that everything we need for life and godliness is found in God, who is willing and able to give it and knows our need before we ask. But it does not teach that he bestows these riches upon us automatically, as a matter of right. Jesus says:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Mt. 7:7)
Have faith in God.... whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mk. 11:22, 24)
This kind can come out only by prayer. (Mk. 9:29)
Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. (Lk. 22:46)
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. (Mt. 21:22)
...they should always pray and not give up. (Lk. 18:1)
The clear import of these and similar passages is that, in many instances, we can lay hold of God’s promises only through believing prayer.
John Calvin places great stress on the importance of prayer, saying: “Words fail to explain how necessary prayer is ... (Institutes III, 20, 2). He held that it is, “...by the benefit of prayer that we reach those riches which are laid up for us with the Heavenly Father” and that...
...after we have been instructed by faith to recognize that whatever we need and whatever we lack is in God... it remains for us to seek in him, and in prayers to ask of him, what we have learned to be in him. (Institutes III, 20, 1)
He saw no conflict between prayer and providence but, rather, taught that in prayer “...we invoke the presence both of his providence ... and of his power...” (Institutes III, 20, 2).
Prayer and providence then, far from being antithetical, are actually reciprocal. Providence inspires prayer and prayer invokes providence. Here divine sovereignty and human responsibility mysteriously converge in a way we cannot fully explain but which is nonetheless real.
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